Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Spanish beer haul pt.2; Lupulópolis

The following beers were purchased at Lupulópolis in Seville.

A very lively pour from this bottle, with deep black beer foaming insistently into the glass and settling into a thick, lasting beige head. The aroma is richly savoury, an intense nose full of toasted malt, and the first sip is satisfyingly full bodied with a beautiful viscous mouthfeel. The trio of US hops (Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade) bring bitterness, but not a huge amount of juicy fruit flavour, which is fine by me as they never threaten to step on that malt backbone. There’s a slight tonic-like tang in the finish, which only encourages you to go back for more, and the beer’s 8.5% ABV reveals itself in a lasting boozy warmth. It’s subtle for a black IPA, but it’s a well-made beer all the same.

A mid-strength porter although, amusingly, it says 4.8% on the front label and 5.6% on the back. The aroma is weak, with a hint of the tart, malt vinegar tang I associate with Harvey’s beers, and which is never inviting even if the beer is good once you taste it. Yunque has some very unusual flavours going on; I don’t get the usual treacle or coffee, with the roasted malt flavour taking a bit of a back seat whilst hazelnuts and big vanilla dominate. It tastes good, but I’ve never had a porter quite like it, and it’s not really what I’m looking for from the style.

Cárdenas Stout (Dos Hermanas)
This is the most local of all the bottled beers I picked up in Seville, brewed in Dos Hermanas just 15km outside the city. It’s an inauspicious start, as unfortunately there’s a lot of floating sediment in the glass, though the bottle has remained upright and I poured slowly. Even worse, the aroma is positively pungent, and not in a pleasant way. I don’t mean to be harsh, but it really does smell like a well-used chemical toilet, with a note of toothpaste in the background. I almost don’t want to taste it, though it’s not terrible when I do – just very, very strange. The roasted malt flavours are in the background, and the most prominent flavour is mint. As with the Kettal porter, it’s not that it tastes awful, it just isn’t anything like a stout should be. Compared to some of the other Spanish beers I’ve tried alongside it, this is, sadly pretty unaccomplished brewing.

I don’t mind admitting that I selected this beer from the fridge based mainly on the wacky label and the fact that I love guinea pigs. Words cannot describe the joy this label brings me; I want a print of it on my wall, I want it on a T-shirt. Anyway,  Guinea Pigs! is based in Madrid, but works as a contract brewer, and Hopvana was brewed at Domus in Toledo. Whilst it’s a broadly American-style IPA, some interesting and creative decisions have been made here; for example, the hop bill mixes German Herkules and Saphir with Australian Summer, with Cascade being the only US hop included. The beer’s unusually dark colour can be attributed to the inclusion of chocolate malt alongside pale ale and crystal. The resulting flavour is both familiar and surprising at the same time; mango and sweet oranges, pink grapefruit and candy floss, balanced by a solid malt profile. I may have chosen it for dubious reasons, but Hopvana was nevertheless a fine choice!

Guineu/BrauKunstKeller Collabrew Double IPA (Barcelona/Michelstadt, Germany)
Guineu is the only Spanish microbrewery I’d heard of before this trip, and this double IPA is a collaboration with BraunKunstKeller, a German craft brewery. Whilst there are obviously exceptions, the thought of double IPAs sometimes makes me wince, because they’re just too much for me; too bitter, too strong, too demanding. This is not the case here, as the juicy fruit flavour is prominent, but without lip-puckering bitterness, and with a solid malt framework, too. The hops are a mixture of European varieties – Mandarina Bavaria and Hull Melon from Germany – in the kettle, and US – Mosaic and Citra – for dry hopping. It’s full of mango, papaya and pineapple, but built on a  foundation of crisp malt which I’d like to imagine is the German influence. It’s excellent.

Not knowing any of the breweries on offer, I had to make my selections in the bottle shop on very limited data. So I figured, go for the beer with the personified cartoon hop on the label, and you can expect something really hoppy, right? Well, kind of. Take a sip and wait for that lupulin hit, and you’ll be disappointed, because the bitterness in this beer is surprisingly low. Nevertheless, it’s very flavoursome and fruity, with lots of juicy papaya and ripe white grapes. It hides its 9% strength very well, with light carbonation and a modest body that demands another gulp. It’s not at all what I expected, and I can imagine some people being really disappointed by it (the handful of reviews it has on Ratebeer are lukewarm at best, for example) but I loved it.

It would be arrogant of me to make any broad claims to know Spanish craft beer based on the beers I've tasted in these posts; the generously stacked shelves in Lupulópolis are testament to the fact that I've barely scratched the surface of a rapidly growing scene. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Spain, as far as I'm aware, doesn't have much of an indigenous beer tradition.The best beers I sampled are good enough to compete with the best beers coming out of the UK and the rest of Europe, and the ones that weren't so good are hopefully examples from brewers still on a learning curve. I'll happily take a light lager in an ice-encrusted glass from time to time, but on future holidays in Spain, it's great to know that proper beer is out there waiting to be discovered.

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