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.


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

Adelscott and Desperados — eugh!

beer_bottle.jpgAdelscott is a golden (orange) ale made with whisky malt (although many bars mistakenly advertise it as containing whisky). Desperados is a Mexican-type beer with a shot of tequila in each bottle (or, rather, “aromatised” with tequila). They are brewed by Fischer (Heineken) in France.

Both beers are available in almost every bar there. They cost a euro or two more than ordinary lagers, and are pushed as “specialty beers” or “beers for tasting”.

We thought Adelscott might be interesting — Boak’s boss had raved about it. We weren’t expecting much from Desperados. But, just to make sure, last week we sat in a bar in Montpelier and ordered one Adelscott and one Desperados.

And guess what — both are foul. Desperados tastes like a particularly sickly lemonade; Adelscott tastes like Lucozade. Both are full of flavourings and unfermented sugar, so taste like alcopops. They are also quite strong, at nearly 6% each.

Avoid ’em. We’d rather drink Heineken — and that’s saying something.

Image: interesting detail from an entirely unrelated beer bottle.

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.

Bailey is back in the UK

“I was so pleased to be getting home, after being hard up for months in a foreign city, that England seemed to me a sort of paradise. There are, indeed, many things in England that make you glad to get home; bathrooms, armchairs, mint sauce, new potatoes properly cooked, brown bread, marmalade, beer made with veritable hops — they are all splendid, if you can pay for them.”

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

The session: Beer with Food

session-logo-r-sm.jpg This month’s Session is hosted by Beer Haiku Daily, and the topic is:

“…pairing beer with food or using beer as an ingredient in food. I hope to see recipes, pictures, tasting notes, stories, menus, reviews or anything else that fits the bill of fare.”

Conveniently, I was craving a big meat pie, and beer is a great addition to most meat pie recipes, not to mention a great accompaniment to eating pie.

So, I cooked a lamb and pale ale pie, and drank a Brakspear Triple with it.


I didn’t just pull this combination out of mid air — I took some advice from the experts out there.

If I was making beef and ale pie, I’d use something malty and fruity in the pie — Hook Norton Old Hooky is my favourite, but Fuller’s ESB has done the job in the past, despite being a bit too hoppy. But what goes with lamb? I took a punt that the same kind of thing would work and used a Hepworth Prospect in the pie — although it turned out to be lighter and hoppier than I was expecting.

Fortunately, it didn’t do any damage.

And what to drink with it? Every beer/food menu I could fine online paired lamb with either Kriek, or pale ale. But, as a loyal member of CAMRA (alright — an occasionally traitorous, critical member…) I followed their advice, and went for a malty, spicy ale. The best candidate in the beer cellar (as we call the garage) was a Brakspear Triple.

Brakspear Triple isn’t a Belgian-style triple, although it could pass for something Belgian. It’s ludicrously fruity and smells mostly of fruit and alcohol. It worked very well with the pie, although it might have worked even better if the lamb I’d used had been a bit fuller flavoured, and if I’d caramelised it more in the cooking.



  • 350 grams of decent lamb (i.e. that won’t take hours to tenderise with slow cooking)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (any kind)
  • a knob (hur hur) of butter
  • half a carrot
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • salt and pepper
  • ready-made flake pastry
  • an egg, to glaze the pie
  • 1 bottle ale

1. Make the filling. Finely dice the carrot, potato and onion. Fry all of that off in a saucepan with the oil and butter.

2. When the veg has softened, chop the lamb into small cubes and throw it in. Let it brown all over, then add the flour and chopped rosemary.

3. Pour in 250 millilitres of beer.

4. Let it thicken and reduce. When it’s about the consistency of, say, double cream, take it off the heat.

5. Grease a pie dish. Put a circle of grease proof paper in the bottom.

6. Flour the work surface. Cut off two thirds of the pastry. Roll it out into a big circle, and then put it in the bottom of the pie dish, pressing it around the edges. It should overhand the rim of the dish by an inch or so.

7. Put an upturned egg cup in the middle.

8. Roll out the pie top with the remaining pastry.

9. Pour in the filling around the egg cup. Put the lid over and press down the edges around the edge of the dish. Trim off excess pastry.

10. Make some small slits in the lid to let out steam, and then brush with beaten egg.

11. Whack it in the oven on about 200 degrees c. for 30-35 minutes, or until it’s brown — not black, as in my picture…

12. Take it out. Let it stand for a few minutes, and then carefully turn it out upside down onto a plate. Remove the greaseproof paper which will be stuck to the base. Carefully turn it back onto another plate or cutting board.

13. Eat it, with a Brakspear Triple.

14. Sit on the sofa belching, hiccuping and patting your stomach. Occasionally say: “Aaaaaah, just the job.”