Damm good beer (ooh… bad pun)

akdamm.jpg In both France and Spain, the label “beer from Alsace” or “Alsatian beer” is used to imply that the stuff in the bottle will be a bit more strongly flavoured, better crafted and purer. In short, it will be almost as good as German beer.

In practice, there’s very rarely any real difference in style or quality. One Spanish brewery that justifiably trumpets its Alsatian roots, however, is Barcelona’s Damm, whose beers are a cut above those of many of their competitors.

Their well-known Estrella Damm is a fairly typical bland Spanish lager, but unlike similar efforts from Mahou, San Miguel and Cruzcampo, it’s actually pleasant tasting. Of all the commonly found Spanish lagers, it has the most body and the strongest malt flavour. The one to go for if you’ve got a choice in a Spanish bar.

volldam.jpgTheir flagship beer is the Germanically named Voll-Damm. It’s a dark golden, full-bodied 7.2% (DN) German-style special beer whose label makes some bold claims: “The Genuine Beer Character”; “Das Originale Maerzen Bier”. Hmmmm. First brewed in the 1950s, it might struggle to convince a court of the truth of that last claim. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic beer, by any standards. We had one shortly after a bottle of Salvator, and the taste was remarkably similar, even if the colour was not. The nicest tasting Spanish beer we’ve found, if not one to knock back lots of in the blazing sun. Spanish residents can even join a Voll-Damm fan club and declare themselves Volldammistas.

Finally, there’s the fancily packaged A.K. Damm, which is named after the brewery’s founder, August Kuenstmann Damm, an emigree from Alsace. It’s not strong (4.8%), but it does have a (just about) discernible hop character and a really solid malt base. There’s also something fruity in the yeast — we were reminded of one of the more ale-like Koelschs. It’s worth noting, too, that when we had two bottles brewed six months apart, the newer bottle was much better.

The one that got away — the Damm beer we have yet to try — is Bock-Damm. It’s not a Bock, but a dark Munich style lager.

It’s good to see a Spanish brewery taking the trouble to produce a range of different styles, even if all of them are pasteurised and filtered half to death.

Rosita — Catalan real ale

rosita.jpg

We spent yesterday in Tarragona — now a fairly sleepy Spanish city by the sea, but once one of the biggest in the Roman Empire.

Imagine our excitement when, as we were on our way out of town, we saw an advert in a shop window for “Rosita — cervesa artesanal de Tarragona”. That translates, more-or-less, as “Rosita — the craft beer from the Tarragon region”.

We bought two bottles, and asked the helpful shopkeeper where we could try it in a local bar. He sent us to the town square down the street, and before 10 minutes had passed, we were cracking open two cold bottles.

BAILEY: “It’ll be a boring fizzy lager.”

BOAK: “Hmm. Maybe not. I don’t speak Catalan, but I think this says that it’s ‘refermented in the bottle’.”

BAILEY: “It’s bottle-conditioned!?”

BOAK: “It’s also top-fermented!”

And, sure enough, Rosita is a pale, citrusy, slightly cloudy and very hoppy pale ale. It was also only lightly carbonated, and not like fizzy pop. We were impressed. This is a great beer, by any standards, but tasted all the better amidst a sea of bland so-called ‘pilsners’.

We were even more impressed when we tried it with seafood later that evening. The citrus flavours leapt out, and it seemed wonderfully refreshing, without being overpowering.

We’ve often said that we can understand why there’s only boring lager in Spain — the locals wouldn’t go for anything else in that heat — but this wonderful beer shows how to do it.

Rosita’s ingredients are listed as malt, hops, yeast and sugar. Our guess is that there are some American hops, and possibly some English ones too. There’s more info (in Catalan only) on their website.

PS – Tarragona’s worth a stop for the Roman ruins and medieval old town, and also seems to be quite a gastronomical sort of place. We had lunch in a restaurant called (we think) “Cervesera La Nau” on Carrer de la Nau, which had a quite extensive beer list. Tarragona is about an hour away from Barcelona by train.

El Legado de Yuste – Spanish abbey beer

yuste.jpgBoak is on tour in France and Spain.

A few years back Heineken España brought out El Legado de Yuste, “the first spanish abbey beer”, apparently brewed in the tradition of the master brewers of Flanders. I picked some up yesterday to give it a go.

