The Barcelona Beer Scene
Revolution is brewing in Catalonia…
By Duncan Rhodes
There’s much more than Moritz and Estrella to discover here in Catalonia, where a robust independent brewing scene has changed the city’s drinking habits for the better…
Challenging The Status Quo
The Catalans and Barcelonins have been beer lovers for decades now, despite the region’s association with Cava, the sparkling white wine heavily produced in the surrounding vineyards. Cerveza is the standard order with any light snack or tapas and – although a glass of vino tinto might be more common at a restaurant – once dinner is over, it’s usually back to the brews.
For a long time, right until the early 2010s, the choice of beers in Barcelona, especially in bars and restaurants was woefully limited, but thankfully now that’s changed in a big way in more recent years with a number of specialist microbreweries and beer bars – known as cervecerias in Spanish – springing up around the city and offering a greater range of craft beers, IPAs, porters, ales, stouts and lagers.
The Mass Market Giants
One brand you’ll never struggle to lay your hands on is Estrella Damm, which has been brewed in Barcelona since 1876 – their distinctive gold-starred red labels grace the taps of virtually every joint in the city. Locals normally prefer to drink it by the bottle, in cana-sized glasses, which are normally around 25-33cl, or even as canitas – smaller measures still. (However many Irish pubs and expat bars will serve it in half-litre or pint glasses, and a few more studenty places will even offer you a litre jug if you’ve really got a thirst on).
After going bankrupt in 1978, in 2004 Moritz relaunched the beer they first brewed in Barcelona back in 1856 (although the brewery itself is now in Zaragossa), and have recently succeeded in making a dent in Estrella’s market dominance. It’s a light pale beer made with saaz hops, and championed by some of the hipper bars in town. Other Spanish options widely available around town are San Miguel and Mahou (both brewed by the Mahou-San Miguel group), whilst Estrella Damm’s darker cousin, Voll-Damm, is certainly worth an experimental sip or two.
For many foreigners and expats living in Barcelona, the choice between Estrella and Moritz never represented the variety and quality they were accustomed to in the US, UK or Germany for example – where beer-making is a fine art and local produce is swelled by a huge import industry. Thankfully several savvy and passionate pub owners cottoned on to the gap in the market and, despite the logistical difficulties in such a small import market, have succeeded in getting in some of the best brews from around the world behind their counters.
Furthermore, buoyed by the recent Catalan craft beer revolution, local hop lovers are starting to invest in their own independent and micro-breweries, often setting up a bar on the same premises (= win-win situation!), selling their own and guest brews to dedicated punters.
Below we list some favourites for a draught of the good stuff…
Craft Beer Bars & Pubs
With more and more great beer venues to choose from, here are a few of our favourites. Click on the title links for our full reviews, complete with public opinions and location maps. We have also given the websites of most of the bars where they have them, however some are a little stuck in the 20th century… it’s all part of their authentic charm.
CocoVail Beer Hall
Taking its cue from the much beloved beer halls of the American craft beer scene, this spacious venue just off the Passeig de Gracia is a drinkers delight with a total of 24 different taps offering everything IPAs, wheat beers, sours, and pale ales. Ninety percent of the beers on offer hail from Catalan and Spanish breweries, and locals might recognise signature cups like Hoptimista by Edge Brewing or Espiga’s Pale Ale and Blonde Ale, three staples of the scene – although the taps are on constant rotation so don’t get too attached to any of the brews! Aside from the drinks menu, CocoVail serves up superior bar snacks, in particular its 16 different shades of chicken wing, and has also become a haven of American sports.
This traditional Spanish-style cerveseria (one of the first to open in the city!) can be found out in Poble Sec and has an excellent range of bottled beers, including local Catalan artesan beers, as well as some excellent German and Czech brews on tap. They also serve tasty burgers named after jazz crooners, if you’re feeling peckish. Out of the roaming range of many tourists, C.J. is a good option for those seeking something more local. Closed on Sundays and Mondays, it tends to remains pretty tranquil until the weekend when you’ll be hard pressed to grab a seat.
La Mes Petita
The smallest craft beer bar in Barcelona, and possibly the world… like a little puppy, La Mes Petita, is an adorable little thing you want to cosy up to as often as possible. With room for just seven seated customers inside, there’s actually more beers on tap (eight) than sitting space, although there’s also a couple of tables outside. Open every day from 6pm.
Live music and artisan beers? Oh Cara B, you’re really spoiling us. This Bohemian bar out in Gracia has a young and creative vibe about it, so don’t go there expecting one of those swanky modern places replete with fancy decor, posh bar snacks and attentive service. Instead get a taste of an authentic Catalan-style bar with a great beer in hand.
C/Torrent de les flors, 36
This oddball bar and vegan restaurant is also one of Barcelona’s foremost pitstops for thirsty beer lovers. There’s plenty of drops to choose from, the majority of which are craft/artesan or microbrewery beers, usually from Barcelona, Catalonia or Spain – so plenty of local and regional flavours to choose from, whether you fancy wheat beers, pale ales, stouts or even a spiced and toasted winter ale. Supplementing these are nine Brew Dogs beers, such as ‘The Trashy Blonde’, ‘Punk IPA’ and the superb ‘Alice Porter’, a sacred union of one 300-year-old recipe and two cross continental hop varieties.
A tad more sophisticated than your average Celtic tavern, this dimly lit and homely pub, not far from Las Ramblas, serves not only Guinness and Murphys (as you might expect from an Irish bar) but a range of tasty international beers like Amstel and Paulaner, and five artesan beers including Sierra Nevada Torpedo and Pale Ale and Manchester Bitter. They also have a range of those delicious Swedish Rekorderlig ciders if you fancy a change!
C/Marques de Barbera 11
Who’d have thought that Chinese dumplings and artesan ales would be one of Barcelona’s biggest hits? Hipsters love this place, and in fact the only big problem with Mosquito is that you’ll be hard pressed to get a table, especially at peak eating and drinking times. If you’re happy to wait though you can pass by and have your name chalked up on the board (where they keep a waiting list) and then come back later.
Catalan and proud, this may be a basic neighbourhood style bar, but if you want to taste the fruits of the Catalonian beer revolution there are few finer selections available in the city. The owner Joaquim stocks over 90 regional bottled brews, with several great fermentations on tap – like Dougall’s Tres Mares (an amber ale), or Santo Cristo’s 1917 (a Russian Imperial stout).
Tapas & Beers Tours
Looking for a genuine Catalan beer experience? You’ve just found it! On this highly-rated tour hop lovers are invited to join local brewer and connoisseur Oriol Jaumà as he shows travellers his favourite microbreweries and pubs (including one or two listed above!), whilst sharing some of his knowledge about production, history and the contemporary revolution. Great venues, great artesan ales and all in great company! Reasonably priced at €69 per person which includes five beers plus tapas, brewery tour and of course your expert guide.
Barcelona Beer Festival
Held in the impressive confines of the Maritime Museum this fiesta to fermentation is a massive draw for both locals and international drinkers, who seem to enjoy the social aspect of the event as much as the tasting. It takes place in March every year, so one to put in your diary! And arrive early to get ahead of the masses.