05 May 2007


Just back from the Catalan capital, where the beer roost is ruled by Damm, who have a large brewing facility near the airport. Estrella Damm is their plain red-label lager which has the malty weight typical of the region, and which I most associate with San Miguel, also made in Barcelona. Confusingly there's also Estrella Galicia which is made by Hijos De Rivera in La Coruña and tastes exactly the same. San Miguel themselves now make a German-style pilsner called 1516 which is lighter than ordinary San Miguel, being 4.2%. It's a bright golden colour, instead of the brown-gold hue of their basic lager and is sweeter and generally more German tasting. Lastly for the big guys, Moritz is another lager native to Barcelona. This is my favourite of the common lagers available -- a full 5.4% but very light, soft and fluffy. There's a slight bitter aftertaste, though not much else by way of flavour, but the texture makes up for that. If it's hot and you're sinking cold ones, go for the Moritz.

I was last in Barcelona a bit over four years ago and while there I visited La Cervesera Artesana, a pleasant little brewpub up in the Eixample. It was Saturday night but the place was deserted. I remember thinking "Bless them, it's a nice idea, but it looks like it's just not going to last in this town." I fully expected the place to close soon after. So I was very surprised when I did my research for this trip to find not only was it still there, but it now has a web site. I went along yesterday afternoon to sample the wares, finding it drinkerless once again. The most surprising thing is that, while everything is brewed in-house in full sight of the punters, all the brews are nitro kegged. There can't be many microbreweries who do this (for obvious reasons) and it's very strange to get a pint of local brew with three inches of tight foam at the top -- though it did prove useful when some of the local six-legged wildlife took an interest in my beer.

I had time for two "pints", each containing about 400ml of actual liquid. The Iberian Pale Ale bears some passing resemblance to real IPA, but is served totally cold and, coupled with the nitro head, is more reminiscent of Kilkenny or Caffrey's or one of that sort. It's pretty refreshing though, if you're after that cold lager experience with just a smidge more hops to it. Their Iberian Stout is an altogether better proposition, though again nitro-headed and served at arctic temperatures. I reckon they borrowed the Small Brewers' Guide to Good Stout from the local library (in Catalan, of course) because this has a smooth sweetness up front and a dry finish: almost everything a good basic stout should be.

La Cervesera Artesana is the reason my second-rate brewpub index is headed "Top Marks For Effort": it's not terribly impressive as a pub, their beer isn't brilliant, but by God they're trying and they're fiercely proud of what they do. That sort of dedication deserves credit.

Down near where Barcelona meets the Mediterranean is Cerveceria El Vaso De Oro -- a tiny neighboorhood café consisting of a long bar, some stools and very little else: the sort of joint for which the term "watering hole" was coined. It was jam-packed with locals being served platefuls of amazing food from an open kitchen and tall glasses of Rubia, the house märzen. Once again it's typically malty, though sweet and fairly flat. The result is something smooth, easy-drinking but chock full of flavour. Some more choice would be nice, but it's really not that sort of place and I respect that. Thanks, finally, to European Beer Guide without which I'd never have found the place.

Barcelona's beer may indeed be quite mediocre, but I had a great time finding that out.

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