Saturday, 28 March 2015

Cerveza artesanal en Sevilla

Before my trip to Bamberg in January, I hadn’t ever travelled specifically for beer. A holiday is a holiday, and if there’s a chance to drink good beer whilst I’m abroad, I will. Often, there isn’t, and that’s fine; the popular idea that beer should be cold and refreshing and not much else might be severely limiting, but it isn’t totally misguided, and if you approach it in this manner, even a bland European lager can be very satisfying in the afternoon sun. I’ve had perfectly enjoyable holiday romances with strange beers, such as the ‘stouts’ (actually dark lagers) by Sagres and Super Bock in Portugal and the odd malty-chocolate-milkshake-tasting Pelforth Brun in France. Sometimes it’s fun to lower your expectations a little and make the most of these less-than-distinguished beers.

When my mum, my brother and I booked a trip to Seville, I did a little research to scope out the beer situation in the city. I knew that there was good beer in Spain, but didn’t know how easy it would be to find. A quick Google search suggested that craft beer was still relatively new to the region, but there were places to find it, and I happily noted down the one or two locations suggested.

Cruzcampo (brewed by Heineken), dominates Seville, their mock-Bavarian logo jutting out from the countless bars and cafes that line the streets. I had a couple of glasses, and there are certainly worse macro lagers. It does the job, which is to be cold and thirst-quenching – incredibly, teeth-chatteringly cold and once, without exaggeration, with a layer of ice floating in the glass. The most you’ll pay for a bottle is €1, so the price is right in a country with a severely unhealthy economy. But the city is also covered in adverts for Cruzcampo Gran Reserva, a tastefully presented 6.4% lager, which suggests that even the largest Spanish brands are starting to recognise a growing market of drinkers who demand more character from their beer.

Search for Seville under the ‘places’ section of, and the only recommended location is El Corte Inglés, a large department store with a branch in most Spanish cities. It happens to be very near our apartment, so we stop by to stock up on food and check out their beer section while we’re there. Alongside German, Belgian and British imports, the vast isle carries a small selection of offerings from Spanish microbreweries. Those that we tried will be featured in a separate blog post to follow. As I’ll mention later, there are better places to buy beer in the city, but if you’re nearby, it’s worth a stop.

Our first craft beer location proper is Taifa, a microbrewery housed in a stall in an indoor market on the other side of the river from the city centre, nestled amongst fruit and veg sellers, fishmongers and small cafes. They’ve been brewing here since 2012, and it remains a modest set-up, with three very small fermentation tanks and currently two Taifa beers available only in bottles. We start with the pilsner, which is solid, easy drinking, clean and crisp tasting. There’s a spicy, zesty flavour from the addition of peel from Seville oranges, the same variety used for marmalade in the UK. This is an excellent twist, adding a unique character to the beer without deviating from the essential qualities of the style, and taking inspiration from local flavours at the same time. The second, a pale ale, is similarly sessionable, with a respectable hop bitterness, but lacking a real punch. I prefer my pale ales a little more robust, but it’s still really enjoyable. Especially in the summer months, I can imagine a retreat to the cool, shady market for a couple of these bottles is a perfect way to get refreshed without sacrificing on flavour.

These were the only two locations gleaned from my Google searches but, in the apartment one afternoon whilst double checking the address for Taifa, a blog jumps to the top of the search results that, for some reason, hadn’t been there before. Whilst some sites refer to Taifa as the only brewery inside the city, this one directs me to Maquila, a brewpub that opened in December 2014, as well as a promising-looking bottle shop. When I can find opening times at all, information varies from source to source, so we head out for dinner nearby and hope that the bar will be open after we’ve eaten. We’re probably too early by Spanish standards, and it isn’t.

