Saturday, May 03, 2014

The New Mallorcan Beer Tradition

Many years before I put in an appearance, my to-be grandmother and great aunts - May, Ivy, Lily - would gather together with other family members and enjoy a holiday in the Kent countryside. Those were the days - the 1930s - when holidays meant hard work. They were the days of the East Ender holiday: hop-picking.

The manual labouring vacations in Kent evoke a period for the beer industry before it became totally corporatised and overwhelmed by the brewing monstrosities that came to typify the Spanish holiday: Watney's Red Barrel of Eric Idle fame. The hops would be picked to supply breweries both large and small, at a time when independent breweries were abundant. They weren't what would nowadays be called artisan breweries but there was a firmly traditional aspect to them, one of the traditions having been the hop-picking holidays.

A cold beer on a hot Mallorcan terrace in summer is a million miles away from the hopping era. Holidays have changed utterly and so has the beer industry. The Mallorcan holiday - in its beery sense - is dominated by the brewing corporates of Spain, but alongside the beer giants, there are the beer minnows. The new breweries, the microbreweries, the artisan breweries, all of them representative of a tradition that had been lost or that had never truly been found in the first place.

Mallorca's first brewery was established in 1905. The Rosa Blanca, it was sold on in the 1970s and then sold again - to Damm - before being closed in 1998. It's fair to say that Majorca has never really had much of a brewing tradition. But it is now cultivating one, and it has been born out of what has been a sudden and recent development - the microbrewery.

The Tramuntana Cerveza Artesanal (Cervesera de Selva) was one of the first of this new wave. The first beers were made in 2008, though it wasn't until 2011 that they were being commercialised. It is now one of several small breweries to be found across the island and to also be found at Beer Palma, which is currently taking place in Palma's Parc de la Mar. One part of this beer fest is devoted to artisan beers, with eight breweries represented, plus a ninth - Cas Cerveser from Puigpunyent - which has its own stand and five different beers (one named after the event).

Of the small breweries, one is Beer Lovers from Alcúdia, located right in the old town near the town hall in a building that has been in the family for more than 300 years but inside which is the latest brewing technology that ensures a high quality product. And what Beer Lovers produces is representative of what the other microbreweries make - innovative beers for which there hasn't been a reluctance to experiment; Cas Cerveser can claim to brew the only brown ale from almonds.

The corporates - Heineken and Mahou-San Miguel - are also at the Beer Palma fest, but with the greatest of respect to them, it is the artisan breweries which are likely to attract the greatest interest. They are, after all, Mallorcan breweries (plus one from Menorca) and, as is the case also with small Mallorcan wine producers, there is an emphasis both on novelty and bottle design and labelling.

The Mallorcan beer tradition is nothing like the Mallorcan wine tradition. It is new (so not really a tradition as such), but there is little - in drinking terms - that is more traditional than beer, whether it be a beer for the winter or for a hot summer's day on a holiday terrace.

* Beer Palma lasts until 11 May. Each day from 11am to 11pm.

* Photo is from Alcúdia's fair in April. She smiled straight after I took the photo. Damn.

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