30 September 2009

El Corte Alemán

You have to love El Corte Inglés. Well, if you're a beer lover and you're in Spain you do, because as a ready source of commonplace quality beers, and the occasional oddity, it's hard to beat.

Where I found it most interesting on my recent trip to Madrid was the German selection. There was a range from Hofmark and Schwaben Bräu, neither of which I'd ever heard of, and all of which were standard German styles. But look: swingtops!

Hofmark's trademark is a supreme sort of tooth-rotting sweetness that overwhelmed all of their beers. Hofmark Original Hell, for instance, is a dark amber gold with a nose redolent of honeycomb ice cream and a taste packed with butterscotch. This is accentuated by a thick and sticky body. Definitely not a beer for everyone, but with my sweet tooth I quite liked it. There's more of a candy nose from Hofmark Original Weisse and none of the banana or clove flavours one might expect. Instead there's a sort of brown sugar light caramel flavour and, after a while, the slightest trace of hop spice at the back. Another tooth-rotter and one to horrify weissbier purists. Hofmark Dunkel Weisse is appropriately dark but with a surprisingly short-lived head. This is far more typical of the style, with big ripe bananas balanced against some very tasty dry and crunchy alt-like malt flavours.

Schwaben Bräu take an authoritative approach to their beers, labelling each according to its style with just the definite article appended to the front. So it's not just any old helle, it's Das Helle. This is pale gold with a touch of honey about the nose, but otherwise quite hop-driven, in that quite bitter but vaguely spicy way that German noble hops have. I liked this, though it's very different from the Hofmark which preceded it. Das Weizen is the first dullard of the bunch -- a promising clove nose is followed by nothing very much, other than a hint of yeasty spice. The body is full, and it's satisfyingly quaffable, but really quite a let-down in the flavour department. Das Schwarze isn't much better. The brown translucent shade of Coca-Cola, it gives off a sour and gassy aroma and is dry but otherwise again quite tasteless, I thought.

A far better proposition came from Kaiserdom in the form of their Alt Bamberg Dunkel. This very very dark red lager has a gives off a pupil-dilating hit of coffee on the nose but calms down a little when it's time to taste. There's a kiss of sweet caramel to tempt you in, followed by a long, luxurious dry roasted flavour that lasts and lasts. I was well impressed with this and reckon it's one of those beers that could make it so much easier to survive in Germany where dark ales are thin on the ground. Barry?

A silly beer to finish, filed in Corte Inglés next to the other silly beers, like Desperados. Cannabia is a hemp beer, and I genuinely like hemp beers. I was very impressed by the couple I picked up in Switzerland at the beginning of the year. However, this one clearly isn't handmade by a Swiss craftsman. One clue is the scratch 'n' sniff label. Really. It appears, funnily enough, to be marketed at teenage stoners rather than drinkers who actively enjoy the flavour of hemp in beer. Appropriately, it smells skunked. The flavour does have that white-pepper-mixed-with-grapefruit-rind that I was looking for but, it's unpleasantly artificial, like they've injected a rubbishy lager with some nasty hemp extract, and then sprayed the label with it too. And I'm only guessing that it's German -- the company appears to be German, but no more accurate brewery address is given than "the EU". Even for hemp beer fans I wouldn't recommend this one -- it definitely deserves its place among the kiddie novelty beers.

Speaking of which, I really should try and get hold of that scary looking chilli lager that's just appeared here recently. I'm told it's awful.

28 September 2009

We used to own Belgium, you know

At first I was surprised by the number of Chimay signs hanging outside pubs in Madrid. I had expected little other than hot-country lager to be on sale. But but perhaps it shouldn't be any more surprising than the widespread availability of Cuban cigars or Argentinian beef in the former imperial capital.

The first pub we visited on arrival was Cafeeke, a small Belgian-themed bar as recommended by Ron. The menu ran to a very respectable 40 beers, between the draught and bottled selections, though you're only allowed try four on any one visit (!). Among them were two house beers, either contract brews or rebadges: I went for the witbier, called Misty Blanche after the bar's small yappy dog. It tasted more French than Belgian to me: very dry with an intense, and quite artificial, lemon flavour. Lacking body too. I assume they get this on the cheap.

The Te Deum beers, by Du Bocq, are quite commonplace in Madrid. The Blonde is slightly hazy with very nice balance of typical Belgian flavours: the rounded fruitiness coupled with a peppery spiciness. Strangely, the Amber (badged as "Rojo" in Cafeeke) also tasted quite blonde, with uncharacteristic lemony notes in the mahogany-red beer. A strange experience.

Oddly, there was barely a bottle of Duvel to be seen in Madrid. Strong blonde of choice is Judas, definitely a second rate alternative. It's palatable, but much drier and bitterer than the other infernally-monikered strong Belgian blondes of my acquaintance, and harder work to drink.

So that's a handful of Belgian beers in Spain for you. Next: Germany calling.