As a Brit living in Spain, one of the few things I used to miss about the ‘old country’ is the vast array of beer available. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a nice glass of wine (and good Iberian wine is second to none) but at heart, I’m an ale man. And while mass-produced Spanish lager can be very refreshing on a sweltering summer’s day, it’s not really proper beer, is it? Yes, some Spanish manufacturers do produce some decent options (Voll-Damm, Bock-Damm, Alhambra 1925) but imagine my ecstasy when I moved to Catalonia and found that the place is overflowing with micro-breweries and beer fans.
Within a three or four-block radius of my home, there are three dedicated artisan beer bars with a total of 50 taps (yes, that’s not a typo, there really are fifty) with a constantly changing selection covering most of Europe and the United States. Oh happy day! Unsurprisingly, despite my still-poor Castilian and virtual absence of Catalan, I am now a recognized figure in the nearest of these establishments.
Which is why it’s unfortunate that I may have offended them. About three weeks ago, having enjoyed a couple of ‘pints’ (500ml is not even 90% of a pint in the UK) of Catalan stout – heavy, slightly sweet, coffee and liquorice notes – I fancied something a little lighter and asked to mix it half and half with a pale ale; something that in the US or UK would be called a Black and Tan. Result? They were scandalised. They served me my drink, but they were scandalized.
Now it would be interesting to hear Henry Deltoid’s take on this (BaDoink’s resident beer expert) but for me, mixing beers is normal, practically a cultural tradition. I’m even vaguely aware of a vogue for beer cocktails in the UK’s poncier bars that appears to have emanated from the States (I’m guessing from the Williamsburg area of NY?) But in Blighty, we’ve been enjoying a Black and Tan for generations; as well as a Brown and Mild, and even the odd pint of Snakebite (lager and cider – admittedly, a disgusting beverage!) or on special occasions, a Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne).
I understand that particularly in the world of the micro-brewery enthusiast there’s a perception that the brewer has gone to great trouble to create the end result, and maybe that well-deserved respect for the brewer’s art has translated into a form of beery purism. But come on…
No one bats an eyelid at drinking wines with a mix of grape varieties. And what about blended whiskies – should we all stick to single malts? Ah, but that’s the ‘manufacturing process’, the beer purist will say, it’s all part of the master’s (mistress’s?) vision. To which I say, why should the winemaker or distiller have all the fun? What happened to DIY? It’s okay for me to sling vermouth and gin in a glass and call it a martini, but not to mix beers of a different colour? Why is it seen as fine to add lemonade for a sweet, refreshing shandy (every child’s first taste of beer – it’s certainly how I got hooked) and not to blend the flavors of two different brews?
On the one hand, I’m glad that the people at my local take their beer so seriously – it makes for a very well-kept pint – but at the same time, we seem to be operating with a very mixed (hah!) set of standards when it comes to alcoholic purity. Besides, when the brewers themselves start adding bacon to the beer (BrewDog’s Lumberjack Breakfast Stout – including oats, blueberries, maple syrup, bacon and coffee – I kid you not) I think all bets are off, don’t you?