17 Jul 2013

Spanish Obervations


The reason for my recent trip to Spain was far, very far from being a vacation. In spite of that, and because I had to walk a lot here and there, I drunk plenty of beer (the heat almost forced me to do so). I didn't make any pictures, let alone take notes, but I still wanted to share with you some of my observations.

In my previous visit two years ago, at Easter, I was pleasantly surprised by the good condition of the mass produced beers at bars (temperatures notwithstanding). Unfortunately, I can't say the same this time; by and large, the beer that I had on tap was shit. Not the sort of “this is shit”, like I said the first time I drank a Weizenbier, that's subjective shit. I'm speaking about objective shit (really, it go to a point when I decided that, if all I needed was to quench my thirst, I would buy a chilled bottle or can at a shop).

As I've mentioned several times, I understand the process of beer making as a chain of many links that it could be said starts with the malting and ends in the glass. The biggest failure, in this case, was in the last link of that chain, the bar; or at leas that is the conclusion I reached, since the beers I had in bottles and cans didn't have such problem.

I doubt that bars in Ávila have the sort of cellar that is typical of Czech pubs, or that they store the kegs in cold chambers. To this we should add that cleaning the dispensing lines doesn't seem to be among the owners' top priorities, not a good combination, especially when the weather is so hot. It's not surprising, then, that most of the beers I had on tap were really far from being in top shape. This, in a way, could explain the reason behind the incredibly low serving temperatures. And yet, regardless of those, you wouldn't have needed to pay a lot of attention to notice beers that were very oxidised, with metallic notes, or even sour.

This isn't something exclusive to the big producers, but also a problem among micro brewers, or at least that is what this very good post in Cervecearte suggests. Someone much less cynic than I could excuse small brewers because for their lack of action regarding what happens to their beers after they leave the brewery, arguing their lack infrastructure, resources and their economic realities. The big brewers don't have that excuse, they just don't care. This is a clear example of poor beer culture and, as I see it, it is something where both big and small fail (regardless of the reasons either could give). But I digress.

Fortunately, not everything was so awful, there were a couple of exceptions.

At a bar near my parents place had Estrella Galicia and it wasn't bad at all (neither it was as cold as the rest). Of all the mass produced pale lagers that I had, this one was by far the best. And I say “pale lagers” because the one that I liked the most, Amstel Oro, was an pretty tasty amber lager that, at both places where I had it, was served at almost Central European temperatures.

But well, enough with the big brands, what about the “Artesanal” brand?

Ávila is a rather small town, at times it seems more like a bigger village, and that is why I was surprised to see quite a few places selling “Cerveza Artesanal”, something I hadn't noticed in my previous visit. At a bar within the old town walls there was Brabante, and several bars and shops sold Gredos, something like a local micro, as Sierra de Gredos is an area very close to Ávila. I didn't drink either of them.

In Brabante's case it was mainly because I saw it in just one place where I had not chance to go by again (and to be honest, I didn't bother too much, I had other worries to attend). In Gredos's case, the main reason was the lack of references of the beer. I'd never heard anything about it and the information on the label wasn't very encouraging. It opens telling us that the beer is made with the water from Sierra de Gredos, so far, so good, or rather, that was the only piece of valuable information that it had because the rest is pretty much the usual bollocks: brewed following the traditional method (what tradition?* Is there a brewing method that could be considered traditionally Spanish? And if so, what characterises it?), that the beer is natural (yeah, as natural as a chocolate cake) and that it hasn't got additives, adjuncts, this or that (wouldn't it be more useful to tell us what the beer does have instead of what it doesn't have?), and that's it, there wasn't even the mention of a style to at least be able to get an idea of what was inside the bottle.

There was another “Artesanal” beer whose label caught my attention, and not because of how pretty or informative it was. I've forgotten the name, it was rather German-y (no, it wasn't it was Tierra Vettona, thanks Barón de la Birra for the info), but it said it was a Pilsen. However, the back label informed that the beer was “top fermented” (and very probably, with secondary fermentation in the bottle, as it is common practice in those lands). You know that I am a bit of an anarchist when it comes to styles, but there are certain things that even I consider as minimum standards, and among them is that Pilsners are lagers, cold fermented and matured in bulk, not in bottles. Could it be that the beer was brewed with 100% Pilsner malts and with noble hops from Bohemia or Germany? Your guess is as good as mine. Apparently, the producers didn't consider that bit of information interesting enough to include it on the label, or at least not as interesting as the bollocks of the chemicals, adjuncts, etc.

Before anyone says anything, I'm not judging the beers, but giving my opinion about their marketing. It's possible that they are good, or even very good, and that I've missed something, but you know what? I couldn't give any fewer fucks even if I tried. I'm in a stage of my relationship with beer where the possibly good has no chance to compete with the probably or certainly good; and the beers from Bresañ fit perfectly into the latter; not only I'd already had two of them, but they also came very well recommended by my friend Fernando, the owner of La Barraca, the best bar in Ávila and a true beer sanctuary.

Last year, Fernando sent me a bottle of Bresañ Rubia and one from La Maricantana. I included them among a few quick reviews , remarking on the potential both had. Fuck me, didn't they capitalise on that potential! Very, very good both of them, and also the new one, Tostada. Well made beers through and through, both in bottle and on tap, with a very Belgian character. Of the three the one I liked the most (maybe because of the hot weather) was Rubia, a sort of tropical fruit salad with a few bits of citrus, showered in cheap sparkling wine, the kind that is good only to make cocktails, and a pinch of spice. Huge drinkability, in spite of its 7,5% ABV, a magnetic beer. La Barraca's beer list includes Gredos and that “Pilsner Ale” whose name I can't remember. Fernando didn't say anything about them, and I didn't bother to ask, with such a good beer in front of me, it is easy to forget about the unknowns.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I wouldn't be surprised if they labels of Bresañ had the same shortcomings and bollocks as the others, but I didn't pay attention to them, really.

* The breweries web page sheds a bit more light on the tradition thing. The owners say that it comes from their grandparents, who made beer at home “the malt and hops grown by themselves” and that the whole family drank together because the beer was healthy and natural (well...) and so on. All very romantic, but I find it hard to believe this story, not just because the weather conditions in this region are not the most adequate for growing hops, but also because MALT IS NOT A FUCKING CROP!

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