Beer Travellers: Prague

BEER TRAVELLERS: PRAGUE

Adrian Tierney-Jones explores the Czech capital and discovers simple pleasures

I am in Prague, a city that I fall in and out of love with, a city that brings joy, but can also frustrate, but on this Sunday morning it is a city with which I am very much smitten. And when the stars come out and the planets strive to influence my moods, I love to walk the streets of Prague without purpose, to stroll with no ambition of arrival, to be a flâneur, to be an observer, to vanish into the beauty of its cityscape. The joy of this urban-based wandervogel is that I never know what I will find but I do know that I always build up a thirst, and so on this grey Sunday morning the end result of my aimless amble in the Holešovice district on the north bank of the Vltava is Klášterní Pivnice.

I had heard its name before, old school, smoky, an authentic corner pub and an antidote to the city’s craft beer joints that look like coffee shops and where IPA is the lingua franca (not that there is anything bad about this, I love Zlý časy, Pivovarský klub, Illegal and Ale! Bar, for instance, but sometimes I just want to drink a Saaz-ravished světlý ležák — and lots of it). So there I was, taking time out from my travels, outside the pub, along with a couple of smokers, a thirst continuing to build up like an array of buses stuck on Oxford Street. Before I went through the door, I played a little game and tried to imagine Klášterní Pivnice as a person — perhaps a gruffly-spoken, take-no-nonsense bar tender, male or female, the kind of person that turns even the biggest of mouths into timid people-pleasers.

After all, it’s an unremarkable looking place, located on the ground floor of an apartment block, maybe built under the communists and tarted up in the last few years, but then I noted the three windows, each of which was stuffed with odds and sods such as old typewriters, empty bottles and a lone laptop from the age of steam. Instead of being unbearably quirky (like children’s TV presenters who shout out that they are ‘WHACKY!’), this felt more like a let’s-put-some-old-tat-in-the-window-for-a-laugh kind of thing, which I rather liked (though I could be wrong and maybe the typewriters represent some kind of literary crusade).

Inside, there was a silence reminiscent of a church before the service begins — the odd laugh, the murmur of conversation, and a sense of tranquility. It was 11am but there were only a few drinkers about. In the back room where I took my pint of Klášter Ležák (crisp and refreshing, an ideal companion for this first sip of the day), there was an harmonious balance between the silence of several drinkers reading their newspapers and the occasional clunk of glass mugs as a group of four guys toasted the morning once more (though I did wonder if they had been to bed yet, as a couple had the look of the swiped, slack faced pot-valiant about them). Meanwhile the bar tender was unceasing as he roved the back room looking for who wanted their glass replenished.

If you’re interested in such trifles, there were four draft beers on (none of them an IPA): as well as the one I was drinking, there were beers from Chotěboř, Primátor and one other, whose name I couldn’t be bothered to record. I think the mood of the pub affected me, got me to forget my constant rattling around the taxonomy of beer and join in the sheer joy of this unpretentious boozer, where time seemed to stretch and turn in on itself. As I gulped my beer (it started as sips, but it was soon apparent that this was a beer to gulp), an elderly man came in and sat at a table, his face like a map of a distant fabulous land. Up sprung the bar tender once more with a pint and a chaser, and the man with the face of a world we shall never see sat with his magazine, silent and still, each gulp (the gulping was infectious) of the beer like a soliloquy to his place in the world of this pub.

The back room had the feel of a hideaway, a cave perhaps, a wooden, panelled cave, painted green, while the tables and chairs were brutalist brown. As if to demonstrate the room’s communal aspect, a bench travelled along the three walls. Old faded prints of local football teams lined the wall alongside scarves and – curiously – a pennant for West Ham. Once more the sense of local was emphasised.

