Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Same New!

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.

  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.


ABrewHaHa said...

Didn't you find Homo Sibaris? I liked that place, and Biercab.

Bailey said...

We wrote a bit in our monthly email newsletter last year about 'Craftonia', a weird global nation in which all craft beer bars seem to exist. Might post it on the blog at some point.

Having said that, craft beer bars are generally aimed at locals, not visitors, so we find it hard to get too wound up about their failure to reflect the national or regional culture.

Tandleman said...

The second para is surely a bit contradictory? My point is that they (craft bars) are homogeneous and interchangeable country to country and culture to culture. In fact that they aren't aimed at locals as such, but as you put it, to "Craftonia". Your craft visitor walks in and immediately feels at home. The visitor sees little indigenous and therefore that he could be anywhere.

Maybe that IS the craft beer bubble.

Tandleman said...

ABrewHaha: Umm. You need to read the article. Both bars are mentioned in detail.

Bailey said...

We've had this conversation a few times with people like Joe Stange and Lars Marius Garshol. Beer geeks visiting places like Bavaria and the Czech Republic get a bit offended by the presence of IPA or other self-conscious craft beers because they want those places to express local character; but locals are often a bit bored with the local character. Like how, when we lived in London, we didn't only want to drink cask London Pride every day and now we live in Cornwall, we don't just want to drink Spingo. Hand Bar in Falmouth could be anywhere -- there's nothing particularly Cornish about it -- but we're bloody glad it's there, even if a visitor from up country might find it a bit underwhelming or pointless.

Tandleman said...

Oh indeed
I think we are making slightly different points,but I agree with the above.

DaveS said...

Nice read.

I very much agree with Bailey's comments here and it's often something that winds me up about beer-travel blog posts. On the other hand I think the original post here generally avoids the "how dare these people enjoy a range of international-style beers like everyone else does rather than sticking rigidly to their local speciality for the benefit of novelty-hungry tourists like me" trap.

Other thoughts:
i) would you say that a series of IPAs will always be "taste-alike", or that these ones were particularly samey? It seems like one of these things were different people care different amounts about variations within a style: see also "boring brown beers".
ii) I don't think that the evolution from imports to faithful imitations of imports to local twists on imitations of imports to a unique local style is inevitable or that it's the only way that distinctively local scenes develop, but it does seem pretty common, so maybe give it a few years on that front?

Tandleman said...

Dave: I'm glad that I didn't fall into that trap, but then it was never my intention to allege that people shouldn't drink what they want.

Going back to "boring brown beer" usually that's aimed at cask beer, but what I was trying to say is that craft too, far from being cutting edge can be derivative and samey. That particularly applies to craft beer bars. Derivative is too loose a description.

Giving it a few years though is exactly what I said in my summing up, but I still have my doubts.

DaveS said...

Sorry, that first bit came out more patronizing than I intended it to be. Misphrasing on my part.

What I mean by the boring brown beer thing is that if a pub just had a load of bitters on then some people might say that it was boring and samey whereas other people who are more tuned in to (and generally interested in) the variations within the style would say that no, it's actually a really interesting range: that one's light with marmaladey hop aroma, that one's dark and smooth and malty-sweet, that one's bracingly bitter and so on. And the same goes for US pales. We went to the Other Half tap room in Brooklyn when we were there (*clunk*) and they were basically just selling a dozen variants on IPA, from session up to triple, but because they were really bloody good at it they were expressing quite a lot of variety within the parameters of the style.

That said, yeah, it does do my head in a bit when people say "we're really interested in showcasing the massive diversity of modern beer styles. Like US IPA. And US IPA. And, er, US IPA." Although I suspect that bars and breweries would blame the punters and their predictable tastes for that.

DaveS said...

Sorry, next time I want to pontificate about something irrelevant I'll use my own blog to do it...

Barm said...

It sounds shit. I'll give it a miss until the beer gets better and the bars get some atmosphere, if either ever happen.

Martyn Cornell said...

"we didn't only want to drink cask London Pride every day"

"A man who is tired of London Pride is tired of beer" (S Johnson - although he was more a quarts-of-Thrale's-Porter man …)