Thursday, 2 April 2015

Spanish beer haul pt.1 ; El Court Inglés

The Spanish department store, El Corte Inglés, stocks a small range of craft beer. The beers featured here are a selection from across the country, and were purchased from the store in the centre of Seville.

Cervesa del Montseny Luplus (Sant Miquel de Balenya, Valencia)
Though brewed with pilsner malt and possessing all of the defining features of a lager, Lupulus is actually top fermented. The motivation is, apparently, a reconnection with the brewing traditions of the Iberians of the Bronze and Neolithic ages. I wouldn’t know much about that, but the beer is surprisingly modern in style, with a flavour profile reminiscent of Camden Pils; clean, crisp and refreshing like a pilsner, but packed with fruity hop flavour. The complex hop bill includes Cascade, Fuggles, Nugget, Styrian Celeia and Target, though the US varieties dominate with juicy mango and mandarin flavours. I’m always partial to beers that combine the refreshment and citrus bite of a pilsner with the moreish complexity of hoppy pale ales, and found this one particularly enjoyable. Accomplished, inventive brewing, and an auspicious start to my exploration of Spanish craft beer.

Though I suspected a gimmick, I couldn’t help but satisfy my curiosity for a beer brewed with sea water. It’s unfiltered and unpasteurised, but even by these standards, the pour is very murky, and the yeast aroma incredibly pungent. I’m expecting it to be undrinkable based on the smell, but it’s a pleasant surprise, full of smooth, subtle yeast flavours reminiscent of wit beer, with notes of pressed apple juice, pineapple and raspberry, and satisfyingly full-bodied. Though you can’t help but search for it, no salt is detectable, though a certain aftertaste does leave you feeling like you’ve recently returned from a walk on the beach. I ended up really enjoying this, despite having bought it principally for the weirdness.

Sagra IPA (Toledo)
Yes, that’s Sagra, not Sagres – there’s no connection to the ubiquitous Portugese lager, despite branding so incredibly similar that I’m not sure how they’re getting away with it. This is the only Spanish IPA on offer on the El Corte Inglés shelves, and I’m immediately sceptical when I get a nose of the beer; it’s dominated by malt, mostly cereals, with no discernible hop aroma. There is a hop presence in the taste, but the overall flavour is cloyingly sweet malt. The bitterness is there in the finish, but the taste of the hops lacks a punch. It’s reminiscent of an English IPA – say, Bengal Lancer – but, although it’s far less robust in flavour, the ABV is 7.2%, which adds nothing but sickly booziness and ruins the beer.

A pale ale, which pours a hazy blonde with an appealing rocky white head. The taste is immediately quite underwhelming, if actually quite pleasant in its subtlety and easy drinking. There’s a little toffee with a strong mineral tang and, weirdly, the closest comparison I can make is the non-alcoholic version of Erdinger. The brewery’s website tells me they use Cascade hops here, but very little hop profile is apparent in my bottle. It’s fine, but not full of character.

Antara (Foios/Venta del Moro)
Antara appears to be the creation of a Valencian organic food company, Terra I Xufa, based in Foios, and is brewed at Fernández Ponz in Venta del Moro. It’s by far the best presented beer of the selection, with a minimal white and gold label that reminds me of Wiper and True’s classy branding. This only makes the strange mess of a beer inside the bottle all the more surprising. It pours an unappealing golden brown, like the colour of apple left out too long and oxidised. The aroma is floral, with perfume and strawberries. A chalky mineral flavour leads to an intense and unpleasant bitterness; it’s not a hoppy bitterness, though – it’s more medicinal, like an alka seltzer. Once this fades, the remaining flavour is a little ‘off’ – ‘barnyard’ might be the kindest way to describe it, but it tastes more dirty to me, especially with the smoky finish that’s closer to cigarette ash than it is to rauchbier. This is one to avoid.

Tor Quemada 25 (Palencia)
This beer is billed as a pale ale, and so I was a little alarmed to discover that it was bottled around a year ago, as the hop flavours I’m hoping for will have lost most of their punch in the meantime. Thankfully, this stretch in the bottle seems to have only improved the beer’s character, as, whilst it is technically and ale which is pale, it’s closer to a Belgian golden ale. Though it doesn’t quite reach the same heights, 25’s closest relative is Orval (small complaint as Orval is one of the best beers in the world), though the lactic tang here is sharper. It pours a dirty blonde colour with a big, lively, fluffy head. The aroma is sour apples counteracted by sweet pear drops, and the first sip is full of those tart apples amongst a bold yeast presence. The finish is very dry and moreish, accentuated further by brisk carbonation. It’s absolutely not to style, but it’s a very good beer nevertheless.

The Burro de Sancho range immediately caught my eye, as their labels quite flagrantly rip off Brewdog’s style prior to their recent rebrand. Closer inspection reveals that Burro de Sancho is a subsidiary of the Sagra brewery who, evidently, have previous in their blatant “inspiration” from other breweries’ branding. This is the first filtered beer of the bunch, and pours a clear amber with a quickly receding head. The initial aroma is a quite frightening combination of bitter chocolate and tomato. A little bitter chocolate flavour is apparent, too, along with some toast. There’s a spicy, very savoury quality here, and what little hop flavour is detectable tastes stewed. I find this is not uncommon amongst red ales, but I don’t find it very pleasant, and can’t recommend this beer overall.

The beers I bought from Lupulópolis, a more exciting place to buy beer in Seville, will follow in another post soon.

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