Barcelona we are told is an up and coming craft beer destination. And so it is. Craft beer bars are popping up everywhere and there is even a BrewDog and, gasp, a Mikkeller bar, more of which later. Fortunately for me my craft bar guidance was in the safe hands of our friends - let's call them Jack and Jill - who are very much taken with the craft beer scene generally and therefore had a list of craft beer destinations to tick off. Yes indeed, craft beer bar ticking is a thing - and why not? It is certainly as valid as many other list ticking things and of course you get a drink of sorts, if not thrown in, at least guaranteed.
On our first full day, after a strenuous hot but pleasant walk up to the Olympic Stadium and some spectacular buildings and views, we needed liquid sustenance. Now one thing about craft beer bars in a big city, is that unlike curry houses and the like that tend to huddle together, they seem to take perverse delight in being miles apart and thus needing public transport connections.* Fortunately Barcelona's Metro is a bit of a marvel, but it does mean spending rather a lot of valuable drinking time bashing track. Now up at the Olympic Stadium it was hot and sunny. Down by the sea shore in Barceloneta it was sunny and windy and the wind had a chill to it. We sat outside BlackLab Brewhouse, more out of bravado than common sense and perused the beer menu. There was a bit of a Stone Brewing theme going on and the house brewed beers were mostly in the pale ale genre. Sadly, no dark beers were available, so I tried El Predicador, El Cunado and Punto de Rocio and all were fine, if uninspiring. 20cl glasses were the standard measure and were reassuringly expensive. It was an OK place and was rather nice inside, but I don't think in fairness we saw it at its best.
Over the next few days we went to a fair number more. Here's a brief run-down, though not in any particular order:
Biercab: A nice enough bar with a large number of beers shown on two screens so you can see what was what. Again dominated by Stone in both its US and Berlin incarnations. I also soon realised a theme that was going to be repeated, repeatedly, is that Barcelona Craft Beer Bars tend to feature a number of IPAs, a choice of Porters, Imperial Stouts and the odd oddity thrown in. Where you do get a pilsner it will likely be the worst tasting beer available. As E found out.
Garage Beer Co: A slightly grungey and dim brewery tap. The equipment can be seen at the back and when we went there it was only us four and a couple who sat canoodling on a settee. The barman seemed to find us an intrusion and the beer was at best ordinary. For a more positive review I suggest you look here, but I really didn't like it at all and I suspect, apart from the joy of people watching - not the cannoodlers I emphasise - I doubt if I'd have liked it much more when full.
Mikkeller: Scandinavian chic, uncomfortable seating and eye popping prices. Not very big really and again as we called in fairly early, it was pretty deserted. Most of the beers are from Mikkeller with one or two from elsewhere. I think I tweeted that I was paying £10 a pint. It was probably more than that I think once you multiply it out. Beers well made but well expensive. Not my sort of place and as soulless as Dracula in his coffin, but maybe the place you'd take a posh lass to impress. Or then again, maybe not.
La Cervecita Nuestra De Cada Dia: Bottle shop and bar which I quite liked. One handpumped beer, reasonable prices and a bottle shop within. Slapdash service, but it was a pleasant place if you want to try more obscure Spanish beers at good prices or, indeed large Belgian bottles to share. OK it was just by our hotel, so that was a plus too.
A Birra Dero: Also known as the Barcelona Beer Institute, I wrote on Twitter that I seriously liked some of the beers, in particular ICA Green Pilsner. Also known as the Barcelona Beer Institute. It was another fairly neat modern bar. But I liked it, so go there.
In A Birra Dero Some really interesting in a good way. Spanish craft beers vary. Mostly an acquired taste, some though outstanding.— Tandleman (@tandleman) April 20, 2016
Kaelderkold: Nice little Danish bar just of the Ramblas run by a very personable and chatty Danish guy. This was a likeable place with the usual choice of IPAs (various), Porters (ditto) and imports from all over. Along with Ale and Hop, probably the best balanced beer list of any I went to. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Homo Sibaris: In a very nice local square a ten minute metro ride from the Ramblas. Small but perfectly formed, but if you have the weather to sit out on the square you get lots of spillover vibes from the seven or so other bars that surround it and provide atmosphere. Run by a very nice guy. For beer choice, see elsewhere. Same old really.
Ale and Hop: Did you know Barcelona has an Arc De Triomf? It does, it's bloody handsome and that's the metro stop for this back street boozer. Unlike many of its brethren, it was bustling and busy and I knew something better was afoot as the young crowd were mainly drinking pints. That told me the the beer was both good and affordable. And it was, including two cask beers which I didn't buy, but had a taste of. Very balanced list of beers too, so fine really. A more neighbourhood bar vibe too which gave it a really good feel. Recommended.
Now there may have been others, but I didn't write anything down as usual, as I was with friends and not as it were, on duty. But one or two thoughts. By and large it seems, craft beer bars in Barcelona have, shall we say, an air of sameness about them. Nothing is hugely Spanish or indeed Catalan. You could be in any city in the world given the rather repetitive environment and the same old bearded staff and customers. Customers of UK craft beer bars would fit in seamlessly. That isn't really a good thing for the likes of me, but I'm not the target audience. In my view it would be better to bring craft beer into a more local setting though I can see many difficulties in doing so. Beer lists were astonishingly similar, mostly on the really strong side.
On the other hand, though there was a chance to sample the offerings of various Spanish Breweries - or I should say, in most cases, Catalan Breweries - they are very picky about that with "Cat" being denoted on the beer boards for Catalan and "Esp" for beers from other parts of Spain. All seemed to have a go at American beer styles with varying degrees of success. Prices did vary and there was an oddness about measure - I think Mikkeller and the A Birra Dero offer 18cl (just under a third of a pint) as standard, though most had 20cl. So I guess that most beer was around €7 - €10 a pint, but some in Mikkeller for example, went quite beyond this, the cost being justified neither by the taste nor the experience. It may well be that as the craft scene matures here - if it does - it will develop a more native feel. I do hope so.
This was probably the most craft beers bars I've been to over such a short time. It isn't really for me. I found the sameness of the beers depressing and the bars formulaic and expensive. I did enjoy it as a one-off but as I walked between each thinking of another taste-alike IPA or Imperial Stout, I cast envious glances at the buzzing Spanish bars, traditionally decorated, exuding warmth, chatter, welcome and enticing tapas, just demanding to be sampled.
A lovely glass of swoopable Estrella wouldn't have hurt either. Sipping just isn't me.
* There is a small crawl of Biercab, Garage and Mikkeller which is easily done by foot.
I also quite liked Fabrica Moritz, the oldest brewery in Barcelona, though the beers were pretty mainstream. It had nice kit to look at, was buzzy and cheerful, with a great shop attached. The picture here is from there.