Updated: Jan 6
As craft beer (or beer, as we call it) grows in popularity across Spain, our resident master drinker has some key advice to help Spaniards enjoy beer properly
Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world with 1.96 billion hectolitres produced in 2016, for measure, there are 25,000 litres in an Olympic swimming pool. You’ve probably already worked out this represents 78,400 swimming pools full of delicious beer.
In Europe, our social culture revolves around the pint. We toast success with beer, we lubricate social interaction, we mourn failure and loss, we discuss the intricacies of photocopying our boss’s face with close friends. The pint is King (the half, the Prince) and in England as well as many other European countries we have such variety that there’s a beer for every taste, occasion and gender.
But Spain, well Spain is the land of the grape. Wine is often seen as the more ‘sophisticated’ alternative to it’s heavy, golden, dark or auburn counterpart. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why Spain doesn’t know how to drink beer.
Beer has been inspiring people since time immemorial, the earliest recorded evidence of its consumption comes from Mesopotamia in a 3,900 year old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the Goddess of brewing. Essentially, a drinking song, to the beer Goddess.
Well, it’s arrived, finally, it has arrived in Spain and in fact, Barcelona is already considered by many to be the craft beer capital of Europe. But Barcelona is in no way representative of the general public, who seem to view beer as an ice cold Summertime water substitute, akin to appreciating art for its frame. Beer has arrived, it’s got a lot to say and it’s saying it loudly, with a gentle slur. Join the rest of the World in its appreciation and think deeply on the following.
Ice is not always nice
There are three types of beer, from which further categorisation evolves. Bottom fermentation beers, which you recognise as your carbonated ‘Lagers’, top fermentation beers or ‘Ales’ a huge category but mostly characterised by less carbonation and a more bitter taste, finally Wild fermentation which are brewed at a low temperature and can also be referred to as ‘Lager.’
Lager beer is typically consumed cold or chilled. Cold means 5 degrees and chilled means 8 degrees. There shouldn’t be an iceberg in your beer. There is a reason for this, beer is a complex and enjoyable drink because it employs the senses, it looks great for a start, in the right glass (not coated in ice, which by the way creates a pool of sodden tissue on your table, please stop), it SMELLS great and it tastes even better. Low temperature ruins the carbonation and as such deadens the olfactory experience, it also numbs the tongue dramatically affecting your ability to TASTE. Essentially, you remove all the drinks vital qualities. If you’re thirsty, drink water.
Now, darker beers such as stouts, porters and other ales (you’re not going to like this) should be served at...room temperature.
An ‘Ale’ is fermented at a low temperature and should be served at 10-13 degrees. Cask Ales, for example, continue to ferment in the barrel, from brewery to your face, Beer is changing its composition to provide you with a unique experience while you babble nonsense about Tracey from accounts. Cold KILLS good beer. Show some respect.
At the very least, don’t use a frozen glass, as this causes the beer to foam and kills the carbonation.
Lemon in your wine Sir?
Ok, at Bulldog we occasionally enjoy a caña con limón when it reaches 40 degrees in the Summer, but this is not the standard deviation of beer drinking. If you are going to enjoy a beer, enjoy a beer, don’t dump poison in it. If you have to add another drink to your drink to enjoy it, perhaps you’re missing the point. There is a whole world of fruit-based beers to choose from, if that’s your thing, try a nice Kriek Morello cherry beer from Belgium.
Let go of the local lager
Most regions have got something tasty to shout about. It seems fierce loyalty doesn’t end with sausage and football. In Madrid, they swear by Mahou (this is Bloody horrible, for example), in Zaragoza Ambar, in Seville Cruz Campo, Spain is a proud country. But there’s more to life than the local tipple, Spain is already growing an interesting and diverse craft beer trade, drink across the country, drink across the globe. There’s so much out there to choose from and like Women’s football, if you don’t support it, it goes nowhere. Become a beer tourist, get a mouthful of culture.
From Aragon, you can try the Ordio Minero or head to Hoppy to sample Populus beers. Barcelona is thriving, but one to watch out for is Garage Beer, La Sitgetana from Sitges, Nomada also Barcelona and Gross Brewery from San Sebastian.
Wine has dominated the dinner table for too long, now the bottle is being toppled. In recent years, restaurants and bars have come to terms with the awesome, diverse and complex characteristics of beer pairing. Beer actually compliments food far better than wine in many cases, as the carbonation opens the taste buds and invites flavour whereas the acidity of wine dominates and can mask the flavour of the food. Try it yourself, strong flavours go best with strong beers, although a little experimentation can uncover some wonderful discoveries. Beer and burger? Yes mate. Dark chocolate and a stout? Absolutely. Paella and Porter? Maybe not.
In the words of John Lennon ‘give beer a chance.’