Undeterred, we decided to stock up at Lupulópolis, a bottle shop/bar, and take our findings back to the apartment. This is an amazing destination if you’re looking for a broad range of Spanish craft beer; though they supposedly do stock imports, I didn’t see any, and the shelves are lined with countless intriguing domestic bottles. There is also one draft beer available, and a well-stocked fridge, so you can hang out, drink your beers and listen to records in the comfy shop. Our Lupulópolis haul will also receive its own dedicated post at a later date.
The next night, we’re determined to make it to Maquila, the quality of many of the beers we’d sampled from Lupulópolis only increasing our thirst. Leaving for dinner a little later in the evening this time, we happily arrive after our food to find the bar very much open, and buzzing with atmosphere. Large fermentation tanks are visible through glass behind the small kitchen (which, incidentally, produces reportedly fantastic food). The bar itself is sparse in the East London hipster fashion, but with a great, friendly atmosphere and some actual character, something I often find lacking in achingly hip concrete-and-stainless-steel bars that look like they’re still being built.
The house brand is Son, and their immaculate American pale ale really hits the spot, tasting something like Dark Star’s might if it was on keg. There are also two beers from Valencian brewery Montseny – theirs was the best of the bottles we tried from El Corte Inglés, so we try both. The IPA is bizarre at first; so full of cloyingly sweet peach flavour that it actually tastes like someone’s poured squash into the beer. A couple of sips later and this sweetness fades into a beautifully balanced, smooth IPA. As a nightcap, we opt for their monster imperial stout, which is incredibly rich, creamy and boozy, a desert of a beer. If some of the Spanish offerings we’d sampled gave me the impression that the Spanish beer scene is a little behind where we are in the UK right now, Maquila makes me think that that distance is rapidly reducing.
As I said at the start of this post, I didn’t travel to Seville for the beer, and neither should you. You should go because it’s a stunningly beautiful city, rich in history. But whilst you’re there, look beyond the Cruzcampo. 

Many thanks to Becoming Sevillana for tipping me off to Maquila and Lupulópolis, which I doubt I'd have stumbled upon otherwise. Information on further craft beer destinations I didn't make it to can be found there.

El Corte Inglés -  Plaza del Duque de la Victoria 8
TaifaMercado de Triana, stall 36
Lupulópolis - Calle José Gestoso 12
Maquila - Calle Delgado 4

Sunday, 1 March 2015

More brown ale

Interesting developments in the brown ale world lately. I'm a little late to post it, but a few weeks ago Jeff Alworth posted an item about Newcastle Brown Ale's use of caramel colouring. They will now, we're told, use roasted malts instead. Jeff seems shocked - I'm not, really. It doesn't take much more than a sip to tell that the brewery don't care about what Newcastle Brown Ale, in it's current form, tastes like. I wouldn't mind tasting the new recipe, though. Perhaps the roasted malts might add some of the elusive flavour the current incarnation sorely lacks. I was also reminded of this post on Twitter showing a gift pack of Newcastle branded beer, including the brown ale, labelled 'original real ale'. I'm no CAMRA militant, but I do think that cashing in on the tradition of real ale (which Newcastle Brown Ale is not, just in case that wasn't completely clear) in order to shift units of your artificially caramel coloured piss is pretty weak.

More cheerfully, two forthcoming brown ale arrivals were announced on Twitter recently. The first is part of a series of collaborations between Ron Pattison and Peter Hayden as Dapper ales, and revives an old Barclay Perkins recipe. It launches on 28th March in selected Fullers pubs, and I hope I get to try some. The second, an Imperial Brown Ale from Beavertown and Bellwoods, launched yesterday. Beavertown have been killing it for some time now, and I'm desperate to get a taste of this beer whilst it's around.

And, finally, some brown ales I've tasted lately.

Having reviewed Hastings’ Slovenian Brown Ale in my original round-up, I was delighted to discover (via a tweet of Evening Star’s always excellent tap list) that they’d released a new version with the American Columbus hop, and headed over to the Star as soon as possible to sample it. I really like the idea of using a brown ale as a base for experimenting with different hops, similar to how, say, The Kernel do with their pale ales and IPAs; it’s such a loosely defined style that the possibilities are practically endless.

