Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Ruzanuvol : Birra artigianale in Spain

In the Ruzafa area of Valencia is an unexpected outpost for Italian beer. Ruzanuvol is a fairly shiny-looking and new bar, minimalist whilst retaining a certain cosiness and atmosphere; there are families eating a meal, old Italian men sipping a dayglo-green liqueur and the guy who owns the place seemingly pouring himself an awful lot of double IPA - a great vibe. Now, my usual policy when travelling is to drink the local beer, or at least beer from the country I'm visiting, wherever possible. But I'm endlessly intrigued by Italian beer, partly because I encounter very little of it in the UK and partly because the examples I have been able to try have been very good, and the beers on offer here – four from Birrificio Italiano and one from Birrificio Lambrate – are from particularly highly regarded breweries. Having sampled my fair share of Spanish brews while I'm here, I decide to allow myself the diversion.

There’s an exciting moment when I spot Tipopils on the bar. Having tried this once before in bottled form, I was underwhelmed, but this only made me more determined to try it on draught – people rave about this lager, so I wasn't going to write it off on the basis of one tired bottle. Though initially disappointed to see a nonic pint glass being pulled out for my beer – I hate these at the best of times, but they’re especially crap for lager – I'm soon enchanted by the crown of loose, moussey foam extending from the glass. Taking a first thirsty glug and feeling the fresh, grassy hops hit my palate, I have to consciously stop myself from knocking it back in one. This is hoppy lager at its best – satisfying all of the pleasures you want from the style and giving a vibrant, herbal hop hit without excessive bitterness or overly fruity flavours that confuse the clean lager base. I would love to drink pint after pint of this, but there are other taps to consider.

Even a butt-ugly nonic pint glass looks attractive with this Mr. Whippy-style head
Various sources suggest that Birrificio Italiano's Amber Shock is available only in bottles. Assuming I wasn't sold some sort of bootleg beer, this must have changed at some point as it was pouring from the keg. A festival of malt, this is soft and comforting beer. There's a little of the candy floss flavour I often notice in beers of this colour, but it stops well short of cloying sweetness, and some treacle-like burnt bitterness and boozey warmth in the finish keep things interesting. Asteroid 56013, the brewery's IPA, is glorious, reminiscent of The Kernel's excellent IPAs at home. There's a big, resinous hop hit which suggests tropical fruit whilst maintaining a certain savoury quality - I guessed at Mosaic, but it's actually Cascade. This is notable for two reasons - 1) I should stop trying to guess what hops are in beers, especially as I never get it right, and 2) I associate Cascade with the herbal and grapefruit flavours of Sierra Nevada and Liberty Ale, but this beer is much more modern in character and proves that it's not just newer hop varieties that make the difference, but the way hops are used. Most importantly, it hits that sweet spot of bitterness which invites you to drink more but stops short of unpleasant washing up liquid sensations.

Finally, Quarantot from Birrificio Lambrate. This is what the owner has been liberally sipping throughout the evening, becoming increasingly friendly and singing along to Italian music as he goes. I can't blame him - it's a big beer at 9% but doesn't necessarily drink like it. There's a little sweetness, which can be a deal breaker in a double IPA for me, but here is delicately managed, preventing the super juicy hops from completely overpowering.

Visiting Ruzanuvol has made me all the more determined to continue seeking out great Italian beer, and I'd highly recommend a visit if you're in Valencia.

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