Paris, France is a city known for dozens of delights in the culinary world. It’s a land of baguettes, croissants, es cargo, and mouthwatering pastries that can stretch your waistline just by looking at them. The cheeses are simply some of the best I’ve ever had and they pair the wide variety of cheese very nicely with any one of a hundred wines that are grown and fermented across the region. It’s impossible to visit and not find something to satisfy the foodie that lives in all of us and usually takes control of us while on vacation. But how does a beer lover satisfy his or her need for biscuit-like malt flavors and some form of hops that we are all in love with?
Last year I was surprised to find a small but growing beer following in Italy. This years trip resulted in some other interesting finds as well.
The first stop on our three country tour is Barcelona, Spain. Despite that last sentence and what every globe and map will tell you, Barcelona is not Spain, and every Barcelonan you meet will tell you the same thing. Barcelona resides in the Catalunya region of the country and a few hundred years ago they were taken over by and made a part of Spain. They still hold a grudge about it. The Catalan flag hangs from many balconies around the city and quite a few citizens prefer to speak Catalan over Spanish. It’s this attitude of defiance that I believe helps to fuel their small but quickly growing beer culture in a land that historically prefers other fermented or distiller beverages.
Within the city limits you can easily find several breweries and a quite a few beer bars that are helping to spread the word that beer is here and it makes all things better.
The economy in Barcelona, much like the rest of the world, has stalled dramatically. The government has encouraged entrepreneurs to start striking out in bold new directions to see what sticks and can turn a profit in an economic downturn. Does this sounds slightly familiar to many in San Diego? Many in Barcelona were shocked by the one thousand plus turnout at Barcelona’s first beer festival last spring. It’s all the more evidence that craft beer continues to make an impact around the globe. Plans are well underway for the now second annual craft beer festival in Barcelona where an even bigger turnout is expected for this showcase for not only bigger, more well known craft brewers but also for the smaller, local brewers.
One of the conundrums faced by breweries and home brewers alike in Barcelona and Spain over all, is that grain and hops for beers must be imported from Germany and the United Kingdom. For the moment this can result in beers with a rather high price. While not outrageous, I’m optimistic that within a few years this can be changed as the industry continues to evolve and grain growers realize they are missing out on a whole new market.
While I didn’t have the opportunity to visit any breweries or even most of the bars on my list, my wife did force me to do a lot of tourist activities, I did manage to spend time at two bars that are helping to push craft beer forward in a landscape dominated by wine, sangria and mojitos.
La Cervateca – Carrer d’En Gingas 25 Barcelona, Spain
Located on the edge of the Gothic quarter of the city, this bar is Barcelona’s beacon in the night the dark night of vienna lagers and cheap pilsners. La Cervateca has a select few beers on draft, the bottle shop in the bar more than makes up for any short comings in that you might find in that area. I found the draft list to be a pretty diverse selection of brewers from around the globe with one or two local brewers on hand but in general they seem more interested in pushing craft beer styles from around the world. Not a bad strategy when it comes to luring in craft beer virgins, you might as well hook them on the best stuff you can find. The bottle shop area is much the same way although you will notice a crazy amount of beers from Rouge Brewing available as well as a really nice choice of beers from all across Europe.
This is a place for hipsters and cool cats, no doubt about it. The vibe is fun and youthful but not drunken belligerence…at least not on the nights I was there. It’s also a fun spot just to sit and people watch as the local go about there business. Mix that with a knowledgeable staff and you have a winning combination for a craft beer bar that plants a sizable steak in the ground to announce that a new era of drinking has arrived in Spain.
Our next stop is slightly different….
Cat Bar – Carrer de la Boria 17, Barcelona, Spain
It’s a vegan restaurant. Stop! Don’t leave yet, here me out. I’m not a vegan nor do I ever plan to be one. I came to this spot for one reason and one reason only…craft beer. That’s the thing with this place, it’s more than meets the eye. It’s called Cat Bat but their mascot an adorable French Bulldog named “Charlie”. This place is a dive bar in the best sense of the word. Sure they have vegan food but the atmosphere is pure North Park.
The draft beer list is dominated by UK brewers Brew Dog, which are all pretty solid beers, with such staples as Punk IPA and Hardcore IPA, however the beer fridge in the back of the bar is stocked with an excellent selection of bottles from Spain and beyond, including Whym, LaPirata and Reptilian. These last two are brewed in Barcelona.
What is also exceptional about Cat Bar is that it’s small enough and divey enough that it is really easy to strike up conversations with the employees and even the owners which can only add to your enjoyment. And while I’m no vegan I do love a good potato dish and the Patastas Bravas they serve there was hands down the best in the city and possibly all of Spain! Yup, I said it!