Keen readers of this blog will know that I have mentioned what I call social cohesion as a key to the way that Germany and its pubs operate. So it is interesting to note, that in rural Spain at least, that same kind of togetherness dominates drinking proceedings, albeit in a rather different way. I've been in Spain you see. Rural Spain actually, so I won't be telling you about all the exotic beers I have been drinking because, well, there weren't any. Sorry about that. You'll have to make do with some observations and dodgy conclusions instead; not about beer, but about drinking beer, or anything else alcoholic for that matter, in a different environment entirely.
Alhama de Granada is a small town in spectacular mountainous country not that far from Granada. It really is rather lovely. There are no pubs exactly; rather a set of bars and restaurants that act in much the same way. Two weeks there and a touch of observation told us that "locals" operate much as they do here. The indigenous drinkers all have their favourites and are rarely seen frequenting other bars. Drinking at least in the early part of the day and after work is a male dominated pastime, with small glasses of beer seeming to be a background to social intercourse, rather than the point of the visit. Early morning drinking - well say ten o'clock onwards - is seen as normal though there was some old soaks getting stuck into the booze - brandies and red wine/lemonade mixes were popular - and one bar in particular reminded me of a Wetherspoons - not in size, but in the dedication of its early morning topers. They even seemed to hang about outside there, somewhat forlornly, on the rest day when the bar was closed.
In the outside areas frequented more by families, a request for a beer would result, more often than not, in a small glass of beer (0.2l. These are sipped very slowly by locals and we soon "got it" and surprised ourselves by making these tiny measures last a half hour or so. It just would have somehow seemed wrong to gulp and order repeatedly, particularly as each came with a small snack or tapa. The behaviour of others did indeed change our behaviour, which would seem to give some credence to the positive effect of nurture over nature.
The inclusive thing was most noticeable at night. Now of course, I don't doubt that late night boozing in the cities is an entirely different kettle of calamares, but in the sticks, teenagers happily mixed with grannies and grandads, mums, dads, aunties and uncles. They seemed content and at ease, chatting away and we didn't see a sullen face at all. Even the local travelling fair seemed to bring out whole families, who would meet friends, but always remain together. Shared snacks were the norm, with even young children happily eating whatever the adults were having. Mixed groups of young men and women sat happily yakking away (at top volume - well they are Spanish after all) with no real drinking going on. It all made for an utterly relaxing and sober atmosphere, though at night we could revert to type over wine with dinner. There was a choice of beer, depending on where you went, of Mahou, Alhambra or Cruzcampo. Only the Cruzcampo had anything you'd describe as character, but even that was pretty ordinary. It didn't matter though. The place and the time were what mattered. The booze was background.
It was a timely reminder that beer should be, at least some of the time, an accompaniment to fun rather than the fun itself. Not a bad reminder either I'd suggest. The real fun was in people watching. At no time did I feel like a frustrated drunk. Of course, I tanked up before I went out. Think I went native altogether?
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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