Whether it’s sipping a fine vintage, inhaling a cheeky little nouveau number or quaffing deliciously rough and ready stuff from the bodega, Mallorca is oenophile heaven. But it’s also quietly become a great place to sample Spain’s growing number of excellent craft beers. Cerveza in Mallorca no longer means having to settle for one of the taste-free big names.
I’ve always thought that brewing came late to Spain. But that’s apparently not true at all. Catavino.net claims that ‘the country was recently recognized as home to Europe’s oldest beer, produced some 4,400 years ago in Soria’. Soria is near Zaragoza, roughly midway between Barcelona and Bilbao.
It’s thought that the secret to making beer might have arrived with the Greeks or the Phoenicians, who washed up in the Balearics in the sixth century BC. But, as you might expect, when the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula and Balearics in the second century BC, wine gained the upper hand and it stayed that way for centuries.
Charles V from Flanders, today the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, was only allowed to take over the Spanish throne and become Charles I in 1516 if he moved to Iberia. Flanders was beer country and Charles wasn’t particularly partial to wine. He had a brewery built in a monastery on the banks of the Manzaneres river in Madrid, known for the quality of its water.
Charles’s brewery closed in 1558. The Spanish forgot all about drinking beer. Perhaps because wine was so cheap, plentiful and good. Maybe they were also trying to get the taste of Charles out of their mouth.
Incidentally, I have heard that the custom of taking tapas with drink is connected to beer drinking and not wine. According to this version of the tapas tale, Spanish people weren’t used to drinking beer and it went straight to their heads. Tapas was introduced to put something in their stomachs while they drank.
Madrid had breweries in the early 17th century, founded by Flemish, Alsatian or German brewers who presumably followed in Charles’s wake. Port cities like Santander and Barcelona also had them, because hops and malted barley, the principal ingredients in cerveza, could be shipped in.
Cerveza drinking didn’t really become widespread until Spain’s railway network expanded in the second part of the 19th century. Hops and malted barley could then be distributed all over the country. In any case, cerveza didn’t catch on until the latter part of the 19th century.
I wonder how that impacted cerveza in Mallorca. Perhaps it was imported from by boat from Barcelona.
This is when all the big-name Spanish brands were born – Damm in Barcelona in 1876, Mahou in Madrid in 1890 and Cruzcampo in Seville in 1904. They would dominate Spanish beer-drinking for the 100 or so years, becoming ever blander.
Spanish beer served one purpose only: to quench thirst. It was like yellow air or something worse. During my time of drinking cerveza in Mallorca, only one beer really satisfied and that was hard to find.
I no longer drink but when I remember Estrella Galicia my mouth waters. It was the only cerveza in Mallorca that had any flavour. Apart, that is, from Estrella Damm, a dark beer made by the Damm company that tasted great as long as it was chilled to near freezing but which was also dangerously strong.
Back then, if I saw the Estrella Galicia sign outside a bar or restaurant, which wasn’t that often, I would make a point of going in. I figured that any establishment that had the excellent taste to stock Estrella Galicia had to be good. I was never wrong.
Despite the ‘Estrella’ in its name, the beer has no connection to Estrella Damm. It’s made by the Hijos de Rivera Brewery, founded by José Maria Rivera Corral in Galicia in 1906, after travelling in Cuba and Mexico. The brewery is still family owned, which might explain its quality.
I’d also drink Amstel, made by Heineken España and Alhambra, when I could find it. Alhambra was traditionally sold mainly in Andalusia so it appealed primarily because it made me think of Southern Spain. Since 2006, the beer has been made by the giant Mahou-San Miguel conglomerate.
Both Amstel and the beers in the Alhambra range are, apparently, vegan friendly.
It seems we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to craft cerveza in Mallorca.
It’s believed that Naturbier, in the Huertas barrio of Madrid, was Spain’s first microbrewery. This opened in 1986, four years after the first brewpub appeared in North America. Spain was quick off the mark.
The first microbrewpub in Barcelona was La Cervesa Artesana, in Gracia.
Both are still going strong, which is good to know if you’re passing through Madrid or Barcelona and fancy something other than cold yellow air.
Today, Spain boasts almost 300 beer brands produced by more than 100 microbreweries and their share of the market for cerveza is increasing. Apart from the taste of the beer itself, this has a lot to do with the popularity of craft beer with millennials – born after the early 1980s – and the generations following them.
Craft beer embodies the values of sustainability, local production, quality and sheer artisanal hipster credibility that members of these generations adore.
The aficionados at the Del Mon Beer Shop in Palma’s Santa Catalina, dedicated to spreading the gospel of craft cerveza in Mallorca are among them. I spoke to Gaby, Ever, Miguel and Antonia, the four friends who have been running Del Mon since 2018.
Del Mon exists to ‘promote Spanish craft beer. We want people to enjoy it as much as we do. We love to share our latest discoveries from Spain and the rest of the world’. The store’s customers are ‘people who stick with the classics like Chimay or Weihenstephaner, the IPA lovers and people who are just curious about the world of craft beer’.
What about Mallorcan craft beers, I wondered. ‘Mallorcan craft beers are good quality, modest and honest beers. Each year they get better. Our favourite Mallorcan and Spanish craft beers include Mon from Sineu, Soma, the Garage Beer Co and Cervezas DouGall but there are many, many more great ones.’
In Palma, you can try the beer made at Cerveceria Tramuntana. The Del Mon crew also recommend visiting ‘Lorien, Guirigall, Atomic Garden, Beer Lovers Bar and many, many more.’ It seems we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to craft cerveza in Mallorca.
Del Mon is at Plaça de la Navegació in Santa Catalina. This is the street next to the market where they sell strange clothes.
During my in-depth research for this post, I did actually come across the DEYA Brewing Company in Cheltenham, England. Being the dogged journalistic type that I am, I managed to establish, after much digging, that the DEYA Brewing Company was established by Theo Sreyne who spent time in the village in his early years.
Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before DEYA beer is available in Deià.