Saturday, October 22, 2016

I'm off to Walk the Dog

Booze and fags are pretty cheap in Spain. At least I think they are. I haven't bought either in the UK for quite a while now so I'm just going on what visitors tell me. Certainly booze, in the form of home produced, Spanish, brandy is endangering my already weakened liver and my lungs are as claggy as those pits that trapped the woolly mammoths. That's thanks to ten cigars for the princely sum of 6€. To be fair I haven't actually smoked a cigar for a couple of weeks but my guess is the damage is done and that death by asphyxiation is round the corner.

When I was young pubs were tied houses, The Savile was Websters, The Wellington Bass, the New Inn was Ramsden's or maybe Bentley's Yorkshire Beers. Of course in time all the little breweries became part of huge conglomerates so it was Watney's or Ind Coope or Tetley's who owned the boozers. The last time I was in the UK that system seemed to have largely disappeared and pubs sold a variety of beers with improbable names. In Tesco's and Sainsbury's I presume there are still shelves and shelves of bottled beer from around the world.

Generally, in Spain, beer is beer. Obviously there are taste differences between the brands but, almost without exception, it's a light, alcoholic and fizzy pilsener type lager. Each region tends towards a particular manufacturer though the big brands are always available somewhere. Individual drinkers may have a preference for Mahou or Cruzcampo or Alhambra but, in general, brand is nowhere near as important as temperature. Beer has to be cold. On the two occasions when I have attempted to interest Spaniards in drinking British bitter they have complained loudly about the temperature - it's like broth - without mention of the taste.

There have always been a few, readily available, Spanish beers that have been out of the ordinary though the only two I can instantly bring to mind are Yuste and Voll Damm. Yuste is a beer with its roots back in the time when Spain ruled the Low Countries and is a dark Belgian type ale whilst the Voll Damm is a dark double malt lager. But suddenly, on the counter tops of bars all over Spain, there are lots of bottles of different beers on display. They don't seem to get drunk much but there they are.

Just to prove it to myself I had a look at the Cruzcampo site where there is Cruzcampo Cruzial with 100% selected hops (so the hops in their other beer aren't selected?), Cruzcampo Fresca (the authentic taste of recently brewed beer). On the San Miguel site they have a fresca too: it looks as though it may taste like the Mexican Corona or Sol whilst San Miguel Especial has toasted barley and overtones of licorice which is more or less the same description as San Miguel 1516. At least San Miguel Blu is different because it comes in a blue bottle and includes a touch of vodka. Actually the San Miguel site gives the year when each of these beers were introduced and lots of them have apparently been around for ages. I musn't have been looking! Even the local Murcia brewer, Estrella de Levante, has a beer called Punta Este on their website though there's no description of it, just a photo. Amstel Extra is for the bloke with strong emotions (really, that's how the blog translates) whilst Amstel Oro has the ingredients to be pretentious but prefers to be careful (and I thought education jargon was rubbish). Again, it seems that Amstel Oro, Amstel Gold, was introduced in 1956 so it's nearly as old as me.

And, alongside these bottles with different labels and differently coloured beer inside there are now, reasonably frequently, some local beers brewed in somebody's shed - artisan or craft beers. It's true that the outlet for most of them seems to be in the Mediaeval Markets and other street fairs but some bars do have them. Strangely one of the Spaniards who disliked English Bitter was also my drinking partner for some wheat beer and a pale ale tried over the summer at a Mediaeval Market in Teruel. He said he preferred proper, "industrial," beer.

One of the bodegas that Maggie uses for her wine tours, Casa de la Ermita, now does beer too under the name of Yakka. The last time I visited I tried their IPA. It wasn't that great to be honest but it was a nice change. I'm pretty sure that Yakka was actually started here in Pinoso, in the satellite village of Ubeda, because I tried their stout one cold November evening a couple of years ago at the Mediaeval Fair in Santa Catalina. A beer I sometimes drank when I lived in Cartagena, Icue, still looks to be alive and well too.

Who knows, give it another twenty years or so and it may be dead easy to get something other than industrially produced lager in Spanish bars.

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