by Sebastian Lacson
Having lived eight years of my life in Spain, I could easily be accused of being biased. But if you read on, you might agree that I may be onto something after all.
In 1856, industrial-scale beer manufacturing was introduced by French cicerone Louis Moritz when he opened his eponymous brewery in Barcelona. Twenty years later, Barcelona welcomed its second beer purveyor when August Damm, also from France, joined the industry. Meanwhile, in 1890s Madrid, another Frenchman by the name of Casimiro Mahou tried his hand at vertical integration by brewing beer and making ice with his Cerveza y Fabrica de Hielos. Almost a century later, Mahou would buy a brand named San Miguel, founded by Enrique Maria Barretto who began his brewery in the Philippines in 1890. Spaniards are generally in disbelief when told that San Miguel actually started in Las Islas Filipinas.
In the 1900s, smaller breweries eventually sprouted throughout Spain and became consolidated into firm leading brands in some regions. La Zaragozana opened in 1900 and produced Ambar, the preferred name in Zaragoza. Andalucia saw its own take flight in 1904 when the Osborne brothers thought of Cruzcampo, the current leader in that region. The Galicians, who are astute business people themselves, joined the party in 1906 when a certain Jose Maria Rivera founded Estrella Galicia upon his return to then-impoverished Spain from then-prosperous Cuba. A friend from Granada twisted my arm and had me include that his favorite Alhambra beer started in 1925 and continues to be the favored beverage by the walls of the Alhambra.
Fun fact: The brands mentioned above still exist and are thriving. Most of them have become prominent leaders at the forefront of their markets even up to this day. Mahou dominates throughout Madrid and Castilla La Mancha, while Estrella Damm is preferred in Catalunya. Andalucians will only drink Cruzcampo, while the Murcians next door swear by Estrella de Levante. The gentle people from Aragon continue to delight in Ambar. The rest of the country — from the Basque country west to the Cantabrian cornice (Santander, Asturias, Galicia), down to Extremadura and into Castilla-Leon, even Valencia on the east, will imbibe nothing but Estrella Galicia. It goes without saying that when in Barcelona, do not make the mistake of sauntering into a bar and asking for a Mahou because that may very well be putting your life, and those of your companions, in danger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You might be wondering how I could come off making such a lofty claim that Spanish draft beers are the best beer drinking experience in the world? For starters, it is the way they are served. Nothing is more delightful and enthralling than the unique ambiance of a Spanish bar awakening our senses with its colors, sounds, smells, and the flavour of the complimentary tapas you get with your beers. You walk in, sit by the bar, say “Una caña, por favor,” instead of asking for a menu. And this my friends, will guarantee you the perfect beer drinking experience.
Here are some things I learned from frequenting bars during my 8-year stint in Spain. These are the steps a barman follows to throw the perfect beer (no translation needed on terminology as they are almost English anyway):
Preparación. Either a 22-cl or 40-cl glass is selected. It is never a frozen glass, heaven forbid! The glass is spotlessly clean and it is splashed on the inside with cold water. Beer is sleeping at 5 degrees Celsius.
El descarte. The spigot is opened and the initial foam gets thrown away.
Inclinación. The glass is angled at 45® and the heavenly fluid is poured in.
Precisión. As the glass gets filled, it is slowly retuned vertically. The spigot closes once it is filled to ¾.
Coronación. The tap is opened to ¼ only to fill the remaining space with creamy head or “giste”. Not just any head. It must be 20% thick bubbles on top, 60% creamy froth at the middle, and 20% of fine bubbles at the bottom.
Presentación. Your cold glass of beer is slammed on the bar as perfection is rendered.
A small serving will set you back around 1.5 to 2 euros — not bad at all. Beer servings are smaller than what we might be used to because of temperature control. The smaller the glass, the faster cold beer gets consumed, as it should. Nothing is worse than warm beer! Remember the complimentary tapas I mentioned earlier? Those are always salty and meant to persuade you to knock down two or three more before moving on to the next bar.
The barman is an excellent conversationalist especially on the topic of football and politics and he will never disappoint. He has a photographic memory and needs no POS system to remember your order and can compute your bill in three seconds in his head.
I would take a beer in a Spanish caña over Oktoberfest anytime. And in case you are wondering what’s the closest thing we have to this in Manila. Used to be Donosti in BGC, but they closed two weeks ago. Your turn to tell me where to go.