The nose is glorious, full of sweet peaches, as is the first sip, with plums and grassy hops, too. There’s a delicate almond flavour here which, together with the sweetness – this is far sweeter than any other brown ale I’ve tried – and a certain grainy, savoury, cereal-like malt quality comes off something like biscotti. There’s a comforting booze warmth at the end, but unfortunately, the bitter finish is a little much, and leaves an unpleasant hairspray flavour behind. Minus this unfortunate aftertaste, this would be another triumph to match the Slovenian edition, but even as it stands, it is mostly excellent.

You wait months for a brown ale only for two to come along at once; not one week later I popped into Craft and found a keg of Harbour’s India Brown Ale waiting for me. It pours an appealingly translucent reddish brown, with a small, creamy head that fades quickly. A blackcurrant aroma immediately makes itself known, and the first taste is full of summer berries with a strong, sweetish toffee note balanced by a slightly herby, savoury flavour.

The mouthfeel is smooth and silky, closer to what I’d expect from a cask ale – further investigation tells me that this beer is also available on cask, which is where I’d imagine it’s at its best. For a beer billed as an India Brown Ale (IBA?), the hop profile is very mild here; compared to the Hastings beers I’ve featured, the bitterness just really isn’t happening. Approach it as a regular brown ale, and there’s much to enjoy; it is quintessentially English, full of blackberries and sweet toffee, but at the same time quite unlike the other traditional brown ales I’ve tried.

I’ve been seeing this beer around for a while, but opted not to include it in my initial brown ale posts because I thought the smoky flavour wouldn’t make for a good comparison against unsmoked beers.  Everything I’ve tried from Anspach and Hobday has been excellent, and, with US-influenced styles so popular in the UK, I’m glad there are London breweries who are just as interested in the city’s rich brewing history; the smoked brown, for example, is based on the 19th century tradition of drying barley over open fires

This beer pours an opaque, murky brown, with a thin, rapidly vanishing head. Stick your nose in and you get plums and berries, with a hint of coffee and bitter chocolate. The meaty, smoky flavour immediately takes me back to Bamberg; it’s intense, but, as your palate grows used to it and the beer warms, sweet nuts, blackcurrant and raisins come through, followed by coffee and bitter chocolate. It’s like eating a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bar at a bonfire, and it’s delicious.

I was in Lewes recently and, as I always do on these occasions, I headed to the Harvey’s brewery shop. I was there to pick up a bottle of their enigmatic imperial stout – labelled not only imperial, but also extra and double and tasting like fortified wine spiked with funky yeast. I hadn’t realised, until it caught my eye on the shelf, that they brew another brown ale (as well as Lewes Castle, which I featured in my original brown ale round-up). Originally known simply as nut brown ale, it was renamed in honour of the Bloomsbury Group’s Duncan Grant, who was apparently a fan. I decided to give it a go, along with a bottle of Old Ale, featured here because it once went under the name Exhibition Brown Ale.

The alcohol content of both beers is very low – Bloomsbury weight in at 2.8%, Old Ale at 3.6%. Whilst I by no means believe that good beers necessarily require a hearty ABV, in my experience, most Harvey’s beers this mild in alcohol do tend to be rather light in the flavour department, too, and unfortunately these two bottles only confirm this perception. The brown ale pours a dark brown with a puny beige head, and has a little malt vinegar on the nose. The only perceivable flavour is a big hit of sweet caramel, and the mouthfeel is so thin that I cannot gain any satisfaction from drinking this beer – I almost want to down it one. The old ale tastes remarkably similar to begin with. The celebrated Harvey’s yeast can be glorious at times, but unfortunately, it makes their lesser beers all taste alike. It’s darker in colour, closer to black than brown, and a little richer in flavour, with sweet treacle joined by some savoury, grainy malt flavours very much hiding in the background. Interesting as it was to try these, I can’t imagine buying them again.