Oso Brew Co
This bar and brewery is madly in love with Madrid
Saturday 11 February 2023
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There are many points in time that one could justifiably consider the beginning of the Oso Brewing Company’s story. You could say it started in 2018, when co-founders David Ross and Patrick Tuck moved to Madrid to open their bar, La Osita, or that it began in 2014, when Patrick’s starting to work at Anspach and Hobday turned the pair’s dream of owning a bar, into an ambition that included the project of brewing. However, it seems to me that Oso’s story started long before that, in 2007, when David and Patrick met as fresh-faced students from the UK, on a year abroad in Madrid. While a constellation of contributing factors make the brewery what it is today, I would argue that Oso started not with people, but with a place.
“Obviously, during the first year that we lived in Madrid, we became really good friends'' says Patrick, referring to David, “but we also fell in love with the city and its culture, which is all about being out of your apartment, going to lots of different bars, having a few small beers along the way, and enjoying it with food. As much as anything, people had a really nice way of drinking. But something we noticed was that people almost exclusively drank the beer from their region, which in Madrid would be Mahou San Miguel, or Estrella if you were in Barcelona.
“And so we sort of thought, ‘the beer scene here is crying out for a bit of choice; you’ve got thousands of options in terms of wine, and there’s an incredibly rich food culture, let's give it a go’”. At that point, the pair’s aspiration was to open a bar that offered patrons a wider variety of beers, but as the years passed and Patrick began working in Anspach and Hobday, he and David mused on the idea of opening a bar that also incorporated an aspect of brewing. Craft was changing in Spain, and in particular, Garage Beer Co, the now highly esteemed brewpub in Barcelona, was then beginning to gain traction, and in doing so mobilised the idea of a bar and craft beer combination in Spain.
We sort of thought, the beer scene here is crying out for a bit of choice
After travelling back and forth for festivals and collabs, and doing a lot of research, David and Patrick began formulating recipes on a homebrew kit that they would eventually brew some bigger batches of at Anspatch. They shipped these over to Spain to sell at some popup markets and bars over the summer, and having tested the waters, moved their contracting operations to Madrid, followed suit themselves shortly thereafter, and opened La Osita in 2019, with beers already brewed and on the market.
Not only was this a considered approach, but continuing to contract until the bar and brewery were comfortably established was a rather ingenious one also. An often overlooked benefit of contract brewing in Spain, is that because much of the painstaking paperwork involved in brewing is connected with the brew kit itself (ie, its hygiene and maintenance, but also how much a specific kit wastes), brands that contract brew are encumbered with one less relentless legality. In a landscape as bureaucratically merciless as craft beer in Spain, Oso’s decision to contract should not be considered an example of working smart instead of hard, but rather testify to the research, strategy, skill and experience that informs David and Patrick’s professionalism; an asset which has not gone unnoticed in Spain’s craft beer community.
When ex-head brewer at Garage, Joe Gallimore, moved to Madrid to be closer to family, Oso was the team he thought to reach out to. “We got to know Joe over his first year here and from there we were just kind of like, yeah, of course, get him on board”, says Patrick. “Having Joe’s skill set on the team has allowed us to brew a greater variety of beers, he has expertise in the sort of the New England styles which is not really something we did at Anspatch, so that opened us up to a lot of different styles but also allowed us to distribute a lot more outside of Madrid and across Europe”.
David continues saying that Oso has tried to “blend the modern and the traditional as much as we possibly can. Even just by nature of where we are; we’re using new techniques to create new and exciting products and flavours, but the bar and brand is situated among these amazing, 16th century buildings in a very old neighbourhood”. Which leads us to a very interesting discussion about the importance of locality in Spain. Having earlier mentioned how regions in Spain are generally serviced by a singular industrial brewery, I ask David if the appeal of producing a beer locally, might trump reservations people have about unfamiliar styles and flavours. He gives me a thoughtful reply.
“Spain is obviously very different to the UK,” he begins, “because most beer is lager, in fact, it’s probably 95% lager. Most bars only have one beer; you go into a bar and you ask for a beer, and you get a lager. So the hyperlocality of a beer is a slightly different consideration to what tastes people are used to, but it's perhaps an additional one; because you're introducing people to a new style and it's local, that makes the beer very exciting for a lot of people to come into the bar to try it. Something we're going to focus on hugely over the next few years, particularly when we open our own brewery, is to try to do even more things that are even more in touch with our Madrid, and more widely Spanish, roots here”.
You read that correctly. At the time of my Zoom call with David and Patrick, in late December 2022, Oso is on the hunt for a Madrid-based warehouse space they can call home. “Oso, meaning bear, is the symbol of Madrid, meaning that for us, local brewing is really important,” says David. “In addition to opening our own brewery, which we’ve just recently raised enough money to set up, we’re planning, over the next few years, to incorporate even more Spanish ingredients into the beers we make, and come up with a couple more styles that are more heavily Madrid, or Spain focused”.
In this sense, David and Patrick’s personal passion for the city, and indeed wider country, align perfectly with the interests of the market there. “Madrid is interesting, because although it’s one of the biggest cities in Europe with a huge population, its centre is actually quite compact, meaning you get these great neighbourhoods”, says Patrick. “La Latina has always been really outgoing and so the bar has been a great way for us to sort of, personally integrate ourselves here, and has become a real sort of social base for us. I mean, I got married in October, and I think two full tables at the wedding were people we've met through the bar.
“We've even had several labels designed by a local graffiti artist who we met because they were a customer of ours. The bar itself is quite narrow, with a really long bar, so, you know, when we first opened and Dave and I would work there almost everyday, we really got to meet and chat with everyone who came in, so much so that the bar has become very integrated with our lives. That community is obviously one of the big things that craft beers brought us, it's about community because it's about something local. People like drinking stuff that’s been made by the person that's just on the other side of the bar, and who they can talk to”. The admiration and reverence with which David and Patrick speak about Madrid feels particularly profound, as we wrap up our call, and I let Patrick and David get back to post-Christmas pottering with their friends and families. They seem, above all else, grateful that the city embraced them the way it did.
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