Move over Estrella and San Miguel, there’s a new craft beer craze foaming up in Barcelona. And can we just say... it’s about time! The Barcelona suds scene has been mediocre for years, offering plenty of industrial lager, but little in the way of craft beer (or ‘real ale’ in the UK) produced by microbreweries. However, the first Barcelona Beer Festival (BBF), held in 2012, marked a turning point, showcasing local, national and international beers. A rousing success, the event was held again in March this year at the Arenas cupola where 154 breweries shared over 300 brewski varieties with 26,200 beer-drinkers. Of those 154, a whopping 47 were Catalan breweries, 39 Spanish, and 68 international.
“Five years ago there were just a couple of craft brew pubs in Barcelona and now there are more than 15 bars and shops specialising in beer,” said Mikel Rius, a BBF organiser. In addition to bars, breweries are opening in Catalunya. “Five years back there were maybe three microbreweries,” explained Rius. “Now there are more than 20 in addition to 80 beer labels.”
Thought by some to have been created by accident during the bread-making process in modern-day Iraq thousands of years ago, beer must be one of the most popular mistakes ever. Ancient peoples including the Sumerians, Chinese and Egyptians were all partial to variations of the fermented grain drink, while in Europe, it was the Germans who spread its popularity, principally through domestic brewing practices.
Catalunya was quite a latecomer to the beer-making party, with the 19th century seeing the first Barcelona brewing company set up by Felip Costa; some years later, Moritz and Damm followed suit, while popular Spanish brands Mahou, Cruzcampo (originally Cruz del Campo) and Aguila all date from the turn of the 20th century. While these names are today familiar to us all, the burgeoning microbrew industry in Catalunya is changing the way many people here enjoy their beer. Someone who knows all about this is Jordi Exposito. When he lost his job recently, this beer aficionado decided to take his savings and open a specialised shop, BeerStore Barcelona; he’s also the author of the Guia de Cerveses de Catalunya, an annually updated book about local beer.
According to Exposito, the recent trend in microbrewing “is not just a Catalan phenomenon. In fact, we began [microbrewing] late. People are looking for more artisanal products. And they are looking for other types of beer, not just a pilsner.” He explained how, following the creation of the first Catalan microbrew, Glops, in 2005 by the company Llúpols i Llevats, a kind of community of microbrewers has developed. (NB. he differentiates between microbrewers and brew pubs, where beer is made on the premises of a pub as is this case of La Cervesera Artesana in Gràcia, which has been around since the Nineties.) This community has a philosophy of helping, rather than competing with, each other; for example, one brewer with a factory will rent out space to a smaller one that does not yet have its own production facility. It is a group of people with a common goal working together to create something personal and homegrown, by using small-scale production techniques in contrast to the large, more well-known companies.
When it comes to distinguishing between the local craft beers, Exposito said it comes down to how they mix their ingredients. They all start with malt and yeast, but depending on the proportion of these, the beer will be either light or dark. They then add other elements such as rye to create differences in flavour. Most of these ingredients are imported from outside Catalunya, and when it comes to the finished product, “there isn’t a Catalan style,” Exposito said. “We’ve adapted to the types of brews already in existence.” However, he adds, people like the idea of a locally produced beer, which goes some way to explain the current boom.
As the real ale trend flourishes in Barcelona, should wine producers in Catalunya be worried about drinkers trading one fermented beverage for another? Gabriella Opaz of CataVino says if anything, microbrew success will be positive for vino vendors. “The craft beer movement has been one of the most exciting movements for the Barcelona wine trade,” she told Metropolitan. “Even five years ago, most people would be happy with cheap cañas and bland lagers when they went out to drink with friends. Now, we are seeing an explosion of artisanal local beers which in turn is creating an environment where people are discovering flavour. With luck, this will directly affect the wine industry, as it’s the next logical move in their liquid adventure.” What is sure is that there is more on offer in the city now than ever before when it comes to hoppy juice served cold and frothy by the pint.
Enjoy microbrews at these city spots
Ale & Hop
Young beer aficionados have been swilling microbrews in this snug Ribera bar since August 2011. Owners Alberto and Jazz, from Catalunya and the UK respectively, offer a revolving assortment of international and Catalan craft brews on tap, including Reservoir Hops, a tart IPA by Holzbräu from L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. When it comes to food, they skip the typical cheeseburger and hot wings pub fare, and instead serve up an all-vegetarian menu, including tasty veggie burgers, hummus dip and Catalan coques (flat bread served with different toppings). All the breads and buns served at Ale & Hop are made on-site, and many of their vegetables come from Alberto’s organic farm in Alt Empordà.
