Friday, May 22, 2020

The Magnificent Seven

All that's left following last night's tasting.
Who says you can't find good beer in Spain? I went to the EuroSpar in Cabo and found these seven beauties competing for my attention; La Salve Munich, Cerveza1906 Reserva Especial, Damm Complot IPA, San Miguel Manila, Cruzcampo Andalusian IPA, Arriaca Imperial Red IPA and Ambar IPA. But are they really magnificent? To find out, El Real Thing assembled its own magnificent seven tasting team consisting Trev, Pat, James, Ali and Emma alongside Mrs C and myself to ensure a tasting team balance in terms of beer nose and experience.

Following initial pleasantries (regrettably somewhat marred by our guests insisting that they be allowed drinks ahead of the formal tasting session - philistines) I took the team through the etiquette for the evening and advised them that, for the purposes of tasting result legitimacy, we would be utilising the international VQI, Q, OK and S marking standards (Very Quaffable Indeed, Quaffable, Okay and Shite). All seemed happy and thus we proceeded.

First on the agenda was Bilbao brewery La Salve's Munich ale with 6.2% ABV, currently on offer at EuroSpar at 1 Euro a bottle. Not too much detail in the tasting notes, the beer is described as having a caramel aroma and the malty taste of cloves. And to be fair, the tasting didn't really prompt too much more to be said. Obviously, one doesn't want to peak too early at a beer tasting and we certainly didn't. The scores on the doors were three Q's and four OK's. Moving on.

Next was Cerveza1906's Reserva Especial with a 6.5% ABV. Tasting notes describe the beer as having "aromas of roasted malt with soft notes of caramel and coffee. The hops appear on the nose with slight floral and herbal nuances. In the mouth, the toasted sensations predominate". This was much more like it! A real nice freshness about it although James detected the hint of a sour back taste but he still ranked it as a Q being one of four Q's in addition to three VQI's. He also wasn't too keen on the piece of glass from the bottle he found at the bottom of his glass but that was almost certainly down to my inadequacy with the bottle opener as I was shortly to prove beyond any reasonable doubt.

We then moved on to Damm's weirdly named Complot IPA with 6.6% ABV. Complot apparently translates to conspiracy or plot. Complot IPA - bad name. Conspiracy IPA - good name. A limited edition beer which production is determined by availability and quality of the hop harvest in and around Prades near Tarragona. Described as an intense beer with hints of tropical and citrus fruits, aromas of ripe fruit and tropical citrus that reinforce its freshness. Well, I bloody loved it and carried on with three more after the tasting session was over. Emma didn't like it at all but there again she isn't really a beer drinker. I was one of three VQI's. No prizes for guessing who awarded the one S. The rest of the markings were made up with one OK and two Q's so this particular beer really split the field. And I very nearly repeated my feat of six years back when I split my thumb, severing a tendon when attempting to open a slippery bottle of vino. On this occasion, I left the top of the bottle in the now removed bottle top and the resulting jagged edge bottle viciously attacked me, drawing some blood before I managed to wrestle it to the ground. They say a poor workman always blames his tools. I was taken off bottle opening duties at this juncture. 

We were getting into the swing of things by now and next on the tasting agenda was San Miguel's Manila ale with 5.5% ABV. Described as being a "bridge between two beer worlds", it is an IPL (India Pale Lager) with an "intense hoppy character with a wide variety of nuances, among which herbal, floral and resin aromas stand out, with hints of tropical fruit. In the background flavours of caramel and roasted malts are appreciated". It seemed to me that such a description was basically an attempt to cram in as many different possible flavours as might potentially appeal to the beer-loving reader. Interestingly, the tasting notes finished "persistence is light and dry" which suggests that you have to give it a chance. Following on from the previous Conspiracy IPA, anyone from San Miguel reading this might think that there is a bit of a conspiracy going on to bad mouth their beer because we did it no favours going from Conspiracy to Manila. On initial taste, the Manila beer was heading for seven S's. But, persistence was indeed the key and the Manila definitely grew on five of us, ending up with two Q's, three OK's and two S's. I still have one bottle left over in the fridge and it won't be there too long, trust me.

We were really getting going now and the next beer on the list was one I was very excited about, having had a sneaky couple myself a few days earlier and thoroughly enjoying them. Cruzcampo's Andalusian IPA with ABV 5.5%. Cruzcampo really do need to sack whoever designed and scripts their website. I suspect that the designer has produced something that other designers will appreciate but Joe Punter won't. It is a navigation nightmare. And as for the narrative. There were no tasting notes for their Andalusion IPA but what was there was pretencious twaddle. "Enjoy our IPA.......that you drink with a view of the Alcazaba......that you enjoy while smelling the orange blossom.......(a perfect drink to) accompany Quinoa Tabbouleh, avocado salad and semi-cured cheese platter". Fortunately and coincidentally, just as I was pouring for the tasters the cheese board did indeed appear at the table so you can't say we didn't try to do more justice to the beer than the website did. However, amongst the tasting team were three participants who apparently have long held and extremely negative views about Cruzcampo beers generally so the cheeseboard gambit was never going to win them round. Suffice to say that I loved their Andalusion IPA so mine was the one VQI. The beer scored two Q's, three S's and a couldn't-quite-make-the mind-up one SOK. Clearly I shall be visiting the Alcazaba and smelling the orange blossom on my own.

