Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Searching for beer on the Costa del Sol: November 2012

This November it was to be a sun-searching end-of-year holiday on the Costa del Sol. I'd never been to mainland Spain before and I was hoping for some decent weather, but perhaps not expecting too much in the decent beer stakes. However a trawl of the area on the internet had produced a couple of intriguing possibilities, so the following is my (by no means at all encompassing) guide to searching for interesting beer on the Costa del Sol.

View Spain - Costa del Sol in a larger map

We were staying on the east side of Nerja, a comparatively small town about 40km to the east of Malaga and the apartment we were renting was only a few hundred metres from the sand, bars & restaurants of Burriana Beach - although quite a few of those metres were vertical!

Nerja is most famous for the Cuevas de Nerja, a set of spectacular caves discovered in 1959 by a group of local boys searching for bats. It's difficult to convey the sheer size of these caves and the lengths of some of the stalactites/stalagmites - I've been to a number of cave sites in the UK and Europe and these are certainly some of the most impressive I've seen.

On the local road from Nerja town centre to the Caves is the Acueducto del Águila (Eagle Aqueduct) - restored after two years work and still used for local communal irrigation.

And so to the beer...

The nearest large Supermarket to us on the east side of town was a SuperSol - as well the standard set of Spanish beers (Alhambra-San Miguel-Mahou, Cruzcampo, Damm), there were a number of German beers and also (quite bizzarely) Fullers London Porter. The best Spanish mass market beer that I had all week was from here, a Mahou Negra - a sort of Swartzbier, but with a very sweet, almost treacle-toffee like flavour which I found quite pleasant.

On the road out from Nerja to the A-7 motorway was a fairly large Lidl, unsurprising similar to the stores in the UK. Immediately at the front entrance were the stocks of speciality beers, in this case a couple of different Damm beers - A.K. DAMM (brewed using the original Alsacian Method of which I didn't pick-up anything special at all) and WEISS DAMM, an acceptable Weissbier with not too much of an aroma but a nice spicy flavour. There was also a number of other Hefe-Weissbiers available, from the sublime (Franziskaner) to the ridiculous (Grafenwalder in a can!).

On the coast road from Nerja to Torrox was an Aldi, which had an extremely poor beer selection in contrast to the current situation in Scotland (I didn't buy anything from there), but just off the main A-7 motorway at Velez-Malaga was an Eroski hypermarket in the midst of the El Ingenio shopping complex. This had probably the best selection of foreign (mostly German and Belgian) beer that I found, with lots of Paulaner bottles available as well as Belgian strong ales and Dubbels (Judas, Affligem Blonde & Bruin).

The other place to buy Belgian beer was at a couple of specialised Delis and shops. I found Deli-Antwerpen just across from the Parador Hotel in Nerja with a good selection of bottles (Belle-Vue Kriek, Leffe, Lindemans, Duvel etc...) as well as lovely cheese, waffles & crisps - really *lethal* stuff (lots of visits to the gym will be required when back home).

I also tracked down an outlet of the La Maison Belge chain, which seemed to have a shop in Fuengirola, to the south-west of Malaga, but we didn't manage to get there during this visit.

There are a huge number of bars in Nerja, both on the beach-front and also in the winding streets of the old town. My favourites were probably Cochrans Irish Bar (thankfully just far enough away from the bustling Balcón de Europa to be fairly quiet during the day) with a great elevated view over the Mediterranean and serving a decent large Guinness, and also La Ferreteria, again just down from the Parador Hotel, which had probably the best selection of draught & bottled local & foreign beer in town, and also really friendly staff - definitely recommended.

We decided to drive to Gibraltar on possibly the wettest day of the entire year - it's just over a 2 hour drive & the conditions were terrible, 30mph winds and 45 degree rain for virtually the entire journey, there and back - not fun at all. Coming into Gibraltar we could see the vague outline of the Rock, but when through Customs (only a 20 minute wait @11:30am) we couldn't see any of it at all due to the low cloud - a real disappointment! The cable car to the top of the Rock also wasn't running in this weather so we consoled ourselves in the Gibraltar Arms on Main Street.

