Monday, 27 May 2013

I wish they all could be Catalonian

Academic discussion: talking beer with Barcelona's
Steve Huxley
This time last week, I was sitting around a table in a small lock-up in Poble Sec, drinking quality best bitter and talking beer with Steve Huxley, a leading light in the Barcelona beer scence. 

Safe to say Steve is something of a legend in Spanish beer circles. Having opened what was Barcelona's first ever bar dedicated to good beer back in 1993 - only to see it cruelly closed down by the authorities just two years later - Steve has made it a personal mission to spread the word about decent beer in the city, the region and the country as a whole.

He currently runs the Beer Academy in Barcelona, which is where we're sitting drinking Steve's Brave New Beer. Since it opened, hundreds of eager beer brewers have attended to brush up on their homebrewing skills. It's a trend that's continued to grow apace since the mid 1990s.

We chatted about all sorts, from the beer scene in Spain to the current squabbling between CAMRA and advocates of keg beer in the UK and various points in between. A fascinating afternoon cut mercifully short by prior arrangements. Mercifully because I could quite happily have spent all evening and night drinking what was by far the cleanest beer I'd had in my week in the Catalan capital. And consequently missed my flight back.

I'll be writing more about my trip - hopefully something that will appear in a more esteemed organ than the dear old Beer Advent Calendar blog - but suffice it to say I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of beer available in Barcelona and its surroundings and the huge degree of enthusiasm for the drink on the part of not only those who produce it but also those getting involved in the scene. Huge thanks to Robin and Roy of Crafty Beer Tours for organising a terrific itinerary.

There were several highlights. My welcoming committee at the HomoSibaris bar on the first night, my visit to Cerveza Fort brewery and the subsequent lost afternoon and my trip out to the suburbs to visit a microbrewery/brewpub in Sabadell being among the most salient, if not particularly memorable.

Sadly, I didn't get to anywhere near as many places as I'd hoped, including the terrific Agullons brewery in Mediona or the Jazz Bar in Poble Sec right next to the Beer Academy. But that just gives me a damn good excuse to re-visit a great city with an emerging, exciting beer scene that's set to grow and grow.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Gentle notes of floral bullshit

Flowery twats: let's cut the crap and just enjoy the beer
Succinctness is a quality much admired here at Beer Advent Calendar Towers, not that you'd have noticed if you've read some of the more recent long-winded posts, mind. 

And sometimes, you stumble upon something that sums up in around 500 words what you've been alluding to gently for the past six or seven years; to wit, that tasting is subjective, fallible and not something in which you can genuinely claim to be an expert.

I've long believed the litany of flavours trotted out by wine and beer 'tasters' to be somewhat dubious and to a large extent nigh-on pointless. What I believe blackberry tastes like could quite easily differ wildly from what you think it's like, so how can I reasonably suggest there are hints of it in a deep red wine or Belgian trippel, for example?

The answer, thanks to a terrific article posted on, is that I can't. Not reasonably anyway. Entitled 'Wine tasting is bullshit: here's why', it witilly picks apart the extraordinary claims of so-called experts and makes a mockery of those who would have you believe they've tasted 'chippings of barbecue-charred giant redwood' in their Imperial Russian Stout.

Which is kind of why I've tried to rely more on some kind of oblique description of the taste sensation in my reviews rather than focusing on flavour profiles. I've not always succeeded, granted (so please don't write in pointing out where I've mentioned 'fresh guava', OK?).

According to the article. you can only really pick up a maximum of four different flavours in anything, no matter how 'complex' it is.

Taste, it argues, is the weakest of the five human senses. Yet in wine and, increasingly, beer reviews, we're routinely bombarded with flavour descriptors that range from lightly fanciful through outright ridiculous to sneering one-upmanship. An aroma redolent of freshly shaved Alba madonna Piedmont white truffle isn't helpful to many people; it's just showing off.

A couple of years ago, I imagined there might be enough bullshit in the tasting world to write a book about it, but that article nails it for me, so I won't bother.

I'd like to think the evidence referred to in that article will make people think again about what they claim to have tasted, but I doubt it will.

What it has done, though, is encouraged me to continue drinking beer and describing how it makes me and my tongue feel. Nothing wrong with that.