A dog (a French Bulldog called Rocky), who’d come in the company of the four revellers, roamed the room and settled beneath a table where a man in reflective clothes, his night shift finished perhaps, sat with a friend and ate his lunch (a robust, meaty menu, old school). The man surreptitiously slipped the dog scraps and I continued diving deeper into my beer (24 crowns for a pint if you’re interested in that sort of thing, which makes it about 90p). It wasn’t the best beer in the world but it was perhaps the best beer in the best pub in the world at that moment in time. There was an informality and a homeliness about the place even if I didn’t share the language and the life choices on display.

If you want to see the Czech love for beer before craft took over or away from the PU, Staro and Budvar pubs, then somewhere like this is an essential place to visit. It’s a boozer’s paradise, a hiding place, an easy place to write and a lair where enough time might make you part of the crowd. Which is sometimes what beer and pubs are all about: belonging.

Meanwhile Rocky continued to scout across the room and the bar in search of fallen titbits and his human companions kept carousing.


Q&A: Georgina Young, Head Brewer, Fullers

Q&A: GEORGINA YOUNG, HEAD BREWER, FULLERS

We quiz the Head Brewer of Fullers about the future… and the past

There’s been brewing on this site since the 17th century (though brewing took place at Bedford House in the late 16th century), it’s a historic site, a brewery rooted in its place, do you ever feel a sense of kinship with what went before, how do you feel about the link with those who have made beer down the centuries?

I think the way that we have brewed beer has been passed down. If you look at the old mash tuns and copper. We are connected to the previous generation of brewers here. We promote from within, having just become the head brewer. Passing down of the baton is normal here.

If London Pride was just one moment in London, what would it be?

It would be the Olympics. We were so proud to be Londoners, winning lots of gold. We took the world by storm and it was a really amazing day. It was an iconic moment.

Do you dream about brewing and beer or do you manage to switch off when leaving the brewery?

I don’t think as a brewer you ever switch off. One of the wonderful things is that you can do your job even when out with your friends. Inspiration comes from all sorts of unusual places.

What did you feel on your first day as Fuller’s head brewer?

We had a lovely evening when John Keeling announced I was going to be the next head brewer. I’m usually quite chatty, but I was actually lost for words. It was quite emotional and I’m extremely proud to have the title. We want to maintain quality as well as making new and exciting beers.

What can we expect from you and Fuller’s in the future, what kind of beers, projects, inspirations and aspirations?

We’re doing an exciting collaboration project with a range of different beers that will be in a mixed pack in Waitrose. We were in touch with some of our friends and we’re brewing a lager with Fourpure, New England IPA with Cloudwater, ESB with Moor in Bristol, a saison with Marble, a rye ale with Thornbridge and a smoked porter with Hardknott. I haven’t created any of the recipes, instead, we paired each of our six brewers with six breweries and they have brewed a beer. What’s been lovely is seeing how my team have blossomed with the project.

I’ve also been busy with preparing to install a ten-barrel pilot brewery. It will enable us to try out new malts, new hop varieties, different yeast strains and be a bit more adventurous with our beer styles.

/ fullers.co.uk


Ghana’s incredible microbrewery

GHANA’S INCREDIBLE MICROBREWERY

Do you know what sorghum is? Daniel Neilson does and he meets a man who’s making beer with it

On a large plastic sheet weighed down with bricks, a thin layer of a reddish grain is drying under the intense West African heat. Clement Djameh picks it up and plants it in my hand. The tiny red grains have a little tadpole-like tail. The grain is sorghum, a grass crop that grows abundantly across large parts of Africa. It is used for making porridges, couscous and, in this case, beer.

Accra, Ghana. It’s a place full of life and excitement. It’s a tropical jumble that assaults all five senses. The shattering heat, the pulsing music, the smoking grills, the spic’n’span malls, the crashing surf, the cocktail terraces, the chugging exhausts, the pavement hawkers and swish hotels; it all combines to create a frenetic and thrillingly unpredictable city. The unexpected is to be expected so that there is a guy in Accra who is starting a microbrewery using only sorghum I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had to see it.

