Beer in Madrid

spainflags.jpgMadrid is home to some of the best art galleries in the world and some of the best bars too. Best in terms of atmosphere anyway, but the beer is rarely anything to write home about.

Ron Pattinson has put together a guide to bars in Madrid, which includes two brew pubs. As they are handily within a minute´s walk from each other, I tried them both together.

Naturbier is on the busy Plaza Santa Ana, which boasts many other fine cervecerí­as. It has two offerings – rubia (blonde) and tostada (brown, literally “toasted”). I slightly preferred the Tostada, with its heavier malty flavour, but both are excellent – extremely fresh-tasting and refreshing, balanced malt and hop flavours, and none of the unpleasant “homebrew” flavours you sometimes get from brewpubs. Pubs in Franconia would not be ashamed to serve these. Oh, and apparently it´s organic too.

Naturbier also has a great atmosphere – friendly staff and a good mixture of locals and tourists. So you can take your non-beer geek friends too, to experience the madrileño bar culture. It also serves tapas, which is rather pricy (although normal for that area) so I didn´t try any – but they do tend to bung you a plate of olives or nuts.

Magister is just off Plaza Santa Ana, on Calle de Principe. I think it´s supposed to be decorated like a German beer hall, but it just didn´t feel like one. They make a point about giving you free tapas, usually a staleish bit of bread with some meat on it.

They offer a rubia and tostada too, which aren´t as good as the Naturbier offerings — slightly acrid flavour, and didn´t taste as fresh. However, they also offer a “caramalizada” which is a sort of stout, and which I liked. It wasn´t the most amazing stout flavouring I´ve ever experienced, but the body and mouthfeel were bang on, which was a pleasant change from the last three months of lager texture. If that makes sense. Finally, they were also offering a “double bock” at 8.2%. This one was interesting. Like a not very good home brewer’s attempt at a strong Belgian-style ale, with a slightly odd fruity taste. It might even have been off….

Overall I prefered Naturbier for the atmosphere, but Magister is also worth your support if you´re in the area.

Notes

1. Closest metro stations to Plaza Santa Ana are Anton Marti­n and Sol. It’s also about 15-20 minutes walk away from Atocha station, so handy for getting a drink if you´re just passing through. There is left luggage at Atocha station, but it can be a pain to find — it´s at the far end of the tropical garden, away from the platforms, under Sambar Kanda restaurant.

The ubiquity of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord

postll.gifWould-be trendy pubs seem to think it’s compulsory to offer Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Maybe it’s something to do with Madonna?

Last night, I went to a friend’s birthday party in a supposed “gastropub” (viz. they had square plates). It was a perfectly nice place, with very friendly bar staff and (impressively) a dog. But I wasn’t impressed with the TTL. It wasn’t off — it was just old and tasted dull, with no discernible hop flavour or aroma. In fact, it tasted of Marmite, which is not a quality I look for in a beer.

The last good pint of TTL I had in a pub was in 2005, at the Trafalgar in Greenwich. Since then, I must have had 10 or 12 off, hot, stale or just plain dull pints. It’s a nice beer when it’s on form but, like a lot of similar products, its reputation is being damaged by indiscriminate distribution and poor quality control.

It must be a real dilemma for smaller breweries — push to expand and risk losing control over the quality of the product, or keep control and never sell a pint more than two miles from the brewery.

Hoegaarden Grand Cru

grandcru.pngOn Sunday, I made my 3000 words by lunchtime, so earned a Hoegaarden Grand Cru.

I’ve had it before and really enjoyed it, but I didn’t really have a tasting hat on then. This time, I really took my time over it.

There are many of the same flavours as Hoegaarden Wit, though this isn’t a wheat beer, as far as I can tell. Here, though, the accent is on spice (coriander, I guess) rather than citrus, although there are orange flavours). The thing that really stood out for me was how well the spices, the spiciness of the yeast and the alcohol (8.5%) complemented each other. It’s more warming than refreshing. It’s also a really beautiful golden colour, rather than the pale yellow of the Wit.

Both Boak and I are big fans of Hoegaarden Wit (although it’s not as good as it used to be, owned by a big company, etc. etc.) but Grand Cru really is something special. It might even make it into my top ten.

Fuller’s London Porter

london_porter_straight.jpgFollowing a tip-off from Stonch’s blog, I convinced some colleagues that, if we must go for an after work drink on a Tuesday night, we should do it at a Fuller’s pub, so I could try cask-conditioned London Porter.

It’s one of our very favourite beers — there’s a very short list of about four beers that both Boak and I agree are bang on — but I’d never had it on tap.

As is often the case, it was a very different beer than the bottled version. It had a lighter body for one thing and possibly also a lighter colour (transparent red). Unlike the bottled version, it maintained a lovely head all the way down. It was incredibly fruity, with a little less of the sourness or coffee flavour I’m used to from the bottle.

I probably ever so slightly prefer the bottled version, but nonetheless, it would be nice if this stayed on tap in Fuller’s pubs all year round. As it is, they often have both Honey Dew and Discovery, which are similar-tasting light, lagery ales, and HSB and London Pride, which are similar tasting brown bitters, and nothing like a dark mild/stout/porter except Guinness.

In fact, all pubs should make it their business to have one lightish beer, one brown beer, and one black beer. Then there would always be something to suit my mood.

Power Station Porter

battersea.pngBattersea Brewery’s Power Station Porter is cropping up all over the place these days, notably in the Rake where I first saw it, and in ASDA, where I bought a bottle today.

It’s a relatively light coloured, medium strength porter (4.8%), which is accented towards chocolate/fruit flavours rather than smoky/coffee ones. I like it, but both times I’ve tried it have been disappointed by a slight fizzy quality, and a head which disappears instantly. I went through an elaborate glass washing ritual today and even that didn’t help.

It’s one of those beers that isn’t astounding — I still prefer Fuller’s London Porter — but it’s full of flavour, and there aren’t many small London breweries, so I’m going to keep buying it when I see it.

I also think that their label design is fantastic, being contemporary but not trendy; traditional, but not mock-Victorian; and simple without being plain.