Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Barcelona

I know what you're thinking: this is not a city for lovers of beer, and in some respects you'd be correct. You won't find any cask ale here and for the most part the beer on offer is very bland and very cold, but happily the beer consumed in Barcelona, particularly in the heat of an August afternoon hits the spot nicely. You hardly find yourself drinking for gastronomic reasons, more as a means to stay alive, lest thirst and heatstroke kill you. Perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic, but ice cold beer in these conditions really does offer a revival to a body past its thermal comfort zone.

Our hotel was in the Exiample quarter of town, and area north of the old town and built after the old town burst through the city walls during a period of rapid expansion. Exiample sits in stark contrast to its older neighbourhood; a strict grid like lay out of smaller streets crossing larger avenues similar to New York makes for easy navigation, while the Barra Gotic and La Ribera of the old town are a confusing, seemingly random network of small streets that once sat within the old city walls, and savagely bisected by the relentlessly busy La Ramblas. As it turned out the Eixample proved to be an excellent location for beer bars, or 'cervecerias'. The Pilsner Urquell boards outside Mengi Mengi drew us in while out for a stroll after dinner on our first night. Along with quality Czech lager on tap, the bar sported a number of beer fridges stocking a solid if unspectacular selection of beer from Germany and Belgium as well as some Argentinian Quilmes Lager, which I tried for the first time. The Pilsner Urquell came served in a glass from the freezer and, unsurprisingly was very cold indeed. Luckily this lager still gives plenty of flavour at that temperature and it went down very nicely.

Lunch for us generally meant tapas. There are many places around the city to try it, but once again our hotel proved to be right next to one of the best tapas bars in town that also just happened to have a decent beer menu. Cervesia Catalan is a very busy spot, but thankfully our custom of eating quite a bit earlier than the locals meant that getting a table was straight forward. It appeared to be something of an extreme sport later in the evenings when the locals emerged from their labours for a spot of supper. Walls lined with beer bottles surround diners, and good selection is offered on the menu. Standard Spanish lager is available on tap, which I washed down some omelet and potatoes with. I followed this with some Timmerman's Kreik - a mistake I realised too late. Timmerman's appear to be one of the many Belgian brewers out there making a very good living from putting E numbers and fruit syrups into weak lambic, not to mention an unhealthy dose of artificial sweetener. Nasty stuff and a lesson learned. After lunch we exploited the most civilised of Mediterranean traditions - the siesta, a healthy dose of tapas and cold beer aids this no end.

Two minutes west of the Placa de Catalunya will find you in the incongruous medieval hard wood and wrought iron interior of Alt Heidelberg, a German bar serving a decent selection of beer nicely complemented with tasty German fare and traditional local tapas. Once again Pilsner Urquell is the main beer available on tap - a little confusing because the aged menu suggested that other beers are available. The same thing occurred in Mengi Mengi, where the menu would have you believe that Spaten is on draught, but a request for draught beer will get you Pilsner Urquell. It seems that SAB Miller have muscled into the better beer bars and forced all other producers, except for the Spanish macros, from the bar. Confusingly the menus are often not updated, and the waiters will not inform you that the beer you think you are ordering isn't in fact on offer. The highlight of this visit for me was some Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter. It was all brown sugar and treacle, the ordering of which raised a smirk from the waiter who I am sure thought I had taken pot luck from a Spanish language beer menu and didn't realise what I was letting myself in for. I washed down some excellent sauerkraut and bratwurst with the porter and topped it off with a sweet and refreshing Lindeman's Peche - which raised yet another smirk from the waiter.

Our last evening found us enjoying after dinner drinks in D'Or, yet another bar with a respectable beer selection only minutes from our hotel. Large ornate German beer fonts on the tables immediately alert you to the possibility of a decent pint, but it was the more obscure Catalan beers from Cerevesera del Montseny that caught my attention. Nonchalantly dropped in among a list of European beers of note was Lupulus. Thankfully my extensive knowledge of Latin meant that this beer did not slip by and I was rewarded with a healthy dose of American C hops more intense than I ever dreamed of from a Spanish beer, and on top this delight it was bottle conditioned to boot. It was a little soup like but really delivered. Happy with this find I opted for another beer from Cerevesera del Montseny, this time their dark beer described as 'cervesa negra Irlandesa', so it was not hard to see what they were driving at. Unsurprisingly it didn't quite hit the mark, resembling a thin, weaker English stout rather than the fuller Irish interpretation. Once again a funny look met my request for this dark beer. Spanish waiters seem concerned that a punter will, heaven forbid, stumble into a dark beer. This is ice cold lager country after all. A curious thing, but it's nice to know that the waiters have the beer novice's well being at heart.

2 comments:

Leigh said...

Thanks - useful post - I'm hoping o visit for the day as part of my honeymoon tour of Spain next year. cheers!

Thom said...

Glad to be of assistance. This was more a walking tour of pubs than an intensive beer review. There are a few micros in the city which I am told are worth a visit, but I didn't make it to them.