Brasserie des Franches Montagnes



It is freezing cold and things are off to a bumpy start when The Brander stops by to visit Jérôme Rebetez at his brewery in Saignelégier, the main town on the Jurassian Franches-Montagnes plateau in southwestern Switzerland. A pump is down, there is no warm water, and nothing is going according to plan. Before Rebetez finds a moment to tell us about his unusual beers – one was actually voted world’s best brew in 2009 – we hear him striding in rubber boots through indoor puddles and dispatching irate phone calls from every corner of the brewery, cussing all the while.

A bit of a rough diamond, this man, who, since the “New York Times” article appeared about him, is known to many more people than he likes to admit. His e-mails are curt, seldom running over five words, and during the interview he wears a good-natured, yet slightly mocking air. The decor in his brasserie (French for brewery) is pure bachelor. The glasses are clean, but were obviously left to dry; a garden gnome hangs, nailed by its feet, upside down from the ceiling; and the cat, whose name is 27.6, surreptitiously spies on the sausage laid out on the kitchen counter ready to be cooked for lunch. Jérôme runs back and forth, his face red with annoyance, all the while making calls in three languages. As soon as the pumps start working again, he begins to relax and finally has time to talk to us.

From wine to beer

Jérôme Rebetez has been brewing beer for some years now. Originally, he studied enology but, “because you can’t really experiment with wine that much,” soon changed sides after he finished. After winning first prize in the television competition “Le rêve de vos 20 ans,” he put the 50’000 Swiss francs prize money towards starting his own brewery.

To Rebetez, the main difference between wine and beer is the image they transport. Wine lovers are considered cultured and well educated, while beer has connotations like “crude,” “boorish,” “binges,” or “Homer Simpson.” Rebetez thinks he knows why.

The reason that beer has such a bad image is the fault of the Oktoberfest and soccer.

Two things he does not like at all. To him, beer is synonymous with enjoyment and passion. Rebetez mixes and experiments in his brewery and quite generally does exactly what he wants. He experiments with herbal ingredients, different types of wooden casks and lengths of storage. The results are brews that taste-wise often have more in common with wine than traditional beer. This is, in part, due to the way he allows the beer to mature. Just as one does with wine, grappa, or whiskey, the beers at Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes are aged in oak barrels, sometimes in casks that had initially been used for other alcoholic beverages. The rum or burgundy-soaked wood leaves its individual trace on the beer’s flavor and blends with other ingredients such as sage or bitter orange, depending on the result Rebetez is looking for. Despite this artful approach, none of his decisions are based on an intention to increase sales.

Considering the pitiful market share I get, I refuse to be dictated by demand. Instead, I just do what I want to.

“Beer is an emotional issue and that is why people become irrational when it comes to judging the quality of a beer. Ask a German about their favorite beer and they will name a German brand. Ask someone from Cologne and they will come up with Kölsch, their local brew. And a person from Düsseldorf will swear by the city’s traditional Alt beer. That just is the way people are,” says Rebetez. “You like the beer you’re used to.” For the record, he himself does not believe the perfect beer exists.

Just as the perfect woman does not exist, the perfect beer is also only a fantasy.

He laughs and pulls his rubber-gloved hands through his hair. As a passionate cook, he chooses which beer to drink according to what he puts on the table.

BFM not a brand

In the local media, Rebetez’s creations have often been labeled as products from a hobby brewery, giving the brand a certain reputation. This, however, does not worry him at all. To him it is obvious and really quite simple: BFM stands for Brasserie Franches-Montagnes – there is no concept involved in that. The name simply stands for what it is: a brewery.

People who invest a lot of money in slogans and marketing baffle him.

If you just fill the bottle with what it says on the label, you surely don’t need all that fuss.

He quotes Ukrainian-Swiss entrepreneur Zino Davidoff, whose opinions on market strategies he, too, upholds: “I have no customers, I just have friends.” Meanwhile, however, these are toasting each other in far-away places like Ontario, and soon may do so even in wine-countries such as Italy. Despite his humility, a little globalization won’t hurt.

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Comments (3)

zazzle coupon code | 09.05.2013

This blog is obviously educating and besides factual. I have discovered helluva handy tips out of it. I'd love to come back again and again. Cheers!

Clara | 25.04.2011

At last, someone comes up with the "right" answer!

Wartmann | 26.03.2011

Genau - wenn man das in die Flasche packt was draufsteht ist das Tamtam nicht nötig! Jérôme ist ein Phänomen in der Branche - er hat es verstanden, Prozesse aus seinem "Heimatfeld" Wein zu transferieren. Zeit und die den Genüssen gegenüber offene frankophone Welt arbeiten für ihn. Toll, was er zustande brachte.

In der Deutschschweiz schlagen die Konformität, der Kartell-Schaden "Stange Schweizer Lager hell" und die Nachbarschaft zum Vieltrinkerland Bayern mit dem sakrosankten Reinheitsgebot halt immer noch durch. Masskrug, Hopfen und Malz, viel und günstig, schmeckt so oder so alles gleich - aber was anderes will ich nicht.... Leider verpassen viele der Newcomer die Chance, sich über wirklich differenzierte Produkte abzusetzen und als kleine Winkelriede dem Konsumenten zu zeigen, wie Bier auch noch schmecken kann. Ein bisschen mehr Jura libre täte hier gut.

Martin Wartmann, Bierbrauer von und zu Frauenfeld


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