The sound of mass talking, laughing and general merriment booms down the beautiful Maritime museum hall, suddenly the noise is broken by the ringing of a bell which is greeted by huge cheers, the giant chalkboard has a beer name cleaned off and replaced with a new beer freshly tapped. Repeat this process continuously for what seems like every half minute… Welcome to Saturday night at the Barcelona beer festival!
It doesn’t seem that long ago when I first showed the information about the Barcelona beer festival to my girlfriend back in 2014 and we decided to go and now after an awesome weekend away I find myself trying to put this weekend into words. I first visited Barcelona a couple years back on a day trip while on holiday further up the coast in Spain, although we saw all the sites and was impressed by all the incredible architecture we didn’t get to experience their beer scene, in fact scrub that I didn’t even know they had a beer scene! I will openly admit that if I’m on holiday and Estrella is the beer included in their all inclusive deal I’m not overly disappointed, as out of all the bigger name breweries I don’t mind Estrella too much and two years ago, that was about as much as I knew about Catalan and Spanish beers! In the build up to the trip to Barcelona ironically I did get to try a few decent beers in my Beer52 deliveries from Cervezas La Loca Juana, which cranked up the excitement before getting to the festival.
After a little panic regarding our apartment cancelling on us we had our new apartment booked, Happy People Ramblas Harbour and I couldn’t recommend them enough! The apartment was clean had everything minus a toaster (you know us British love a toasted crumpet!), they picked us up from the airport and also let us check out late as we had a later flight, which meant we could enjoy another day in Barcelona without having to worry about all our bags etc. More importantly the apartment was around a 6 to 8 minute walk from the beer festival! Perfect!
The festival falls in the middle of mine and my girlfriends birthdays so as birthday presents my Mum bought us the presale tickets, which included a no queue entry wrist band, t shirt, entry with glass and program etc and 20 taster tokens. If you are thinking of going next year then make sure you buy these tickets as it made the whole experience so much better! Saturday night when the queues for entry wrapped around the building and had an hour and half wait or more we could just casually stroll through our private entrance and straight into the festival! It meant that with our apartment only a short walk away we could come and go as we please, which was very useful after a few of those 10% plus morning beers as it meant we were only 10 minutes away from a little afternoon siesta!
The building itself is usually one of Barcelona’s most visited museums, storing some incredible medieval ships, old dockland history and art but for this festival the hall is filled up with beer drinkers from around the world.
As you walked in you had to your left the stall for information, drinking tokens (which were a euro each and most beers were either 2 or 3 tokens) and also where you could buy all your memorabilia etc. Next to those on the left was a bar the length of the hall with 65 taps (YES 65!!!) of flowing beer, all with their personal pourer behind. This lead down to the end of the hall where you found the huge black board raised up high above the crowd where two people would be controlling the beer menu! The right hand side was where you could find the food, there was about 5 different food stalls, Belgian cuisine, pulled pork (standard beer festival munch!), the lovely food from Barcelonas Mosquito restaurant which had some nice dim sum style dumplings as well as Thai curry (maybe a bit messy for a beer festival but smelt great!), Tapas and an artisan cheese stall, which unbelievably I didn’t sample from! Next to these was something I think all festivals should include, a huge water troff where you could clean your glasses!
But the highlight of this side of the festival was the meet the brewers stand, a stand which had two beer taps and which would be controlled by the brewers themselves! This was a great idea for both the brewers and the public as it meant breweries such as Adnams, Beavertown, Fourpure and others could beer talk with an audience who are new to their products, as shown by this picture below of me looking rather battered while talking to Tom Lowe of Fourpure Brewing Co!
Another part of the festival I thought was a good idea was the talks they had going on throughout the festival. At the back of the hall you could walk through to a private auditorium where there were talks such as Fourpure and their use of cans, Steve Saldana talking on cask beer and all things CAMRA, sushi paired with beer and a meet Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery session, which I attended. These sessions and all the others prove that not only is there a good beer scene in Barcelona but it is also a beer scene interested and hungry for progress and information.
When it was busy the crowd was really buzzing, it was a mixed crowd of young and old, local and travellers! When it wasn’t raining (it only rained Saturday afternoon and evening) then outside was a popular option to hang out, there were a few benches and also a DJ who much to my liking was playing Funk, Breaks, Soul, Reggae and old school Hip Hop!
The festival boasted a beer list with over 300 beers! And unless you wanted to drink a beer every 6 minutes or so it was impossible to try them all! The beer festival booklet provided was full of interesting information and had English descriptions in as well as Spanish and Catalan, which was very helpful, something the Bruges festival could have done with! It would be impossible to pick an amazing beer each time you had a beer and the range was very varied with a mix of a few beers that wasn’t all that and a few outstanding beers but overall the beers were of a really good standard. The inclusion of cask beer was good too which was a new thing to this year’s festival. There was a good mix of beers from Spain alongside other big beer countries such as the UK, America, Belgium, Denmark and loads more, even Slovak Republic and Estonia! Although it was busy you never really had to wait long to get a beer, well unless you wanted the Naparbier and Evil Twin Brewing Black and Tan! Every time I walked past that queue is was nearly the width of the hall!!
Beers that I really enjoyed were Cigar City Brewing – Primera Flor 4.5%, Squawk – Bean Brother Espresso Stout, Vanderstreek – Hop Art 5%, Victory Brewing Co – Golden Monkey 9.5%, Laugar Brewery – Aupa Tovarisch (Lagavulin Edition) 11.3%, Anarchy Brew Co – Sublime Choas 7%, Art Cervesers – Art La Indiana 6.2%, Fourpure – Session IPA and Naparbier – Dark Raven 4.5%.
Barcelona Beer Festival will take some beating for best festival this year, maybe the overall quality of the beer was better at the Bruges festival (but this is because of my love for Belgian beers!) but I don’t think I have ever been to a beer festival with such worldwide variety. The addition of the talks and the meet the brewer stand was great to see. The organisation of this festival was spot on, the only tiny issue was a slight confusion with the entry for the presale tickets but that is nothing for a beer festival of a scale this size. The one and only thing I would add for next years festival is on the beer signs maybe put the flag of the country/region the beer is from. But other than that the Barcelona Beer Festival is a festival others can learn from and a perfect example of what hard work and planning can create. Spanish beer deserves its spot in the Craft Beer spotlight.
I would like to thank again Joan for his interview before the festival and for all his hard work he put into a fantastic festival, all the brewers that I spoke to in my slightly swozzled state Saturday night, Paul and Mark for hanging out with us, all the Leyton Orient Supporters Club member’s who said hello and a huge huge thank you to all the volunteers who helped run this amazing beer festival which I really recommend for you to travel out to next year! Salut!