Dish of the Day: Spain’s finest beers

Article By Rory Elsome.

Spain is not a place I associate with fine beer. Asking for “dos cerveza grande, por favour” usually delivers an ice cold lager in a frozen glass – after all this is a country with the climate for making wine.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise when on a recent break to Nerja, by seemingly divine intervention, our hotel was located next door to an incredible independent and curiously named beer shop called “La Doma Dora Y El Leon” (Dora The Lion Tamer and the Lion). The shop had a great range of ales, and was self-proclaimed to be the most diverse beer shop in the south of Spain, offering beers from Belgium, Denmark, Britain, Germany, Norway and the US, amongst others.

However, most pleasing to see was the large range of Spanish beers on offer. There were bottles from all over Spain, although the two main camps of microbrewers in Spain are those of Andalusia (the South) and Catalonia (the North). The owner, giving us a brief lesson in Spanish beer, said the breweries of South produce beers with more traditional British flavours, while the North produces more American style well hopped pale ales – although there is much cross over.

Some highlights for me were the beers of the Kettal brewery, based in Cadiz and set up by two British expats. They brew real ale in a typically English style, although due to the climate everything is keg based. Their “El Almiar IPA” was a golden pale ale with a well balanced hop character and kick of bitterness due to the late addition of Cascade hops. It was definitely more akin to the traditional English IPAs as opposed to the American ‘hop bombs’ and was perfect refreshment after a day in the sun.

The Cervesera Alcoiana (Spigha) breweries’ “Gurugú” was a slightly unusual brown ale from Alcoi, Alicante. Gurugú, named after a central street in Alcoi, was an intensely dark brown ale with rich roasted malt notes coming through, both in the nose and on the palate. It reminded me more of a Belgian Brun beer, possibly due to the dark toasted flavours ending with a dry, almost lightly acidic, finish.

One of the more unusual brews was “La Socarrada”, a pale golden ale flavoured with rosemary and rosemary honey and originating from Xàtiva, Valencia. I thought the addition of rosemary would overpower the taste but the balance of flavours was excellent. The beer itself was golden in colour and the balance of sweetness and bitterness was well matched between the malt, honey and hops. The hints of rosemary lingered more in the nose than in the palate, but served to add another layer of flavour that perfectly complemented the beer. An unusual beer that was well balanced and not just novel for the sake of it.

So, much to my surprise, Spanish ‘Cervezas Artesanas’ are being lovingly produced by a new generation of Spanish (and occasional expat English) brewers. Although they may not be widely available they are definitely worth seeking out if, like me, you are particularly bored of your ice cold Cruzcampo.