Swiss Brewery No. 99, Founded 1993
The beer that Eric Notari stole from his grandfather’s refrigerator as a young boy was stored in large 0.75-liter bottles, sealed with machine stoppers. An amber beer, sensational. Closing his eyes, Eric still seemed to smell its heady aroma.
Those stolen sips were an initiation of sorts. Then came the motorcycle trips with friends Abele and Stephen, up and down Europe to discover the beers brewed in those countries and served in local pubs. But Eric wanted to learn more. He wanted to study technique, to understand what makes a beer a good beer. He read manuals in German, but found them almost indecipherable in their theory. Better then to wander around Ticino in search of niche products to taste, being guided by the irreplaceable expertise of the Eugenio Brughera company, in the person of Daniele Cattaneo known as “Lupo” (that’s what his friends call him). He was one of the first entrepreneurs to sense, in the 1980s-1990s, that interest around this fascinating world was growing. For Eric it became the outlet where he discovered and tasted beers from around the world.
Thanks to beer, an important friendship was also born with Daniele Foletti, a profound connoisseur of the history of Ticino companies and keeper of many of their memorabilia in a private museum that is a little hidden gem.
Meanwhile, Eric Notari was also maturing an idea with increasingly defined contours: that of setting out to make beer himself. But where to start? From raw materials, of course. Eric set about making barley malt, harvesting wild hops, and sourcing yeast for baking. His son Lucio, who was 7 years old at the time, still remembers the big blue bins placed in the living room, right in front of the sofa, the strange smell they gave off and spread throughout the house, his father’s incomprehensible enthusiasm to him.
The excitement, although Lucius could not yet know it, was caused by the satisfactory result of those home experiments. The year was 1998 and it was time to bring craft beer back to Ticino, half a century after the disappearance of the last historic breweries. Talks with professionals began, the constant search for machinery and suppliers, the drafting of a detailed business plan, and inspections of possible locations for production and sales. The choice fell on the former Osteria Dolfini with its bowling alley, a historic meeting place for Malcantonians. Alongside Eric were master brewer Claudio Gorza, Stefano Hujio, Valeria Notari, Nicola Vavassori and Abele Mercolli: collaborators in opening the restaurant and supportive friends and manual help in starting the brewery. Their support was vital in bringing to life Officina della Birra SA, the first brew-pub in Ticino and among the first ever in Switzerland.
Before long, Officina della Birra became a hub of Ticino’s nightlife, a place where different generations met and mingled, thanks in part to the rich program put on by its owners, with live music, shows and beer tastings.
Dating back to 2003 was the first Ticinese version of India Pale Ale, a type of beer that had experienced a revival between the 1980s and 1990s and was back in vogue, and which Eric Notari brewed with the then-famous Cascade hops. Once again forerunners on Helvetic soil with few others.
In 2005 Eric decided to leave the restaurant business, to which he had been dedicated until then, to focus exclusively on beer. Three years later he was joined as a partner by his friend Roberto Bernasconi. For the first time, the forces were sufficient to start thinking big, remaining yes in Bioggio, but also looking outside the borders of Ticino.
In 2010, Lucio, Eric’s 20-year-old son, who until then had been a mechanic, also arrived. His father’s enthusiasm for a product that was more than 7,000 years old but still capable of evolving and providing excitement had infected him.
The second decade of the 2000s coincided with a maturation for SA Beer Workshop. The creation of labels for the bottling of Lisbeth and Oroincenso beers became an opportunity to create a true corporate identity. A new 12 hl production plant was put in place, with an attached bottling and labeling machine, capable of churning out 1,600 bottles per hour. The new volumes finally allowed the product to be taken outside the Workshop itself, offering it to distributors throughout Switzerland.
In 2013, the first 33 cl bottled beer was born in Officina della Birra . The first beer bottled on an automated line and not by hand like the previous ones that were 75 cl. It was renamed Valona, which for the locals is the Onsernone Valley, where Ilario Garbani produces the “Bona cornmeal,” a local ingredient that characterizes this amber-colored, sweetish beer, designed to bring the general public closer to the world of craft beer in Ticino and at the same time to reach considerable production volumes in a consistent manner, without sacrificing quality. Today, Officina della Birra SA produces about 250,000 L with a target of 350,000 L per year and beyond.
With the passage of time and increased experience, the assortment has been enriched with many new recipes. The brewery has come to produce about fifteen consistently throughout the year, which customers have become fond of; then there are the seasonals, which come out once a year, and the experiments – called Alchemy – in limited editions.
In 2015, the pub “Il Fermento” was born in Lugano, with exclusive pouring of Officina della Birra’s signature products: a showcase on the lakefront for new bottled and draught beverages. Its success drove the opening of another pub and then three more, in Bellinzona, Andermatt and Mendrisio.
In 2019, the ODB celebrated its first 20 years, and with them its achievements, labors, and satisfactions. The next goal? To celebrate as many and better production facilities with a wink to renewable energy; last but not least, the new opportunity to have the first industry apprentice for Ticino.
Selected beers (5):
90NOVE, Pale Ale, 4.6% Alc.Vol
It is golden yellow in color, with malty and floral notes delicately present on the nose, a medium intense flavor and balanced hops.
ANIMALS 32, Pilsner, 4.6% Alc.Vol
Dedicated to all those who love the world of ice hockey. With its bright golden color, dense, compact foam and simple, sincere flavor, it is precise and balanced on the palate.
INNAH IPA, 6% Alc.Vol
Homage to the daughter of Demeter goddess of agriculture. Brightly colored, rich in fine hops and malts that give it an intense body with floral and citrus aromas and a final note of pleasant bitterness.
MITHRA Irish Red Ale, 5.6% Alc.Vol
A deity of friendship, contract and honor, and it is from a long friendship that this deep purple-colored beer was born, with a taste reminiscent of caramel and a definite hopiness, it is gentle and balanced on the palate.
VALONA Amber Ale, 5.5% Alc.Vol
A combination of barley malts and Bóna cornmeal from the Onsernone Valley, shows a yellow-amber color that gives a roasted grain fragrance in concert with a soft, light hopiness.