We meet at a petrol station on the very outskirts of Accra, beyond the posh bits and beyond the shanty towns. We hop into Clement’s old 4×4 and bounce along the rough roads to an old house with a large garden. There’s an old car, a large metal container about the same size as the car, and some greenery. At the house, he opens up a large wooden door to reveal the small brewery. Corny kegs that would be recognised by homebrewers are stacked up on one side. On the kegs are tied little labels: “IPA”,  “Trial beer, Belgian type”, “sorghum lager” and “pito”, a local alcoholic drink. There’s a large refrigerator and a bottling unit and I reckon the brewhouse has a 100-litre capacity. He pours a spectacular wheat beer and we walk into the garden.

“This is sorghum,” he says clasping a leafy eight-foot-high plant. He picks apart the grain head and isolates a little seed. “All of our beer is made from sorghum.” I’m noticeably taken aback. Taking another sip of my wheat beer, I don’t note any discernible difference. I try the lager, again no difference, I try the IPA, same. “You have to use what you have available,” Clement tells me. Sorghum beer is also naturally gluten-free. The potential is astounding.

Sorghum is malted in a similar way to barley: soaking and then drying. Clement malts his own in the metal container in the garden and then dries it under the hot equatorial sun. The whole set-up embodies the adaptable and positive Ghanaian spirit I’ve come to love over the eight annual visits I’ve made.  

The real skill is brewing with it, however. The husk on barley acts as a natural filter when draining the sugary liquid during sparging. Sorghum has no husk, and it is very glutinous. Clement, who trained at Weihenstephaner, is a pioneer in the use of sorghum. Pointing welders in the right direction, he adapted the brewery equipment to deal with this difficult grain and will have to do so again, when his much larger brewhouse arrives later in the year.

I look again at the beer in my glass and delve into its smooth bubbles. This is a beer 40 years in the making. A beer that could tell of trial after trial, set back after set back. It tells of brewing in a country without a constant electricity supply, with no hop merchants, with almost no barley. It reflects the heat of the sun, the torrential downpours of the rainy season, the ground that nurtures the sorghum plant. It tells of the farmers in the north that send the sorghum to Clement, bought for a steady price. It tells of overcoming great adversity, and of love for beer. Forty long years. This beer I have in my hand is bursting with more than hop aromas, it is alive with the spirit of an unassuming man who is quite remarkable.

For more details go to Inland Microbrewery.


Read Issue 17 for free here

READ ISSUE 17 FOR FREE HERE

 Magic/realism… where beer meets the netherworld

Tommy Cooper did magic, though like many a duff brewery’s beers his tricks usually went wrong; David Copperfield also dabbles in magic, glitzed up and given the gift of the gab — if he was a brewery, he’d have tripped over himself in the rush to get to the door when Mr Anheuser-Busch knocked.

Then there is Merlin, who probably never existed but some (probably monastic) scribe, in the wake of the Romans leaving, managed to weave a magic spell that has lasted down the centuries (a bit like one of the small group of family breweries still surviving).

As you might have guessed from this preamble, this is our magic issue, though we’re aiming more towards Gabriel García Marquéz than Paul Daniels.

When we talk about magic in brewing and beer, it often comes down to the process of fermentation, when yeast in the pre-Pasteur time, as Pete Brown recollects (not from personal memory), was known as ‘godisgoode’, because nobody had a clue about where that foam on top of the fermenting beer came from — and given the grip of religion in this period there was only — thing that could explain it.

Then there is the magic and fantasy that threads its way through Belgian beer like a vein of gold in a mine overseen by the Nibelung. Our very own master of magical writing, Joe Stange, is just the person to investigate this sense of the fantastic.

We also look at ritual in beer and the myths that hold sway, while elsewhere Emma Inch has written a fantastic essay on how some pubs can be safe havens and others not.

There’s also our usual round of reviews, a bit of a q&a with masterful Czech brewer Adam Matuška, barrel-aged beer and Pilsner going under the microscope and a general sense of magical realism. Do enjoy (in the company of a magical beer, naturally).

