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 Ratebeer.com, 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.