It has a nice aroma – possibly slightly Belgian, definitely very malty. Initially a very good malt flavour but this quickly fades. It has an extremely weak body and quite a watery aftertaste. Some bitterness but no hop aroma or flavour. It´s too carbonated for a Belgian abbey ale. My initial reaction was that it was a watered-down Salvator (as in the Paulaner dopplebock – not that inconceivable – they are all part of the Heineken conglomerate). Because of its wateriness, it might be quite refreshing on a hot Spanish day – except for the fact that at 6.5%, you´re not going to drink many in the sun before the “heatstroke” sets in.

Ron Pattinson has listed it in his European beer guide and says that he´s not sure if it´s top or bottom fermented. I´m none the wiser from the bottle, it just says it´s made with “exclusive” yeasts (and vienna malt and specially selected hops) . It strikes me more as an amber lager effort than a belgian ale, whatever they use.

There is a website in Spanish devoted to this product, if you´re really interested. Lots of “history” of the product, suggestions on how to serve it (with game, apparently) and even a comprehensive guide to different types of beer. So I­t´s obviously targeted at the would-be connoisseur. But it doesn´t do anything for this amateur. I´ll stick with Salvator – maybe over ice?

Boak

Fake English

speciale1900.jpg Why “fake English”? It’s a phrase we came across on a beer menu in Ghent, referring specifically to “John Martin’s Pale Ale”. JMPA is a well-known British-style ale brewed in Belgium. This post isn’t about JMPA — it’s about another beer that we thought better deserved the same description.

The beer in question is actually a very obvious clone of Palm Special, and other “Speciale Belge” beers. Nonetheless, we thought it was delicious. We admit to having a weakness for Sam Smith’s Pale Ale (despite it not being bottle conditioned, etc. etc.) and this was like a much more intense version of that. Orangey, hoppy, not at all sugary — which latter can be a real turn-off for us in Belgian beer.

And the hops were English, too — Kent Goldings? Kent isn’t far away from Belgium as the crow flies, after all.

Despite having all their own amazing beer, Belgian brewers obviously have a soft spot for British styles.  There are a number of “Scottish” brews around, for example, Gordon’s Scotch being the most ubiquitous. But until this trip, we’d never tried a Belgian stout. Now we’ve had three. One remains unidentified, despite Andreea‘s best efforts, but we can’t recommend Hercule Stout or De Dolle Extra Export Stout highly enough. De Dolle seem to have based the label on the Harvey’s Imperial Stout. Hercule Stout is a fake British stout named after an English author’s fake Belgian — Agatha Christie’s Poirot. How’s that for confusing. Both were what you’d expect — strong, gooey, chocolatey. And strong. So strong that our notes on both are useless beyond that.

Now, where’s that Belgian imitation of cream-flow nitro-keg bitter we’re all waiting for..?

Okocim Mocne – is it more than tramp’s brew?

A break from the Belgian binge write-up to blog about this while I remember.

Most of the cornershops round our way stock a large selection of fairly similar Polish lagers. We blogged about the similarity of the light lagers (usually called “piwo jasne”) in one of our first ever posts.

There are a number of Polish lagers describer as “mocne” or strong, which I’d always assumed were little better than tramp’s brew. This assumption was based partly from bad experiences of Warka Strong on tap in Poland, and partly on the fact that any British lagers with “strong” on the tin are only drunk by gentlemen of the road and bingeing teenagers. But a comment by The Beer Nut a while back, together with positive reviews of Warka Strong on BeerAdvocate, made me think that perhaps I’d been a bit harsh.

okocim_mocne_beer_small.gifSo, looking for a lager to go with my chilli, I took the plunge and bought an Okocim Mocne from the offy down the road. Described as “malt liquor” on their website, it’s7%. I was hoping for perhaps an Oktoberfest style beer, or at least a drinkable “doppio malto” like Peroni Gran Reserva.

Initial aroma was promising – appley and slightly hoppy. Unfortunately the taste and body were very disappointing. It’s a very thin beer, not what you’d expect for this strength. And the only flavour I could detect was sweetness. No hops or anything else to note. It wasn’t even particularly refreshing.

It’s not revolting, but I can’t imagine a situation where I’d drink it again. Most cornershops stocking this also stock Lithuanian Svyturys, which is a better bet for cheap, convenient lager. And if I want to drink to drown my sorrows, I’ll do as the Polish tramps do and go for wodka instead.

However, if you do spot Okocim Palone, or the even rarer Porter, snap them up. In fact, does anyone know if the Porter is even still in production? I haven’t seen it for years, but the Okocim website seems to suggest it is.