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Editor 

 

 


Read Issue 16 for free here

READ ISSUE 16 FOR FREE HERE

 The heroes of beer… are not where you expect them

We wanted to celebrate heroes, but in true OG fashion we didn’t want to be obvious, so there’ll be no profiles of various hops or barley strains; celebrities and the brewing world’s famous have been avoided; we wanted the idea of heroes to be understated, not thwacked out of the ground or bugled parade ground-style, we hoped for subtlety and longed for the silent hero or maybe the forgotten one, or just perhaps the odd one.

In contemporary life, the idea of a hero has become so broad that it’s hard to know what or who is one, which is perhaps the underlying concept of Pete Brown’s fascinating tale of beer as a hero. Before he became an award-winning beer writer, Pete was embedded deep in the world of advertising, working on Stella and Heineken, and here he offers an overview of how the advertising of beer has changed since his playground days.

For some, parents are the heroes of their life, but Jessica Mason takes a totally different view in her searingly honest and compulsively readable tale of a pub table and a beer; this is perhaps one of the most powerful pieces we have published. Some of it might not make for easy reading, but if you just want jolly tales about beer, sorry.

Do you know who Jack Payne was? We didn’t and if you don’t know either then go onto to read Katrien Bruyland’s excellent story of how a British soldier at the end of the Great War stayed on in Belgium and had a hand in developing one of the country’s most enduring beers, as well as introducing a new style.

Original Gravity’s founder and publisher Daniel Neilson travels often to Ghana – here he meet Clement Djameh and tastes his sorghum beers that burst with flavour and exemplify their maker’s brewing expertise. Elsewhere, we have a tale of a Prague pub and what constitutes a lost beer, while English-style IPAs and bocks are celebrated, beer meets love and all get on swimmingly. We hope you enjoy the issue.

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Editor  

 


Fourpure launch nationwide Continental Collaboration tour

FOURPURE LAUNCH NATIONWIDE  CONTINENTAL COLLABORATION TOUR

Fourpure has launched its first Continental Collaboration, creating beers in partnership with six breweries each from a different major continent

Fourpure Brewing Co. has announced its most exciting and challenging brewing project to date. Combining its passion for beer and adventure, Fourpure has launched its first Continental Collaboration, creating beers in partnership with six breweries each from a different major continent, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. The partner brewers are Devils Peak in South Africa, Kyoto Brewing in Japan, Two Birds Brewing in Australia, Brasserie de la Senne in Belgium, Bear Republic Brewing Co in California, USA, and Sunset Brewery in Brazil. Each beer will be released in a limited edition 500ml can and 30 litre keg, with a small run of mixed six-packs available as well as individual cans.

The beers have already been brewed and full details of each beer will be announced in June ahead of a roadshow of events taking the series to consumers in 21 cities across the UK throughout the month (see full list below).

Co-founder of Fourpure Daniel Lowe commented: “Over the last few decades, brewing has changed significantly across the globe. It’s an industry that transcends language or geography, that brings people together professionally and socially and increasingly it’s an industry that loves to share, teach and collaborate. The Continental Collaboration series of beers will explore the unique stories born from history, heritage and a sense of adventure that has led to innovation in brewing, spanning every major continent on Earth.”

For more information visit www.fourpure.com or follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook at @Fourpure and on Twitter at @fourpurebrewing.

