real ale Spain

Now that's a good pint of beer

During two weeks in France and Spain, we drank lots of boring lager; some Basque cider; some wine; quite a few interesting beers; and a couple of downright nasty ones.

But, this afternoon, fresh off Eurostar, and having got rid of the accursed rucksacks, we popped to the local and had a couple of pints of Maldon Gold and Nethergate Sarah’s Ruby Mild, which tasted delicious, complex and exciting beyond belief.

It’s almost good to be back.

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Defying the English weather

As everyone knows, the weather in England is rubbish. Even when it’s sunny, you can be fairly sure there will be a shower just as you’ve set up your picnic.

In May, we were faced with a long bank holiday weekend where the rain didn’t stop in London, but we decided to ignore it and go on another tapeo (tapas crawl). Sod the rain. We were going to pretend we were in Spain.

If you treat a crappy Greene King pub like you would a Spanish bar, it’s not half bad. The tourists just added to the atmosphere, and our two halves of cold Kronenbourg didn’t taste any worse than Mahou does in Madrid. And they had some decent olives to nibble on. Result.

Next up, the Queen’s Head and Artichoke. As a pub, it probably wouldn’t be our cup of tea, but as a tapas bar, it was great. They let us sit at the bar to drink our Bitburger and had a proper, convincing tapas menu, which we ordered bits and pieces from over the course of an hour or so.

Finally, we headed for the Norfolk Arms. It’s more of a restaurant than a bar despite being (we think) somehow related to the previous place. They were a bit sniffy because we didn’t want a table and a full meal but they put up with it. We put away some serrano ham, a few Estrella Damms and, finally, a couple of glasses of sherry.

When we left, it was still raining, but we’d very successfully banished the bank holiday blues.

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Craft-brewed beer from Toledo

Domus 'artesanal' beer from Toledo

Spanish version here.

Domus is an ‘artesanal’ beer from Cerveza Regia, Toledo. It’s bottle-conditioned, top fermented and available in various trendy bars in its home city. The marketing and packaging are fabulous, just screaming quality.

Unfortunately, the beer itself is a lot like one of our less successful homebrews: too fizzy, too thin and a little grassy. As it warms up, the toasted flavours come through a bit and it’s nice to have something with veritable hops, but unfortunately they have a way to go before we’d choose this over a glass of bland but pleasant fizzy Spanish lager.

Is it a step forward that something like this even exists in Spain? Our fear is that if someone does stray from a fizzy lager to try this they will simply be  put off craft beers and ales forever.

It doesn’t help that the bar staff have no idea how to handle it, shaking up the yeast and expecting us to drink it from the bottle which is (of course) the cool thing to do with ‘premium’ beers in Spain.

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Cerveza artesanal de Toledo

Domus 'artesanal' beer from Toledo

English version here.

Domus es una cerveza artesanal de alta fermentación, elaborizada por Cerveza Regia, Toledo. Se la puede encontrar en muchos bares modernos en la ciudad. La comercialización y etiqueta son maravillosas – eso, y el hecho de que sea refermentada en la botella implica que es una cerveza de calidad.

Desafortunadamente, la cerveza en sí era como una de nuestras homebrews de menos éxito: gaseosa, espesa y sabía a hierba. Cuando se caliente, los sabores tostados aparecen un poco, pero tiene que mejorar considerablamente antes de que la elijamos en vez de una caña de lager refrescante / insípida.

¿Es bueno que esta cerveza existe en España? Lo que mas nos preocupa es esto; si alguien la pide, para probar una cerveza artesanal por primera vez, le desanima tanto que no quiere probar otras cervezas artesanales y ales.

No sirve que los barmanes no tengan ni idea de cómo servirla. Nuestro barman agitó la botella (y la levadura) y no nos dio un vaso – por supuesto, teníamos que beberla directo desde la botella, como con otras cervezas de “premium”.

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Revisiting old haunts

Unfiltered lager at Naturbier in Madrid

When I went on my travels a couple of years ago around Spain and France, I didn’t have a huge number of amazing beer experiences to report.  Nonetheless, there were a couple of interesting places  to which I was keen to take Baileythis time round.

The first was Naturbier in Madrid,  a friendly brewpub in the heart of the city. I was interested to see if Bailey would agree with my positive opinions and he did, although we both agreed that this time the “rubio” (blonde/pale) beer was better — almost as good as some unfiltered lagers we’d had in Germany.

The second was the Frog & Rosbif (Paris St Denis branch) which seems to have quite a bad reputation as an expat dive.  I loved it last time and was almost a bit nervous to take Bailey there… Would it be as good?

Yes and no.  The wheat beer and lager were a bit odd tasting, and the waitress warned us off the stout (“It’s not so good today.  Why not try something something else?”).  But the two ales were fresh and the atmosphere and service were great.  What’s interesting about this place is how it manages to be so popular with the locals: we didn’t spot any obvious ex-pats. It’s certainly not because it’s cheap…