New drinking ethanol production plant

The first drinking ethanol from Swiss production

In mid-June, after a four-year planning phase, Switzerland's first potable ethanol production plant was opened at the Aarberg sugar factory. This new facility is, of course, all about Swissness and supports Swiss distillers in their efforts to produce Swiss products from A to Z.
State-of-the-art production plant CH11

BAR NEWS wanted to know a little more and asked the managing director of Alcosuisse, Florian Krebs.

BAR NEWS: CH11 Swiss drinking ethanol from Swiss production - What was the decision-making process like, what gave the impetus?
Florian Krebs: We at Alcosuisse have been at home in the ethanol business for decades. We buy a wide variety of ethanol qualities worldwide, then process them in our two plants in Switzerland and supply them to our customers in Switzerland. Ethanol is our core business and our absolute passion. That's why it had been bothering us for a long time that we didn't have our own ethanol produced in Switzerland on offer. We looked for different ways to implement such a project, if possible with a partner who could secure the suitable raw material. When we held initial talks with Schweizer Zucker in this direction, it was therefore quickly clear that this was a good fit and together we agreed on a partnership that would bring this major project to life.

How long did it take from the idea to now being able to produce?
It took about four years from the first discussions to the final commissioning of the plant. Most of the time was needed for the preliminary planning phase and the test phase after the installation of the systems. The actual construction and installation took only about eight months.

Where were there difficulties during implementation?
In addition to the sometimes very demanding compliance with the various legal requirements in the area of explosion protection, the intensive test phase before the actual commissioning was very challenging for us. We had a clear idea of the quality we wanted to have.

The first results were basically good and formally met the requirements of drinking spirits. However, we wanted to optimise the organoleptic properties in particular - i.e. the taste and smell - to the absolute maximum, as Swiss ethanol is to be our absolute flagship and set new standards in terms of quality. To be honest, this high quality standard cost us a lot of time, effort and sometimes even nerves. But now, in retrospect, we look back on this intensive test phase with pleasure, because we are extremely satisfied and proud of the result we have now achieved.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time and am delighted that I can now use Swiss ethanol for my Swiss gin. Pure Swissness! It's a great thing!"

Urs Streuli, Brenner Horgen

How high was the investment volume?
The entire project required an investment in the low single-digit millions. Of course, this investment is also associated with a certain risk. However, we are convinced that we can convince our customers with the truly unique quality, the one hundred percent Swissness and the sustainability of our product.

The CH11 plant can produce up to 700,000 litres of drinking ethanol.

How much will be produced?
We are starting with relatively small quantities of around 80,000 litres of pure alcohol this year. However, the plant has a total capacity of 700,000 litres and we are of course planning to continuously increase the output in the coming years.

How did the name CH11 come about?
The name may seem a bit technical, but it is in the tradition of our ethanol qualities that have been marketed in Switzerland for many years. These are always a combination of one or two letters and two numbers. The letters refer to the basic quality - here the CH is of course a reference to Switzerland - the two numbers then indicate the purity and the use of the product: the first 1 stands for the absolute best quality, the second 1 for use as a drinking spirit. Our customers have become accustomed to this logic, which is why we have also applied it to our new product.

"Super, I think it's excellent that Alcosuisse is now also offering Swiss ethanol for Swiss distillers. The pandemic in particular has shown that dependence on foreign countries is huge.

Sonia Petignat, Agroscope Wädenswil

How does the price structure compare between Switzerland and abroad?
Ethanol from Switzerland has its price due to its high quality, sustainable raw materials and production in Switzerland. Compared with standard industrial ethanol from abroad, it is significantly more expensive, but if you compare it with similar, absolutely high-quality ethanol, the price differences are no longer so great.

What speaks in favour of CH11 as opposed to foreign ethanol?
There are three cornerstones why we are so convinced of our new product CH11:

1. one hundred percent Swissness: everything in the new CH11 really is from Switzerland. We think this is an enormously strong argument, especially for producers of spirits who place great emphasis on the local, regional or national character of their product. Why shouldn't there be Swiss ethanol in a Swiss gin, produced locally with a recipe that you have worked out yourself? Actually, it is unthinkable that this should be produced with an imported mass product from somewhere.

2) The quality: The new product is really unique in terms of quality. We have made no compromises here and have fully optimised the product for use as drinking ethanol. This means that the analytical values of the impurities are uniquely low - by the way, we have every batch tested by the Swiss Federal Laboratory Metas. In addition, the organoleptic properties of CH11 are exceptional: on the one hand, the absolute neutrality in smell, and on the other hand, the very fine, mild taste sensation on the palate, which comes from the extremely low impurities.

Sustainability: The CH11 product is consistently produced sustainably. It is based entirely on regionally produced sugar beet from the Seeland, so it is a local natural product. In addition, we only use molasses for distilling, which is actually a leftover from sugar production that we convert back into a high-quality product with our use. With regard to this production, one can really speak of a circular economy. Or, in reference to the well-known "from nose to tail" from sustainable meat consumption, from a recycling "from root to cabbage" of the sugar beet.

A local natural product - sugar beet from the Seeland.

Sugar beet as a raw material: Is it available in sufficient quantities in Switzerland?
In principle, molasses is available as a by-product of sugar production. We only use a small part of the molasses that accumulates, which means that a sufficiently large safety buffer is built in.

Does CH11 now have an influence on the cultivation of sugar beet?
Not directly. But indirectly, of course, it does have a positive impact in supporting the local production of this crop and perhaps also polishing up its image a little. With the production of ethanol, another product has been added to an already impressive range of what can be extracted from the beet. In addition to sugar, these products now include animal feed, yeast, organic fertiliser, garden soil and other basic products.

"In our 120-year-old Swiss family business, we have the Swissness idea in our basic genes. If at all possible, we source our raw materials from Switzerland. The fact that this is now also possible for ethanol is a great stroke of luck!

Pascal Loepfe CEO Appenzeller Alpenbitter AG

What can Swiss distillers score with when you use CH11?
We at Alcosuisse care enormously about the entire Swiss distillery industry. We are proud to contribute with our ethanol products an important basis for all the excellent specialities that exist in our country in ethanol spirits. With the new CH11 product, Swiss distillers can now, for the first time, produce their products with ethanol produced here in Switzerland and thus also sell the Swissness and local roots of their products even more credibly. Moreover, with an ethanol that sets new standards in terms of quality and sustainability.

We will also support those distillers who rely on Swiss ethanol in their marketing efforts. On the one hand, these distillers can print our "Swiss Ethanol" label on their products and use it to advertise, and on the other hand, they will be prominently advertised on a newly launched website and intensively promoted by us through our various communication channels. In this way, we want to do our part to push the Swiss spirits industry a little more and make it known to the public.

What is the easiest way for Swiss distillers to get this product?
Until now, we have only made the product available to a few pioneers who have produced the first batches of their spirits with the new product. From now on, however, the product is available to all distillers who produce in Switzerland. It can be obtained directly from Alcosuisse. In addition, all distillers who decide to use Swiss ethanol for the first time can also use the label and benefit from the supporting marketing measures.

This article appeared in
Issue 3-2022

BAR NEWS magazine as single issue

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