When I traveled in Spain in 2011, the beer was … fine. A number of the large commercial brands I drank reminded me of the large commercial brands I avoid in North America. For Spain, lighter beers are well-suited for the climate in some areas, particularly in the heat of Andalucia. Again, they were … fine, but I wasn’t longing for them when I got home.
When I returned to Spain in 2014, it was a whole new world. A world of cerveza artesanal. And it was good.
While it’s better known as a wine destination, Spain is currently sharing in the craft beer boom taking over lots of great beer-drinking corners of the world. There has never been a better time to drink some beer while you’re looking at Gaudi, walking across the North, or hanging out in Madrid. I got to do all of those things, and it gave me one more reason to sing Spain’s praises (and go back for more).
BierCaB: Craft Beer in Barcelona
Barcelona is busting with great craft beer. My time there was short, so I looked for some tips from beer travel friends. Sure enough, Dorothy from the Dublin Ladies Craft Beer Society pointed me to BierCaB (C/ Muntaner, 55) and it was a winner.
Located just a short way off the tourist trail, BierCaB is a sleek place to hang out with an interesting and broad selection of beers from Barcelona, Catalonia, the rest of Europe and the United States. En route? Wondering what to drink? Their 30-beer taplist is on their site and updated as the taps change.
I arrived shortly before opening at 5pm, which resulted in a moment of panic when I briefly had to consider the possibility, like the rest of the city, the bar was closed for the national holiday.
Like any proper beer fan, I loitered outside the door, and was soundly rewarded for my effort. To have enough time to collect my backpack and make my train, I only had time for a quick one. Scanning the list, I looked for something that was from the Barcelona area and suitable for recovering from a hot day of walking around. I went with a Piris Brewing Co (Barcelona, Catalunya) Belgian Mango American IPA, a perfect intersection of my needs and interests.
Beer on the Camino de Santiago
Again, Spain is better known as a wine destination, so many pilgrims return from the Camino de Santiago with stories about the nearly free-flowing carafes of wine that accompany los menus del peregrino. I was given the head’s up to look out for Galicia’s famous Estrella Galicia lager (not to be confused with Estrella Damm from the Barcelona area). As I got closer to the Galician border, the even better Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial started appearing, and I had it at every possible opportunity.
However, the best treat along the way was a thematically spot-on premium Galician beer called Peregrina, which found me on a particularly challenging morning (yes, morning).
Further research tells me it’s an English Pale Ale, and I was lucky to find something that I not only enjoyed, but provided some much-needed inspiration on a long, hot (yes, hot) day in Galicia.
Craft beer and a microbrewery in Madrid
When I arrived in Madrid, I had just finished my 330 km jaunt and, frankly, I was tired. Luckily, I had found a bed in Madrid’s busy Chuecha neighbourhood, right next door to Malasaña, Madrid’s centre for all things hot, new, or off the mainstream radar.
As the capital of Spain, there’s already a lot going on, and a legendary nightlife scene, most of which is just getting going when I wake up around 6am. Luckily, craft beer and microbrewies seem to be on my schedule.
Helpfully located just a couple of streets away, Fábrica Maravillas (c/ Valverde, 29) was an honest-to-hop brewpub. Its offerings were accompanied by detailed booklets explaining the composition of their brews, and the brewpub itself was completely under the spell of its resident brewpug. Any evening I can spend drinking some fine saison and trying to get (and keep) the attention of a sweet little pug is a pretty great evening.
Irreale Craft Beer Bar
Luckily, I had a few days in Madrid, where I could spend a little more time getting to know the craft beer scene. While out exploring the Malasaña district, I planned my day to get to Irreale around break time, and was rewarded for my effort.
With a revolving taplist of twelve offerings, and many more bottles on top of that, Irreale (c/ Manuela Malasaña, 20) was a great spot to pass a few hours. In fact, I was at the right place at the right time, because I found a delicious Welsh cider that had eluded me and my friends since visiting the UK. A couple of trans-Atlantic texts confirmed the find.
Cerveza artesanal & sea water beer?
In addition to the afternoon spent profitably at Irreale, I managed to enjoy plenty of other local craft beers. I stayed rather close to a grocery store with an impressive beer section, so I’d stop by and pick up a selection as part of my daily routine. One of the more unusual beers I encountered was Er Boqueron, made with Mediterranean Sea water. It was lightly flavoured, and pleasant for a hot afternoon, and despite the very clearly labeled bottle, didn’t taste salty to me in the least. Coincidentally, while looking up various beer brands I encountered, I found this article about El Boqueron’s magical hangover fixing properties. I didn’t drink enough to merit a hangover, but I’m intrigued whether the idea for this kind of brew will spread beyond Spain.
Is beer travel a thing now? Tell me what you think in the comments or on Twitter at @bitesizedtravel!