Spain is by all accounts a wine country. But despite the vinters hold on the Iberian Peninsula, there is a growing microbrewery movement taking root, especially in Barcelona.
These Spanish brewers are worthy additions to the world’s brewing scene as they have that certain trait of joyful insanity that seems to be instilled in many small brewers, propelling them forward to create a product that can be both a drain on financial resources and time. They are the modern day Don Quixote’s and they are forging the way against the tide of Spain’s wine culture. In Catalonia, this enthusiasm for pursuing something different is embodied in Barcelona’s first microbrewery, Glops.
The brewery is a small operation, comprised of only one enthusiastic man, Alex, and the occasional aid that comes in the form of his mother. His passion for beer and its possibilities was sparked during a trip to Munich when he was 18 and experienced the wonder that is German beer. When he returned to Barcelona, he enrolled in an agricultural school that had a fermentation program and eventually set up his company Llúpols i Llevats, which means hops and yeast in Catalan. The name of his line of beer, Glops, means ‘gulps’ in his mother tongue.
His beer also stands for something in Catalonia. The beer is a tangible product of how he views his own culture and how he would like others to view the Catalan region. As his success in brewing grew, people began to ask for a purely Catalan beer. As there wasn’t one, he created it. He wanted to create something that tasted like the region and something that prominently featured ingredients all Catalans recognize and identify with. The result is Glops D’Hivern, one of the most unusual and fascinating beers I’ve experienced to date.
Glops D’Hivern, despite its name, is not purely a winter beer. This rosemary and honey beer highlights Catalonia’s honey production and the sweet flavoring sits well with the rosemary, an herb that grows in abundance in the rough Catalan countryside. To Alex, the plant is worthy of Catalans because of its tough and hardy nature and ability to survive in difficult conditions.
The meaty rosemary aroma caught me off guard, but slipped in like a well-tailored glove to the sweet silky drinkability of the honey. The unusualness of the aroma and taste pairing left me bowled over and pleasantly surprised, sort of like when I had my first taste of Cantillon’s tart champagney gueuze.
For a long time, I couldn’t stop thinking about that beer after I left the brewery. It was savory and fragrant in a way that made the beer feel like a meal in such a direct way that I had never experienced before. Other beers have felt filling, but the connection between beer’s past as an occasional meal substitute came from a reliance on general heaviness, with their pudding-like foam and velvety alcohol. Never on taste alone. This beer is light and playful while hitting such a deep note of umaminess and depth that it is totally satisfying without making me want to take a nap afterward.
However, Alex faces difficulties in wine soaked Spain despite even with a great beer. Like all brewers, he faces the challenge of people’s tastes and the perception of the drink. This is probably exacerbated even further by the prevalence of wine in his country’s culture and palates.
There’s also the issue of increasing awareness of his craft in more beer-friendly markets, like the UK and Belgium. As it currently stands, smaller outfits like his need to comply with the same price standards and qualifications as the larger industrial giants in Spain because there’s no legislative structure to support microbreweries. This basically makes export impossible because of price and logistical implications. However, Alex’s efforts in the brewing industry have given him enough street cred to create a special interest group for small brewers in the country. The group is currently working on lobbying the Spanish government to create a separate set of laws and guidelines for smaller operations in the country. He’s definitely fighting a good fight and if successful, his group’s efforts would help make it possible for Spain’s fledgling microbrew industry to grow the stronger roots needed for survival, sort of like his region’s resilient rosemary.
Even though it’s been a few weeks since I met Alex and tried his beer, I’m still thinking about it. To me, that’s the mark of a ‘craft’ beer, when a personality behind the beer comes through. I think this is also why I’m so fascinated by the drink overall. In so many ways, beer is simply the vessel that carries the story behind its creation, and that story is always about the people. Brewers are storytellers, albeit by a different name. They carry on the tradition, the values, and the mythology of the culture that shapes them. And when a story, or a beer, is well thought out, how can it be anything but interesting?