C(be)erveza – beer culture in Spain

cerveza.JPGAlthough I like to combine my hiking trips with exploration of local beer culture, I didn’t expect to be doing much of that on my trip to Spain.  When I think of libations in Spain the first thing that comes to mind is wine … not beer.  After all, Spain is the world’s largest wine producer.  But on the ground, I found that beer, or cerveza as it is called in Spanish, was a popular option everywhere.  In fact, it turns out that Spain is the third largest beer producer in the European Union after Germany and Great Britain.

(read more beer stories on Prime Passages here and here)

mural.JPGMy first impression of the beers I encountered was that they were generally quite good, but they all seemed quite similar … very drinkable, light lagers.  The added bonus was the vibrant cafe life I found throughout my travels … every beer I experienced benefited from the interesting and beautiful settings and relaxed atmosphere of outdoor cafes and outdoor seating of bars and tabernas.

cerveza_(3).JPGAs I began to get acclimated, I began to discover that there was a bit more variety than I saw at first glance but that you had to search for it a bit.  A typical cafe or bar has only a couple of taps and they are dedicated to a single macro brew brand.  Eighty percent of the beer sold in Spain comes from three macro brewers:  Heineken España (Cruzcampo), San Miquel-Mahou, and Damm (Estrella).  The latter two are Spanish-owned operations.  One of the taps is typically dedicated to the “Clásica” a light, pilsener.  The other might have a non-alcoholic beer (popular in Spain) or if I was lucky, a darker, maltier brew that might be one of several varieties.  An “Especial” is a stronger pils, a “Negra” is like an amber lager, and an “Extra” that is more like a bock.  If these weren’t available on draft they were usually available in bottles.

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I also started looking around to see what craft brews (usually called “artisan breweries” by the locals) there might be and I was pleased to find a number of these that I could check out.  Not only that, but in a stroke of good luck, Beer Palma (an annual beer festival) happened to be taking place during my visit to Mallorca so I had a chance to check out a bunch of brews in one place.  Just like many other places in the world, craft breweries are growing in number in Spain.  I’ve seen estimates that they number more than 300 at this point in time and it was not difficult to find places in the larger cities that specialize in offering many, many taps and considerable variety (including imports).

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Serving sizes at bars and cafes seemed to vary a good bit.  Usually a place will offer a caña (small) and a jarra (large), but the amount of beer in each of these didn’t seem to be standard between places.  In my brief experience cañas might vary between .2 and .33 liters and jarras .4 liters to a pint.  Sometimes there would be another size between.  I always just said “grande cerveza por favor.”  Both beer and wine are quite inexpensive by US standards.  A caña could be found quite often for 1 Euro (about $1.14 at the moment) and I even found “caña y tapas” (a small beer with a free snack) for 1 Euro from time-to-time.

Cook & Beer Gastro Pub in Palma is one of those pubs that takes their beer very seriously and offers a broad variety of taps as well as bottled beers.  Javier of Beer & Cook tells me that they hope to eventually brew their own line of beers as well.  They specialize in pairing beers with their food offerings.  I tried some excellent ribs dressed with a beer-infused barbeque sauce.

 

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Javier gave me a brief intro to the craft beer scene on Mallorca.  There are fourteen craft breweries on the island, a number that has been growing.  He told me about a brewery called Forastera that I could visit in Palma.  We talked while I sampled draft brews from a Barcelona craft brewer called Moritz … their Moritz and Epidor varieties.

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Forastera Brewery and Pub is in an area of Palma called Molinar …. walkable from central Palma.  Forastera regularly produces an IPA, a couple of pale ales, an amber ale, and a German-style lager.  Thanks to the small size of the Forestera caña I was able to try them all without worrying about my ability to navigate my way back into the city. They also make specials but I don’t think any were current when I was there. It was a quiet afternoon and a couple of friendly dogs were splayed across the floor.  A pair of guys from Norway were the other patrons and we got to talk a bit about the beer scene there.

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Forestera is a small operation and all of the work is done by hand.  The guy who was working when I was there, Tomas (I think I remember that right) was busy hand labeling bottles.  He told me that the owner is a German ex-pat who he said doesn’t really prefer German-style beers, but he loves to brew.  Tomas told me that he was a home brewer when he became aware of Forastera, and that he started hanging around the brewery.  That eventually led to his job which it was obvious that he enjoys.  He said he still home brews, somewhat to the consternation of his grandmother whose kitchen he uses from time-to-time.

I have to say I enjoyed the pale ales the most.

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Beer Palma was an eleven day event held at the waterfront park in central Palma Mallorca.  Eighteen breweries offered 136 different beers at the event.  The lines of booths alternated between breweries and vendors offering an array of tapas — many of them traditional Mallorcan fare.  It was warm and sunny on the day I was there … perfect beer drinking weather.

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The gothic cathedral of Palma provided a spectacular baxkdrop on one side of the festival, the harbor on the other …

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A variety of tapas provided a great accompaniment to the beers …

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Nau, a craft brewery based in Santa Maria beers are a pils called Rubia Bohemia and a wheat beer called Dama Blanca.  I tried the Rubia which I thought was quite nice …

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Salada Brewery brews a smooth, light lager in Palma.  I would have to give them the medal for the most outgoing and friendly booth I experienced at Beer Palma.  When I first saw their label I was curious because the name evoked images of lettuce and tomatos in my brain, but I quickly learned that it refers to the salt water that surrounds the island — I’m still a bit confused about that as that still doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the beer.  I definitely enjoyed this beer though …

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They were having fun at the Salada booth making “Salada Mojitos”, presumably for the non-beer drinkers in the crowd (my wife was one of those).  It is actually a pretty good drink …

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Some mint leaves …

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… and lemon chunks …

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… well muddled …

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… some ice and topped with Salada beer …

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… some would call it a Shandy Mojito or a Radler Mojito …

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Beer Lovers, a brewery in the town of Alcudia was serving a wheat beer, an IPA, a couple of ales, and a porter at Beer Palma.  I tried their amber ale called “Bram” and thought it was pretty good …

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Tramuntana Cerveza Artesanal de Mallorca brews a variety of ales, a porter, and a pilsener.  I’ve seen the location of their brewery listed variously as Palma, and the island towns of Inca and Selva so I’m not quite sure which it is.  I tried the Rossa, a pale ale which I liked and I would definitely drink again …

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Talaiotka is a brewery from Felanitx, an island town that has long been known for producing brandies.  I gave their wheat beer called “Blats” a try.

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Moli Balear offered their “Blanca”, a wheat beer and their “Blonde” at Beer Palma  …

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Bigger commercial breweries such as San Miguel-Mahou, Heineken Espana, and Damm were also well represented at Beer Palma …

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Author with a nice beer glow …

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Naturbier Brew Pub at Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid is a long time fixture of the craft beer scene in Madrid.

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Beer (Tostada) and tapas at Naturbier …

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Although it isn’t beer, sidra or hard cider was a major libation in Asturias in the North of Spain.  Siderias or cider pubs are everywhere and the apple orchards and cider farms can be visited in the country.  Order cider and you will be brought a bottle.  The cider is flat unless poured through the air to pick up a bit of sparkle.  You have to drink it quickly after being poured or the sparkle is quickly gone.  Cider wasn’t my cup of tea, but it is really fun to watch the pour …

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Public art from cider bottles in Gijon …

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A self-pour device …

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