Continental Collaboration events list:
Sun 17/06/18 | The Craftsman Company, Aberdeen
Mon 18/06/18 | Shilling Brewing Co., Glasgow
Tue 19/06/18 | The Fat Gadgie, Carlisle
Wed 20/06/18 | The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle
Thurs 21/06/18 | Manchester, The Pilcrow
Fri 22/06/18 | The Turks Head, Leeds
Sat 23/06/18 | The Dead Crafty Beer Co., Liverpool
Sun 24/06/18 | Against The Grain, Dublin
Mon 25/06/18 | The Sunflower, Belfast
Tue 26/06/18 | The Wolf, Birmingham
Wed 27/06/18 | Stoneworks, Peterborough
Fri 29/06/18 | Pint Shop, Oxford
Sat 30/06/18 | Small Bar, Cardiff
Sun 01/07/18 | Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf, Bristol
Mon 02/07/18 | The Three Johns, North London
Tue 03/07/18 | Fuggles Hop Café, Tunbridge Wells
Wed 04/07/18 | Brighton Beer Dispensary, Brighton
Thurs 05/07/18 | HAND, Falmouth
Fri 06/07/18 | Kaapse Brouwers, Rotterdam
Sat 07/07/18 | TBC, Antwerp
Sun 08/07/18 | Fourpure Taproom, South London


British hops celebrated in new BritHop Series

 BRITISH HOPS CELEBRATED IN NEW BRITHOP SERIES

Five of the UK’s best breweries will be launching a line-up of exceptional beers using new progressive British hops in new project named BritHop that is due to launch this summer

The BritHop Series, pioneered by Drinks Maven, has been initiated in conjunction with hop merchant Charles Faram and the British Hop Association [BHA] and aims for a supergroup of new and exciting British beers to be brewed by some of the nation’s top brewers. Each beer will also be aligned with a music track from a British band or artist that suits the beer.

Breweries involved in the project include: Burning Sky, The Kernel, Cloudwater, The Wild Beer Co and North Brewing Co.

“Great beer and great music should go hand-in-hand. In Britain, we are lucky enough to have both. The new progressive hop varieties we now have available to us in the UK are at the heart of this series and will be used to create some exciting new beers. This is the start of a journey into the next generation of flavour for British beer – an exciting step towards growing an appreciation for all of the nuances and subtleties of what British hops have to offer whilst also giving a nod to some decent music at the same time,” said Drinks Maven founder Jessica Mason.

Breweries and their selected tracks are as follows:

Burning Sky: The Astronauts – Typically English Day

The Kernel: The Slits – Heard It Through The Grapevine

Cloudwater: Kate Tempest – Europe Is Lost

The Wild Beer Co: David Bowie – Changes

North Brewing Co: Longpigs – Lost Myself

Mark Tranter, Head Brewer and Founder at Burning Sky Brewery, who is crafting a 5.6% abv pale ale for The BritHop Series, said: “To showcase new British hops, we paired the delightfully citrusy experimental CF185 and CF218 hops with some light spices to create a quietly contemplative and refreshing pale ale. Set to the backdrop of The Astonauts, Typically English Day, there is hope, love and friendship – despite the government and their schemes.”

Paul Jones, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Cloudwater Brew Company said: “We’re using Pioneer hops in a small or not so small IPL. Song pairing is Europe Is Lost by Kate Tempest.”

Jasper Tupman, Technical Brewer at Wild Beer Co, who is making a 5% abv beer that can adapt and change with age, said: “We were invited by our good friend Jessica ‘Drinks Maven’ Mason to get involved in the BritHop project, a celebration of the finest progressive UK hops married with classic British music in honour of Beer Day Britain. Our take was to brew a beer with 100% UK yeast, malt and hops and the spirit of the Thin White Duke himself – David Bowie. We have used copious amounts of new experimental Jester and Godiva hops that combine the tang of gooseberry and grapefruit, with the alluring sweetness of white grape, lychees and blackcurrant.100% fermented with the super attenuating yeast Brettanomyces means it will let the juicy hop character shine through whilst drunk fresh, or choose to cellar and let the Brett do its Funky (Dory) thing. This is a beer that allows for exceptional ageing and flavour development. Chchchchanges!”

 

 

Christian Townsley, Co-Founder at North Brewing Co said: “Our song choice is Lost Myself by Longpigs. Often an overlooked song when talking about Brit pop in the same way that British hops get forgotten. We’re brewing a 4.8% abv pale ale with Godiva, Jester and CF 162 hops.”

