San Sebastian postscript – Keler lager

I got quite excited to see that San Sebastian had a “local” lager, Keler, with basque on the labels and all. The bottles tell a story about some German brewers who set up in San Sebastian in the 1890s, yada yada yada.

However, I was disappointed. Not so much by the fact it´s the usual yellow fizz – that I was expecting – but to find out that it was now brewed by Damm in Barcelona. I thought that at least I´d be able to recommend it on environmental grounds.

Still, at least it´s not Heineken, who really do dominate San Seb (although they tend to hide under the Cruzcampo brand).

Boak

Sam Smith’s Extra Stout — a good beer, all of a sudden?

ssbadge.gifI occasionally drink Sam Smith’s Extra Stout (the one on the pumps) when I just want a half of something, and don’t fancy a “pure-brewed lager”. Usually, it’s a black and fluffy white Guinness clone, albeit one with marginally more flavour. But yesterday, I had a half in the Fitzroy which knocked my socks off.

1. It didn’t seem to have been nitro smooth-flowed to death — it was still creamy, but not like someone had put shaving foam on top.
2. The head was that pleasing tan you get on good stouts, instead of the usual glacial white.
3. It was warmer than usual (that is, several degrees above freezing).
4. The body wasn’t a scary, opaque, artificial black — it was dark red, and clear.
4. It was delicious: coffee, chocolate, a little note of sourness, and some salt — just perfect, to my mind.

What’s going on? Is there a cask variant which some pubs have and others don’t? (As is the case with some of Sam Smith’s bitters.) Or have they changed the recipe?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find out. The brewery’s aversion to “modern ways” means they’re not online and don’t really do press releases. The bar staff in the pub were none the wiser, either. Hmm.

Pagoa post script – Zunbeltz (and style nazis)

In my post two days ago, I reviewed two Pagoa beers – now the third, “Zunbeltz”, which describes itself as a stout.

Again, this seems to get real bad reviews on Ratebeer, and I can’t really see why.  It’s got bags of flavour, toasted malt, coffee and chocolate notes and a lovely long finish. This is easily one of the tastiest beers in Spain and would stand up very well against a British mild like Oscar Wilde.

And perhaps this style “confusion” explains the bad reviews - it hasn’t really got the body to be a stout, which is what the reviews seem to focus on.

While I can’t get as worked up as some bloggers about overclassification of beer – I think it’s quite useful for homebrewing if you’re trying to copy a particular favourite – I think in this case, it has resulted in a good beer getting some very bad reviews because it’s not “true to type”.

Or alternatively I’ve had a taste lobotomy since being out here…

Anyway, it is definitely worth trying, and I won’t even qualify that with “if you’re in Spain”. 

Boak

M&S get real

norfolk_bitter.jpgIn 2006, we wrote to British supermarket chain Marks and Spencers to tell them how impressed we were that they’d started stocking some decent beer, namely their OK IPA and excellent Irish Stout.

But we also had some suggestions:

1. Real ale bores, just like serious foodies, like to know who is making their beer. The standard M&S practice of concealing their suppliers didn’t enhance the appeal of the product but rather seriously reduced it. Couldn’t they tell us who was making their booze for them, as ASDA, Sainsburys and others do?

2. Given that everything else in their range is supposedly of the finest quality, why weren’t these beers bottle conditioned? It seemed odd to us that they would sell hand-reared, free-range, 21-day aged beef next to pasteurised, filtered beer.

I’m delighted to see (in the latest issue of What’s Brewing) that CAMRA were also pursuing the same line of enquiry — as I’m sure were many other individual consumers — and that it’s paid off. M&S are now to stock four new bottle-conditioned beers from around the UK, each attributed very clearly to its home brewery (Woodforde’s, Vale, Cropton and Black Hills).

Last night, I tried their Norfolk Bitter (Woodforde’s) and was very impressed. Tons of citrusy hop flavour and aroma, and a lovely thick, persistent head

Nice one, M&S, and nice one CAMRA! Now to get that fantastic Irish Stout bottle conditioned too…

Basque beer – two offerings from Pagoa

San Sebastian is considered to be a bit of a foodie paradise, with lots of local wines, ciders and spirits to match. I hadn’t been expecting to find any basque beer, but I was on the lookout, and I struck gold early on with a couple of offerings from Euskal Garagardoa S.A. in their “Pagoa” range – Orhi, a pilsner and Gorri, a “Red Ale”. I gather from various internet searches that there is (or was) also a stout (Zunbeltz) available but I’ve not been able to find it.

The beers are described as “traditional Basque beers” and the ingredients are just barley, hops, water and yeast. Both are 4.9%. There’s no other information on the bottle.

These beers got a bit of a slating on Ratebeer but I have to say I really enjoyed them. Possibly in contrast to the standard Spanish fizz and the disappointing offers from the various French microbrewers that we tried in the last couple of weeks (possibly more to come on that, but I don’t want to slag off microbrewers who are trying their best).

The Orhi in particular was very pleasant. I was reminded more of a koelsch than a pilsner (malty, fruity flavour, low carbonation, medium body, long finish) but it was great to have a beer where you could taste the malt and the hops. It also went very well with the spicy chorizo stew I was eating.

The red ale reminded me of an Alt, with a toasty malt taste, and again quite fruity and not particularly carbonated.

Definitely worth seeking out if you’re in Spain.

Boak

PS Sorry about the lack of photo – I have one, but no way of transferring it onto this computer at the moment.