Spanish beer has come a long way from lagers: The beer scene—jump-started by Barcelona homebrewers turned pros—is flourishing, churning out creative beers peppered with herbs, fruit and spices that smartly never tread into gimmick territory; after all, they still have to pair with tapas. And they travel well: Slowly but surely, Spanish beer is popping up stateside. The leading importer of Spanish beer is Iberian Beer United (check out their portfolio here), though B. United imports select bottles from two Spanish breweries. One of them is Art Cervesers, responsible for Spain’s lone exported IPA: Art Flama, a 6.2%-ABV version brewed with Irish moss.
We reached out to B. United’s Matthias Niedhart to learn more; he connected us to Art Cervesers, who asked Spanish beer authority and close friend of the brewery Albert Barrachina Robert to opine on the comeuppance of the Spanish IPA. Below is his response, edited un poco for clarity:
“When people began to be interested in ‘different’ beer in Spain, more or less 10 years ago, it was still very difficult to find something other than the normal and hardened brews of the major brewers. There were already some importers that were trying to introduce Belgian classics. There was also a homebrewers association. I think, back then, they were biology students. One of them is now a doctor in biology. tweet
In brewing, one of the most interesting, easy and funny things to discover and to play with is the hop. Those homebrewers (and others that followed them) were marveled with that new ‘toy,’ and IPAs were a good way to experiment. My own first beer, 15 years ago, was a kit-trippel, and my first all-grain was an IPA. tweet
There was also an English homebrewer in Barcelona who was hired by a pub to brew beers. It became the first brewpub in Spain, and one of their brews was an IPA—Iberian pale ale instead of India pale ale. It was a very good classic English IPA. (He now has his own brewery, and I don’t know who is brewing in the original brewpub.) tweet
Most of the [craft breweries in Spain launched within the past eight years] make a bitter and one or more IPA. And when they discovered exotic hops (American, Australian, New Zealand, etc.), IPA was the vehicle of their investigations. IPA became a sort of fashion. Beginners who wanted to be ‘in’ brewed or drank IPA, and you were nobody if you didn’t like IPA in general or that IPA in particular. A couple of years ago, we made a step in front, and now you have to appreciate imperial IPA to be somebody in that little society. There is also a sort of race to produce very high gravity porters. tweet
Now, more then the half of the new craft breweries in Spain produce an IPA or, at least something they call IPA; some are quite far from the original classic model, and some are quite acceptable. Normally, they present an explosion of brutal bitterness and it is very hard to find something else behind that iron wall. They have their unconditional public that has probably developed a great tolerance to bitterness. tweet
‘Catalan IPA’ is simply made by Catalans in Catalonia with imported materials, sometimes flavored with rosemary or thyme, or something more mysterious. … But there is not any true Catalan or Spanish IPA, first because all the raw materials are imported, and second, there is not any common recipe or any agreement about how to brew a Catalan or a Spanish brew. At this moment, this boom of craft breweries doesn’t even have any representative association.” tweet
Those of you who’ve followed craft beer in the U.S. starting from its origins might think this story sounds a little familiar.