I love Spain. I worked out that I have lived in the country for 5.2% of my life, which includes a year as a student in Madrid and another later stint based in Valencia. Two things were sadly remiss during this time: cricket and good beer. We may have to wait a while for cricket to catch on in Spain but I’m delighted to report that good beer is here and – as elsewhere – infiltrating the mainstream.
When I was a student in the Spanish capital in the late nineties I struggled for ales. All that was on offer were the heavy lagers of Mahou, Aguila Amstel, Estrella Damm et al, and short of forking out a fiver on a bloaty pint of Guinness in one of the many Oirish pubs popping up all over the city, my only choice for a decent beer was a weekly visit to Marks & Spencer (no longer there) in the business district.
I believe this was when I began discovering wine – through sheer desperation.
Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and I am back in Madrid where an impromptu visit to the El Corte Inglés supermarket threw up not one but FOUR bottles of cerveza artesanal (craft beer) from across the country. Added to that, I’ve found a brewpub which I’m going to visit.
¡Bienvenido España a la revolución de cerveza artesanal!
Here’s what I made of the bottles I bought tonight:
Isleña – Ibiza (4.8%)
I love this turn of phrase tipo Ale – it’s an ale style from Ibiza designed to keep revellers refreshed. I can certainly see it doing that. It’s smooth with a nice bitter-sweet balance. Honey notes run throughout, from the colour to the nose to the taste. All the while, cheeky lemon and lime fight to be heard. Materials are sourced from the island itself and the distinctive bottle is designed to protect the beer from the fierce Spanish sun. Read more here.
Torquemada 25 – Castilla (5.5%)
Torquemada is based in Castilla y León, north of Madrid near the cathedral city of Burgos. Its 25 Pale Ale is a bitter hop fest. The nose has grassy bitterness all over it, which heightened preparedness for a bitter hop attack on the tongue. It’s a cloudy amber colour with good lacing but on drinking that bitterness really does punch hard, with the marshmallow yeastiness weighing in to take a swing as well. Boom! Read more here.
Ballut – Badajoz (5.3%)
From the west of Spain comes Cerveza Ballut, which contains miel (honey), according to the ingredients list. It’s got a Belgian feel to it – bubbly, richly amber in colour and that sharp lemon meringue nose that comes with yeasty Trappistes. The experience, however, is very different to built expectations. The texture is light, the flavour hits late and it’s definitely got notes of honey – but strangely not as much as the Isleña, for my money. The lemon is sweet and it overrides everything else. I like this one. I’m going to take my time about it.
Sagra Bohío – Toledo (10.4%)
This one comes in a posh, dark bottle that just forces you to respect it. Even before you read the strength (10.4%) and that a Michelin star chef helped design it. Sagra comes from Toledo, a wonderful medieval city south of Madrid (I recommend a day trip), and has a large line of beers. Bohío is meant to accompany any meal, in particular dessert, is a ‘triple malt barley wine’.
I’m actually quite intimidated but it dark, moodiness. “Come and drink me if you dare,” it whispers in my ear. It’s properly regal. One whiff of the nose and you pick up rich chocolate airs mixed with a strangely exotic note, like black bean sauce. It is the smoothest, creamiest beer you could wish for and there’s a hypnotic whisky slant which makes me think it’s time to call it a night.
Tomorrow I will visit a brewpub but I am delighted to see Spain coming into the craft beer fold. Spain’s beer market is ripe for disruption, despite its economic woes. I might even be tempted back here for a third stint…