Evin O’Riordan, Head Brewer and Founder of The Kernel Brewery said: We are using a hop called CF160.  A daughter of Jester. The hops smelled great, so signs are promising.”

The limited line-up of beers from the BritHop Series will be available to taste during Beer Day Britain on the evening of 15th June 2018 at Mother Kelly’s Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, London. A playlist of music from British bands and artists, including the selected music tracks, will be playing throughout the night.

BritHop is an independent project and a way for beer and music fans to also show support for local industry. The BritHop Series will launch aligned with Beer Day Britain and the limited line-up of beers will be available to taste at a party at Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green London on the evening of 15th June, 2018.


Art of Beer: Drew Millward/Northern Monk

ART OF BEER: DREW MILLWARD/ NORTHERN MONK

Drew Millward’s artwork for Northern Monk caught our attention for its vibrant illustrations for a special series

It started as so many collaborations do, through a beer. Drew Millward was dropping off a portrait of John and Jane Marshall. John Marshall was responsible for the building Temple Mill, Leeds, and by extension of that, building the flax store, home to Northern Monk. A bond was formed. Here we speak to Drew about his remarkable artwork for the new Northern Monk Northern Tropics series and his other work for clients including Bundobust, BrewDog and 21st Amendment.

What was the brief you were given from Northern Monk?

There really wasn’t one. In fact, it was almost the other way around. We drank beer, we discussed what we like about beer, I told them that my ‘holy grail’, in beer terms, is basically to find something that tastes like a hoppy Um Bongo. They went away and concocted ideas for what sort of beers might fit that bill, and I just got to work drawing pictures that combined Leeds’ industrial landscape and a load of tropical nonsense. It was pretty much a dream project really. Like having a suit tailor-made. The Northern Tropics series have genuinely been some of my favourite beers I’ve had in years and to play a part in how those are presented to the world has been an absolute pleasure. Long may it continue.

How did you first get into illustrating in the first place?

Somewhere, in the mists of time, I started making posters for gigs that myself and some friends were booking. We needed to advertise the shows, so myself, and my buddy Luke Drozd took turns in designing flyers and poster for the stuff we were putting on. That friendly rivalry between us probably spurred us on to do better things as time progressed. From that, people saw the work and started asking me to make posters and such like for them. I think someone offered me about £35 to make a poster for a show in London, shortly after which I quit my job. That was about 14 years ago. Since that point, I’ve more or less, kept the lights on by drawing pictures. I suppose I fell into it, as it was never a goal or ambition to do this, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You have such a distinct style, where does your inspiration come from?

Anywhere and everywhere. I suppose my roots in posters and screen printing plays a massive part in the way I work, and the work I make, and certainly the worlds of music, DIY and punk rock all play a part in what/why/how I operate. I would say, stylistically it’s probably a progression over the past 14 years of looking at design, illustration, art and ephemera, filtered through my own mind and limited capabilities.

You’ve done quite a bit for Bundobust, how did that come around?

Those folks are good people. Leeds is a small enough place that most people know of, if not know each other, certainly in more independently minded circles, so things often come about fairly organically. Marko Husak asked me to get involved with what they were doing, and since I drank (at The Sparrow) and ate (their street food before they got the bricks and mortar place) there, it was foolish not to. I love what they do and how they do it, so it’s not difficult to get behind working collaboratively with these people. I think a lot of people within the independent community, and you see it a lot in the smaller end brewing industry as well, have a great attitude and mind set about taking risks and working with artists or other like-minded people. It goes back to the principals that punk rock and the DIY music communities are built on. It’s a good way of going about things.

