Belgian beer in Burgos – La Espiga

Burgos is the kind of place that guidebooks describe as “likeable”. It has some nice old buildings including a stunning cathedral, and lots of bars and pubs. You probably wouldn’t go out of your way to visit, but it’s handy for travel in between Madrid and the Basque country.

As I had only chosen it for a stopover based on the rail connections, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover La Espiga, a genuine beer lover’s paradise. I’ve been to a number of places in the last couple of months in Spain that claim to be “beer paradises” or “beer temples”, only to discover they’re yet another weapon in Heineken’s Spanish armada, and that the exciting international beers on offer extend to Adelscott and Desperados.

Trois PistolesNo, this was the real deal. Around 10 beers on tap, including La Trappe Dubbel, Spaten Bock, Kwak and Liefman’s Kriek, and between 50-70 more in bottles. The selection was mostly the usual Belgian big boys – the Trappists, the Abbeys, the Deliriums, the Hoegaardens, but there were some more unusual offerings, such as the Unibroue range from Quebec.

There was a guide to the various beers, and the staff were knowledgeable and prepared to make recommendations. Beer menus are something I’m very keen on, as they help and guide the budding beer enthusiast – it’s amazing how many good pubs with big selections don’t bother with this step.

Best of all was that it was absolutely heaving with locals of all ages, enjoying a range of beer. Perhaps there is hope for the beer scene in Spain afterall. Maybe the Spanish beer revolution will begin in Burgos – I also noticed a German bar, and the internet cafe I visited had Barbar Miel and Kapittel Watou in the fridge.

In the meantime, here’s to you, La Espiga. I put this up in the hope that another beer lover who winds up in the area will google “beer + Burgos” or perhaps even “cerveza + Burgos” and will discover you too.

Notes

  1. Cerveceria La Espiga is on Calle de San Juan, right in the middle of town. Cibercafe is on Calle del Pueblo (?) which meets Calle de San Juan at a big arch.
  2. Burgos is about 2.5 hours from the French border and 3.5 hours from Madrid on the train.
  3. French keyboards are the most annoying in the world. All the letters are arse about face. It has taken me an hour to type this.

Boak (homeward bound…)

50 best beers

Today’s Independent has an article on the 50 best beers available in the UK.  It’s a surprisingly decent piece, although a couple of the choices are a bit odd (as you’d expect). Estrella Damm…? Marks and Spencer’s Italian lager!? And Badger bloody Golden Glory, which I think is disgusting.

I was pleased to see the CO-OP’s Strong Ale in the list. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine: full of dodgy caramel, clear bottle, pasteurised, filtered. But it’s very tasty anyway — sweet and malty, somewhat like a strong mild.

Their number one? St Peter’s IPA, which I’ve never had. I’ll have to get my hands on some and give it a go.

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 Science of Beer

How much science is behind some of the ideas we have about beer? These sound convincing, and we’re inclined to believe them, but we’ve never really seen any evidence, as such:

  1. If you pour beer with too big a head, the hop oils will come to the top and disappear (“migrate”).
  2. Beer spoils more easily in clear bottles because of the action of light.
  3. Artificially carbonated beer tastes noticeably different from naturally carbonated beer.

We’re going to be asking some brainiacs of our acquaintance to give us their views, but we’re also interested to hear of any evidence you know of to confirm or deny any of these, or of any other theories you’d like to prove/debunk.

As a starter for ten, I’ve got this nagging feeling that, just as sea salt is still sodium chloride however you package it, surely carbon dioxide dissolved in water is the same stuff however it got there?

Christmas gifts for beer lovers

What do you buy a beer lover for Christmas, other than beer?

jacksonbook.jpg1. The late Michael Jackson’s new book, the Eyewitness Guide to Beer — probably an update of his 1998 Dorling Kindersley book Ultimate Beer, but looks interesting anyway.

2. Some glassware. You can pick up branded Fuller’s glasses for around £4 in most of their pubs. Many supermarkets are selling gift sets with branded glasses from Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Old Speckled Hen and other well-known brands. Or, you can go posh — here’s a selection online. I like the look of these but could also do with one of these to drink imperial stout from.

beermachine.jpg3. A homebrewing kit. There are some basic, gimmicky automatic brewing machines, which look like fun. Or, you can buy a decent beginners kit from these people and pay less for it. But don’t forget to get a decent book to go with it.

4. More homebrewing stuff. If your loved one is already brewing, why not help them take it to the next level with some fancy kit like a

pubinabox.jpg5. There are all kinds of “pub at home” kits and accessories, from the cheap and cheerful to the ludicrously elaborate and expensive. If you don’t fancy having any of that in the house, what about the shed…?

6. Some rare and, erm, beautiful breweriana from Ebay might go down well. Not sure I’d want a load of old bottle tops for Christmas myself, but who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men.

7. What about the ludicrously named World’s Best Bottle Opener? Or even a nice traditional one. You can never have too many. Like umbrellas, they have a habit of disappearing. Just don’t buy a Homer Simpson novelty bottle opener. Believe me, the novelty of hearing “mmmmm, beer” wears off after, ooh, two bottles or so.

8. What about some food to accompany beer, or a combination of the two? O’Hanlon’s port stout and stilton; almost anything Belgian with some chocolate; or some pork scratchings…

9. CAMRA membership!

10. goodgift.jpgGood gifts are increasingly popular. If there’s too much junk in your house anyway, and you don’t want to encourage your loved ones to get fat and drunk, why not buy a brewery in Tanzania on their behalf?

11. And finally, if you are going to buy beer — and, let’s face it, it’s probably your best bet — choose them with a theme such as strong stouts, Christmas beers, German beers, or whatever, and package them nicely.