La dolça vida
Craft beer scene in Catalonia
Monday 30 December 2019
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Catalonia has long been celebrated for the warmth and hospitality of its people and the quality of its food, but today it’s increasingly on the radar for its burgeoning craft beer scene. In market previously dominated by macro-brewed golden lager – served cold, consumed quickly and costing next to nothing – the thirst for quality craft beer has allowed a first wave of new brewers to hit the ground running.
Edge Brewing is one of the more established craft players in Barcelona, founded in 2013. Unsurprisingly, as it was founded by Americans, it has taken a lead squarely from the US scene, with predominantly hop-forward beers showcasing New World hops and clean American yeast profiles. Its taproom is a wonderfully convivial space, in which the US-style beer matches with typical Catalonian bonhomie.
A name perhaps more familiar to UK drinkers, Garage is already making somewhat of a splash in the beer community, particularly with its stand-out cans. Very much a purveyor to the ‘haze craze’ crowd, its Soup IPA is lauded everywhere it reaches. Garage’s bar in the city has all the atmosphere of a cutting-edge brewery tap, and is a must-stop for even casual beer tourists to the regional capital.
While individual examples are plentiful, if anything here proves the enthusiasm with which craft beer is being embraced, it is undoubtedly the Barcelona Beer Festival. Established in 2013, the festival has been pushing the boundaries for artisan-produced beer in the region since its inception.
Hoards of drinkers descend on the venue in the city’s La Farga de L’Hospitalet on the weekend to enjoy brews from near and far. Brewers themselves are on hand and eager to chat as their beers poured, with humility and clear excitement. In fact, excitement and novelty seem to permeate the atmosphere; despite being a longstanding event, there is a strong feeling that everyone here is revelling in this burgeoning cultural shift.
I must include some highlights; although we sadly did not visit any of these breweries, the quality of the beer is definitely worthy of attention on a world stage. First up, Soma Brewing, whose New England style hazy IPAs have topped Spain’s Untappd chart. Both the Pyramid and Combo were delicious, forward-thinking beers. A recent collaboration with Garage Brewing (also hot property right now) dubbed ‘Montessori’ was a definite winner in the low-bitterness, big aroma, so-called ‘juice-bomb’ stakes.
The festival has been pushing the boundaries for artisan-produced beer
I also enjoy the beer from Cervesa Marina, hailing from Blanès. Longstanding figures on the Catalan beer scene, their history has seen collaborations with Steel City and La Pirata. Top of the list was Sour Skull, an 8% Black IPA aged for a year in French wine barrels with additional Brettanomyces; not in any way subtle, but hugely complex with lots of tannins and rich wood character while also maintaining a pleasantly fulsome body. Notable mentions also go to Guineu, Laugar and Cyclic Beer Farm, all of whom had some delicious beers on show.
I have encountered a host of different approaches to beer here in Catalonia, yet one thing shared by everyone I have met is an ardour and devotion to their craft that is palpable, coupled with a joyous affection for their homeland. For a people who love to consume food and drink and demand the utmost in quality, Catalonia is on the cusp of huge progress in European beer.
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