/ northernmonkbrewco.com

/ drewmillward.com


Beer Traveller: Catalonia transformed

BEER TRAVELLER: CATALONIA TRANSFORMED

Pete Brown celebrates and salivates over the Catalonia’s evolving beer transformation

It doesn’t work on everyone, but beer has the power to perform a kind of transformative magic. One minute you have an average interest in the impact of flavour on your palate, enjoying the odd glass of wine or pint of lager. The next, you’re on your way to jacking in your job to make, sell or communicate about beer and converting the cupboard under the stairs into a cellar space.

It happened to me in 2004 in Portland, Oregon, and I’ve seen it happen to a great many people since. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to witness the actual moment: a handful of times, I’ve been the perpetrator of it. I’ve seen it happen to men and women, close friends and strangers. And now, I think I’ve just seen it happen to an entire region.

Barcelona has always been one of my favourite cities to get drunk in. For a long time, the only beer available was Estrella, but that wasn’t the point: it was the manner of its drinking that was so appealing. In the Boqueria — the best food market in the world — Estrella was served ice-cold from the bar of a little kiosk where fresh langoustines wriggled on a hot plate a few feet away. In side-street bodegas, Estrella was served in tiny glasses — or cañas — to accompany plates of padron peppers, octopus or heroic portions of patatas bravas. And in the twisting warren of the old Bario Gotic quarter, Estrella was drunk in pints in a selection of randomly themed bars.

Four years ago, I was back in Barcelona and looked again for these bars. They’d all gone, replaced by generic craft beer bars from central casting. All sold beers from Meantime, Brooklyn and BrewDog, and all had stripped wooden floors, bare brick and a smattering of heavy metal sights and sounds. I could have been in London, Manchester, or Nottingham. Sitting on a bar stool sipping a pint of Punk IPA, the ghost of the Starsky & Hutch theme bar that had once stood here whispered in my ear, ‘This is what you wanted, isn’t it? I distinctly remember you complaining that it was just Estrella last time you were here’.

If this was victory, it felt hollow.

In March 2018, I’m back for the seventh annual Barcelona Beer Festival, in a vast convention centre reminiscent of the Great American and Great British Beer Festivals. There are brewers and drinkers here from both those countries. I suspect they’ve not come all this way to try beers from Brooklyn and BrewDog.  

‘There are now 100 craft breweries in Catalonia,’ says festival organiser Mikel Rius. ‘This is not about a movement from the city. It’s all around the rural area of Catalonia.’

The day after the festival, we’re driving up into the hills through stunted, winter-pruned vines. At one chilly peak in the centre of a region most famous for Cava, Tempranillo and Grenache, we meet Carlos and Montse Rodriguez. They quit the city for an almost ruined former winery around the turn of the millennium. In a cool stone room that smells of cats and has a bar that looks like it was stolen from a Devon country pub, Carlos serves us some of the best traditional British cask pale ale I’ve tasted in many months. In the cellars next door, this self-taught brewer is re-fermenting his beers in local red wine barrels with a wild Brettanomyces yeast he isolated and cultivated from the air around us.

Catalonia has lots of wine barrels. That’s why at least a third of the breweries here have a barrel ageing programme. But it doesn’t have much in the way of hops and barley.

That’s why Oscar Mogilnicki Tomas and Quiònia Pujol Sabaté have put together the ‘Full Circle Project’, with the aim of growing everything they need to produce a beer not just in, but entirely of the region. He’s an engineer, she’s a biologist, and together they’ve built the Lo Vilot brewery by hand. The number of different skills they possess between them defies comprehension, as does the consistency of their range of beers including sour fruit beers, IPAs, Pilsner, wheat and Belgian-style ales.

Back down in Barcelona, over a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian-style dubbel, someone asks the American-born head brewer of Edge Brewing what attracted him to the idea of working in the one of the world’s most beautiful cities.  

‘You’re from a scene from the US — which had lost its beer culture — brewing in a country that never had a beer culture to start with. So, you’re doubly removed in terms of creative freedom,’ he replied.

