Of course, my two week frolic to Spain was not just an excuse to escape to the sunshine and sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, it was a cleverly veiled covert beer research trip. This expedition was to look at restaurants, bars and supermarkets to see what the local choices are.
On the first supermarket trip I saw a well-stocked beer aisle, red with Spanish lagers and green with those from Northern Europe, plus the bright blue of Illa, Menorca's own beer. It also featured bottles of Guinness, Magners and Strongbow, Paulaner wheatbeer, Judas, Desperados and a few non-alcoholic cans. I was there for the Spanish beers.
To begin, an observation: The first night out I ordered a beer, as follows: “Hola. Beer please.” “Small or large?” was the response. Obviously I said large. It arrived a few minutes later in an unbranded nonic pint glass. It was Estrella Damm. I do not believe that Estrella Damm should ever be served in nonic pint glasses. Later in the break I ordered both a 'small' and a 'large' Estrella and they arrived in lovely, branded and stemmed glasses, either 20cl or 40cl, not in bloody pints. I realised, with that first pint, that I'd stepped into a parallel version of England located on a Spanish island. However, the thought of pints of Estrella did bring me some joy as I imagined the burly, burnt Brits with their beer-drink bravado sinking four pints and stumbling home drunk blaming the heat for their inability to walk in a straight line. Ha! Estrella is 5.4%. Ha! It's not like the 4% lager you gulp at home, mate!
Anyway, here's what else I found in the aisles of Spar. I hope, for anyone visiting Spain this summer, it may help you in your drinking:
Estrella Damm. As mentioned, it's 5.4%, but one assumes, being dainty and English, that it is less potent and therefore one to smash by the pint. I like Estrella a lot as a holiday beer. That extra strength translates to extra flavour and body. It's honey, bubblegum and bread and it's refreshing.
Illa is the local beer. It's brewed with local grain. I wrote a blog about it last week. I drank lots of them while I was away and I’m still not sure if it’s meant to taste the way it does or not. I still liked it though. This is the one craft beer brand I had in two weeks.
Cruzcampo is 4.8% and good when cold and served in small measures. It's got a lovely dry finish, like the hot air, that makes you go back for more.
The Spar have their own beer, imaginatively called Cerveza. It's 4.5%, it's pale, has lots of bubbles, lacks body and tastes of very little. Drink it very cold and very quick when you are very thirsty and you'll be slightly satisfied. Otherwise, don't bother.
Mahou is another bright red branded Spanish beer. It's 5.5% and more bitter than the other beers, making it dry and quenching and perfect for small measures and little plates of food. My scribbled notes suggest tobacco, sherbet and crackers which coincidentally is also the preferred diet of supermodels.
In one place I found Duff. Duff! I've written about my desire to drink animated beer before (in which I say that I never want to try it - curiosity overpowered me), to have that moment where I down a delicious pint of it in seconds with a refreshed 'aahhhhh'. Fortunately, tasting of very little, I managed to drink this bottle cartoonishly-fast.
Xibeca, a 4.6% beer from Damm, is, I guess, the cheaper brand from the brewery. It's called a pilsner but, given the dramatic lack of hops, I'd question that labelling. I bought a litre of this for not many euro cents and that's probably the best thing to say about it.
The opposite end of the brewery scale is Voll Damm. At 7.7% and in a dramatic, dark can, it calls itself 'Das Originale Marzenbier'. I did wonder if it was Spanish Special Brew but a tweet from Boak and Bailey confirmed that it's not tramp juice. It tastes good too; smooth and sweet, full-bodied, lots of toffee and caramel and just enough hops to not make it cloying. One for beer geeks.
Cruzcampo make a stronger beer, Gran Reserva, at 6.4%. It's a richer amber colour than the normal brew and it's subtle but very enjoyable: tangy malt, a noticeable hop presence, a little peachy aroma and a sherbety sweetness.
And San Miguel also do a fancier, stronger beer: Selecta XV. I liked it a lot. I walked past a restaurant where everyone was drinking this deep amber beer in fancy glasses and I had to go in for a closer look. I asked what beer they had and the waiter said San Miguel, probably assuming my Englishness and considering his fancy beer too delicious for me, and I resigned myself to a usual golden beer. However, I got the darker one. It's very tasty: caramel, little chocolate and lots of hops.
Normal San Miguel ain't too bad either. I had a couple of lovely 30cl glasses of it with a table covered in tapas (local food). Refreshing, light, quenching; everything a lager should be.
Next come three non-alcoholic beers, purely bought out of research and curiosity. Free from Damm looks like beer but definitely doesn't taste like it. Eyes-closed it could be sparkling water. One good thing, mainly of appeal to the calorie conscious who want to appear like they are drinking beer but are in fact not, is that there are only 33 calories in the can.
With almost three times the calories, is San Miguel's 0,0%. If you drink it very cold it isn't offensive, otherwise it is offensive. Order Diet Coke instead, or, even better, a proper beer.
And finally, Cruzcampo's Shandy, a 0.9% thing which tastes exactly like lemonade and nothing like beer (though it still looks like beer). It tasted so much like lemonade that I added gin to it to make it taste better.
I must also report back that I had Heineken and Amstel, though I do not recall them in great detail. The Heineken, however, was delivered when I expected to receive an Estrella and came as a shock to my delicate tastebuds. It appears that I don't enjoy Heineken very much. Amstel is ok.
These are my research findings. My preference is for Estrella Damm as my day-to-day drink, though I did like the stronger brews, especially the one from San Miguel. If you go to Spain this summer, as many millions of you will, then you will find that the sun is hot and the beer is cold and that’s all you really need to know, though it is, for a beer geek like me, fun to try a little of everything.