For the last three years my wife and I have decided to disappear to Nerja, Spain for some winter sun and delicious tapas food. In the past, holidaying in Spain has stunted my craft beer intake; having to settle for ice cold Cruzcampo, San Miguel or Alhambra, but over the last two years the Spanish beer scene has boomed with microbreweries opening up from the Basque region in the north all the way down to Malaga in the south. At less than 1% of Spain’s beer market (the 3rd biggest beer producing country in Europe after the UK and Germany) it’s not going to fall into your lap.
Obviously there are the popular well known and established breweries that get their beers over to the UK such as Nomada Brewing with their solid core range and collaborative style; and Naparbier who’s hop forward Pales and IPAs are standing up to some of our own. On my stag weekend in early 2014 I managed to crack a bottle of Nomada’s Moose Islay; a rich imperial stout barrel aged in Islay whiskey barrels giving it an intense peatiness without the medicinal flavours you get from using peated malt. This beer was not like any other Spanish beer I’d managed to get my hands on at the time! And is still probably a valid statement.
With the Spanish craft beer scene still being in it’s adolescent stage it is still mainly regional like the UK was pre-2010 with a small handful of the bigger breweries getting around. Even with the ethos to source local produce, UK bars still look far and wide in order to serve only the best beer. Nerja, a small seaside town with a population of around 20,000 has two craft beer bars. Iberico Restaurante serving an abundance of bottles of Andalusian craft beer from Cordoba, Seville and Malaga; and a few from other areas of Spain. Kombardo Ale House, a former Irish bar not only serving Spanish craft beer from further afield but uber-local La Axarca Tropical Pale Ale on keg from Frigliana brewery La Domadora y el León, an intense fruity, pithy pale ale with big grapefruit flavours from the Amarillo hops.
At Iberico I got a bottle of Guineu Cervesa Artesana’s Jack the RIPA; a massively hopped IPA at 7.2% and 126IBU this beer was a killer and as murky as the misty back streets of Whitechapel on a winter’s morning. I wanted to see how a Spanish brewery would use hops in a country where lager is so much more the prominent beer style and I wasn’t disappointed. Iberico also serve tapas too; on this occasion some Spanish sausage on toasted white bread, aioli and some warm, garlicy cabbage.
My visit to Kombardo had highs and lows. Wanting to also see how a Spanish brewery would undertake a sour I picked up a bottle of La Pirata’s Transició; referred to as a Sour Saison. Unfortunately the lack of sourness in this bottle was only hampered further by the masses of sediment floating around the glass. This beer may suit being super chilled on a hot Spanish afternoon but it didn’t quite cut the mustard this evening. On the other hand Bidassoa Basque Brewery’s Black Saison ticked all the boxes. Incredibly dry, perfect carbonation and just a touch of tartness I like from a Saison. There was even a little roastiness in the background that meant the darkness wasn’t just for appearance.
So are there good Spanish craft or artisan beers available? Yes. Many of the breweries around the big cities, especially Barcelona are developing fast and turning heads away from the standard lagers. The Basque regions “foodie” culture is pushing the boundaries further with beers showing more flair and creativity.
Are you going to be spoilt for choice? No. Not yet anyhow. Spanish beer of this sort is still young. A lot tending to be over carbonated in the same vein as lager and served too cold in order to cool the paying customer down in the hot Spanish sun. So finding a good bar that sells great Spanish beer is going to be tough if you’re not in one of the major cities. Finding it on keg even more so.
With the Spanish Craft Beer market expected to have increased its market share by 33% in 2015, who knows what 2016 will have to offer. If it grows at the rate we are in the UK, the Macros across Europe may have something to worry about…
Or they will buy them out