Days later, after gorging ourselves on homemade salami, barbecued spring onions dipped in romesco sauce and the simple brilliance of rustic bread rubbed with garlic and ripe, fresh tomatoes before being drizzled with olive oil and salt, all offered at every one of the dozen or so breweries we visit, I decide this creative freedom is one half of an explosive combination.

Catalonia may have never had a beer culture, but it’s always possessed a proud sense of gastronomic independence, a genuine love of food that is as amazing as it is simple and democratic. Craft beer was a perfect foil, a natural fit. After that initial wide-eyed genuflection to the global titans of craft, the Catalonians simply got on with the job of making beer their own.

They’ve only just started, and already they don’t seem to be able to brew a bad or mediocre beer. On my next visit, I suspect it may be my turn to have my original beer epiphany all over again.

This article was written after a trip organised and paid for by the Catalan Tourist Board. You can find out more about Catalonia’s gastronomic heritage at www.catalunya.com        


The 6 pack: barrel-aged beers

THE 6 PACK: BARREL-AGED BEERS

Adrian Tierney-Jones uncorks the finest beers that have slumbered in wood

This is how we should think of barrelageing: the long sleep; a beer brewed and then enclosed within a wooden tomb on a par with a Pharaoh whose retinue is certain he will resurrect and rule once again; time floating by, like lilies on a stream, with only the imagined scurries and scratchings of creatures we call lactobacillus, pediococcus and brettanomyces disturbing what seems an eternal sleep.

Then there is a rude awakening, a tap against the wood, almost like a cry for help, the emergence into sunlight. The beer is filled with a new sense of vigour, ready to start off on its own journey or happy to merge with another beer or be taken to another barrel whose wood is a different story.

During the great porter days of the 18th and 19th century beer was routinely aged in barrels, sometimes for up to a year or more. It ripened and was renewed by its time in barrels the size of modest hotels in modest seaside towns. Then as the brand new century dawned and world wars churned their weary way, brewers forgot what they used to do, they lost the art of ageing beer, they dismissed from their minds, memories of how they used to blend old and new, how they let the right microbes in, kept the wrong ones out; they forgot that beers could grow old and elegant, ready to be embraced by a younger generation of beer.

Time passes and retinues of practice return. Many breweries now have their own barrel farm, an odd phrases that’s crossed from the Atlantic and sounds more Big Mac than Old MacDonald had a farm. I was recently in BrewDog’s new sour beer facility, Overworks, where racks of barrels stood silently ready to do the brewer’s bidding. And if that wasn’t enough, there was an amphora, a direct descendant of those vessels that the Romans used to fill with wine (or even fish sauce). For beer, sleep it seems can take many forms. ATJ

 

 

/ Founders Brewing Co., Backwoods Bastard, 11.1%

Trust the US masters of the barrel aging process to make one of the most complex beers here. Dark fruits shine through smacking Scotch. Masterfully balanced and effortlessly drinkable.

/ Duchesse de Bourgogne, Verhae Vichte, 6.2%

In Flanders, wood aging has endured for several beer styles, including the vinous red ales.

/ Wild Beer Co, Beyond Modus IV, 8%

This is perhaps the best expression of Wild Beer Co’s passion for wood. It’s a blend of the flagship wood-aged beer Modus Operandi, and aged again. Expect sour cherries and balsamic.

/ Burning Sky, Monolith Vintage, 8%

In rural East Sussex is a brewery full of wood. Monolith, a dark, almost stout beer, has vatted on oak for two years, bringing an astonishing complexity.

/ Buxton Brewery, Highlander, 10.5%

Perhaps some of the БТ8.49 went on the gorgeous label, but most (it’s not cheap aging beer) it’s time spent swilling around Scotch whisky barrels. But wow, this is as complex as a single malt.

/ Siren Craft Brew, Barrel Aged Shattered Dream, 9.1%

Broken Dream is Siren’s highly rated breakfast stout. This version has lingered in the copious amounts of barrels at the brewery. An expressive bourbon is tempered with a savoury woodiness.