This had nice pub-style grub and also Old Speckled Hen on keg as well as on a few mirrors.

Gibraltar is full of British-style pubs, both on Main Steet & in the newer marina area and there's even a Morrisons superstore (which we didn't try). It's also full of tax-free shops, mostly selling electronic products, tobacco and bottles of spirits but I did find Bushy's Gibraltar Barbary Beer in bottles. This is made with hops grown in the Botanical Gardens in Gibraltar, brewed at Bushy's in the Isle of Man and then shipped all the way back to Gibraltar - lots of air/sea miles there. As a beer it was OK, a pretty standard bitter with just a hint of light citrus hoppiness, but nothing too special.

When I was looking around for information on recent microbreweries in southern Spain I came across 2 possibilities. One was Saxon Brewery located in the small village of Velez Rubio, Almeria, about 275km to the north-east of Nerja. They brew actual 'real ale' and ship it to various Cask Marque approved pubs/bars mostly on the Costa Blanca but also on the Costa del Sol. There are quite happy to have people visit, but when I e-mailed the owner Ian, it eventually turned out he'd be in the UK during the time I would be in the Costa del Sol - bad timing to say the least. In addition the nearest pubs to Nerja that he supplies to are on the other side of Malaga, and I didn't really want to make a fairly long journey just for a very small beer (since I would be driving) at another bar - although the Garden Bar in the Rocas Del Mar complex at Miraflores would have seemed very enticing on a sunny day.
Instead I decided to make use of the poor weather at Gibraltar and set sail (almost literally) on a slight detour further west along the A-7 to the Fabrica de Cerveza Kettal brewpub, located in the midst of a shopping complex at Palmones, Los Barrios.

The outside looked promising (give or take the tarnishing of the first couple of letters of the signage), but my first glimpse of the inside of the bar was far more than that - this was a classic US West Coast brewpub look with long bar, bottles and taps on the counter, hops hanging everywhere, copper clad brewing paraphernalia and shiny brewkit at the centre.

The bar had a blackboard-based set of tasting, colour & abv notes for all the different beers, bottles to take away, taps dispensing only their own beers and lots of bottled spirits.

Downstairs had a number of beer-barrel type seats and quite a few more comfy sofas and there was also an upstairs balcony area to enjoy the Tex-Mex food and function rooms available for hire (I think Christmas & other festivals are big for them).

I couldn't see too much of the 7.5 BBL brewing kit but it was spotless and I don't think there had been any brewing that day.

Since I had to drive all the way back to Nerja I couldn't really have a drink from one of the taps so it was a matter of trying to buy some of their bottled beer for take-away purposes. However with the barman not speaking English and as my Spanish is almost non-existant this proved a fairly lengthy process, but eventually after much gesturing I ended up with a bottle of each of the 6 core beers they produce - hooray!

Just for completeness these are El Trillo - a golden summer ale, La Espiga - a fairly low abv wheat beer with some esters in the aroma and a nice lemon & wheat taste, El Alambique - a malty dry red ale, La Fanega - a sweet, malty almost 70/- ale, El Almiar - a fairly bitter IPA and El Yunque - a pretty decent chocolatey porter. All were a bit too fizzy when poured straight from the bottle (I learnt to leave them for 10 minutes or so), but all were pretty decent and had so much more taste than anything from the large Spanish macro-breweries. If you're on the Costa del Sol it is a bit far to go to specifically get these beers from the brewpub, but you can also get them from a local distributor - ex-pat Ken Walker who writes in this local blog. I bought some more of these beers from Ken later on in the week and they did actually come out to be quite a bit cheaper (€1.50 a bottle compared to €2.30 at the brewpub!).

So in general I was probably somewhat disappointed in the weather during my week on the Costa del Sol (although it did brighten up later on), but contrary to my expectations, I did enjoy searching for, and finding some pretty decent beer.

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