Pint: €5 for Reservoir Hops
Eats: €1 pintxos during Happy Hour Thursdays
Basses de St Pere 10 bis, La Ribera
La Cervesera Artesana
The first brew pub in Barcelona, where current owner Olaf Martí has been making ‘Iberian’ beers since the late Nineties. Choose from one of his 12 beers on tap or from over 100 bottled labels. Martí’s bijou brewery, where he mixes between 1,500 and 2,000 litres of ale a month, is on display in the back of the pub. Depending on the season, frothy pints enhanced with chili, mushrooms, honey or a smoked flavour are on offer. The house Iberian Pale Ale, Blonde and Stout are always on tap. Taking beer to a gourmet level, Martí serves tapas-beer pairings, such as patates braves mated with an Iberian Stout or croquetes matched to Belgoo Luppo. Martí also leads tasting experiences that include a brewery tour and sampling session (four beers for €20).
Pint: €4.95 Iberian Pale Ale
Eats: €5.70 for bunyols de bacallà
Sant Agustí 14, Gràcia
El Vaso de Oro
The atmosphere is so rambunctious and the tapas so delectable that one could be forgiven for not noticing all the craft beer flowing at El Vaso de Oro. Though the bar has been serving heady glassfuls since 1962, owner Gabriel Font has only been brewing Fort beers since 2009, and now has a brewery in Hospitalet de Llobregat. Try their chocolaty Oatmeal Porter or the Motueka pale ale along with a plate of razor clams and creamy amanida rusa.
Pint: €3.30 for Oatmeal Porter
Eats: €4.10 for patates braves
Balboa 6, Barceloneta
Cerveseria La Resistència
One of many new pubs on the Barcelona scene, La Resistència opened in October 2012. With 12 spouts pouring seasonal selections, many of them Catalan and Spanish, La Resistència is a good place to begin an education in regional beer offerings. Try Bruna, a fruity amber by Espiga, a brewery located in Penedès. Keeping it local, La Resistència offers Catalan snacks such as apple and leek coca de recapte, embotits and robust cheeses from nearby farms.
Pint: €4 for Bruna
Eats: €3 coca de recapte
Viladomat 107, Eixample
At this welcoming tavern in Poble Sec, the long bar is wood and the music is Charlie Parker. Nip a bit of Navarran Napabier Amber Ale on tap or, for something closer to home, a bottled Glops Negre lager, featuring hints of liquorice, produced by Glops brewery in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. Cervecería Jazz also cooks up scrumptious gourmet sandwiches and burgers.
Pint: €4.50 for a Napabier
Eats: €7.50 for burger/sandwiches
Margarit 43, Poble Sec
And if these aren’t enough, the following bars also serve craft beer, both local and imports.
Homo Sibaris - Sants: www.homosibaris.com
2D2Dspuma - Guinardó
La Cervecita Nuestra de Cada Día - Poblenou: www.lacervecita.es
La Cerveteca - Gothic: www.lacerveteca.com
La Cerveseria La Més Petita - Eixample: www.cerveserialamespetita.com
- BeerStore Barcelona, Castillejos 269. www.beerstore.pi3.es
- Every Thursday, you can visit the Birra 08 factory near Glòries. www.birra08.com
- If you want to make your own beer, try taking a course at Steve’s Beer Academy. It includes three day-long classes over three months at a cost of €120. The next one starts on July 6th; for details contact firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.stevebeer.com
Each month in Catalunya, there are any number of beer festivals taking place, featuring tastings, food and info. Here are details about a few coming up:
6th—II Fira de Cerveses Artesanes, La Fira de Poblenou;
12th-14th—Reus Beer Festival; www.reusbeerfestival.com
13th—Fira de Jafre (Alt Empordà)
19th-21st—Brewtast in Ripoll (Girona); www.labarricona.cat
6th-7th—Firagost. Mostra de la cervesa artesana a Valls.
10th—Birrafranca: Fira de la Cervesa Artesana de Vilafranca
28th-29th—Festa del porc i la cervesa a Manlleu.
4th-5th—Fira de la Cervesa Artesana de Torredembarra
19th—Vine a fer cervesa, Centre Cívic Cotxeres de Sants.