Fighting off belligerent and violent beer bottles aside, now was the moment when we should have considered paying danger money to the beer tasting team with the arrival of Arriaca's Imperial Red IPA with 8.5% ABV. To be honest, I had lost all sense of smell by this time with a sneezing fit imminent but the tasting notes described aromas of "roasted malts, caramel and toffee balanced with the powerful aroma of American hops" and the rest of the team concurred the description was spot on. The flavour is described as "medium bodied, with a strong malt character and notes of caramel, pastries (?), toffee and red fruits that balance with the hop flavour, giving way to a slightly bitter finish. Easy to drink, its 8.5% goes unnoticed".Frankly, and it could have been the late hour or the previous five beers but it was a bit too much for some. James thought it tasted of a rich Christmas pud and he prefers his Christmas pud in solid, not liquid, form. Emma was already gearing up for her third S mark of the night and Jane similarly was unimpressed. Pat loved it. This is the kind of beer that proves you have to work at liking beer. Fortunately five of the magnificent seven beer tasting team have been doing just that for many years and the 8.5% Imperial Red IPA racked up one VQI, two Q's, one OK and three S's. I want now to take you back to the statement "its 8.5% goes unnoticed". We really don't concur with that statement. In fact, we suspect that pretty much everything happening around you will go unnoticed if you quaff too much of this bad boy.

Finally, the last of our magnificent seven beers was the Ambar IPA with 5.7% ABV. I was particularly looking forward to the girls' reactions because this beer, to me, tastes like a beer equivalent of a white wine. I know......sounds daft doesn't it. The tasting notes describe the beer as having "a tolerable bitterness proposal that stands out for the complexity of flavours and aromas where floral, citrus and tropical fruit notes predominate. Medium bodied, pale in colour and dense foam, Ambar IPA will dazzle lovers of intense, nuanced flavours". Now, I'm not actually a big fan of this beer because of the wine(y) after-taste but it went down a storm with everyone else. The tasting notes had proven the most closest-to-reality of the night and all present agreed about the wine after-taste and all, except me, really liked it. The love for Ambar IPA is reflected in the markings with two VQI's, four Q's and just the one OK (me obviously).

So that was it, the magnificent seven beers tasted by the magnificent seven tasters. Or was it? As regular readers of this blog will know (basically that's me and Mrs C) Mahou IPA has become my main Spanish lock-down drinking companion. Invigorated by their first time experience of a formal beer tasting event, our guests were now demanding more and they knew I would have my Mahou IPA stashed away somewhere. Clearly, much of the earlier etiquette lesson was lost on them (probably Arriaca's 8.5% beer responsible for that) and, to be fair, it would have been rude not to so beer no.8 arrived in the shape of my previously stashed Mahou IPA. By this time the assembled throng couldn't give two hoots about any tasting notes but, 24 hours after the event, I can tell you that I would have told them this new beer has "an intense flavour with just the right point of bitterness, designed to be liked by everyone". And it was. Sweeping the board with four VQI's and three Q's.

Then I realised we still had a few of the magnificent seven beers left in the cool box. Bingo! There's nothing quite like a slurred setting of the world to rights in the warmth of a Spanish evening with your good buddies. So thank you to my good buddies Ali, Emma, Trev, James and Pat and thank you also to my co-conspirator, the lovely Mrs C. Between us, we were the magnificent seven. And will the magnificent seven ride again soon? I hope so. Who says you can't find good beer in Spain?

Friday, May 8, 2020

Tyris Tours

Tyris Tours could be a great name for a travel agency but with the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions currently curtailing freedom of travel, a trip to Valencia is unfortunately out of the question. So, in a world exclusive, Mrs C and I bring to you Tyris Tours, a tour of Valencia brewer Cerveza Tyris' bottled beers (well, four of them, the supermarket didn't have any more) for our subjective assessment as to whether the beers live up to the claims of their excellent website at, I am no website whiz kid or guru but I like this website. Crisp, clear, easy to navigate and leaves you wanting more - let's hope that their beer can be similarly described. Tyris (Cerveza not Tours) appears to have emerged from a European voyage of beer discovery in the mid noughties by the brewery principals Gonzalo Abia and Dani Vara. Equally passionate about both craft beer and their home city of Valencia, the website refers to an authenticity, creativity and irreverence to their beers which sounds great but is it setting themselves up for a fall and Mrs C for disappointment? Notwithstanding these concerns, we are buoyed by their slogan "Great beer, no rubbish" and we're definitely approaching the tasting with an enthusiastic and positive attitude. 

In another first for the El Real Thing blog, the following comments will emerge in conjunction with the tasting itself AND with live updates via Twitter. You lucky buggers.

Under strict tasting conditions, we first sampled Tyris Original, a blonde ale with a 4.5% ABV. Described as having a soft flavour, with touches of malt and fruit, fresh and floral with a dry and bitter sweet final taste. We found it to be soft and inoffensive which initially makes it sound a bit boring but this is a beer which needs a chance to do itself justice and you become more aware of the delicate citrus tones as you sup it. Mrs C still to be convinced but it's a definite thumbs up from me. A perfect Spanish hot afternoon refreshment and a good start to this exercise.

Next we moved on to Tyris IPA, the strongest of the beers on test with a 6.0% ABV. Described as a powerful and tasty beer, super aromatic hops with citrus, herbal and resinous notes (not too sure what that last bit means though). Apparently it was a bronze medal winner in the Barcelona Beer Challenge 2019. So then, first mouthful's bloody lovely. Really lovely. Fruit and caramel hints immediately apparent. The label states "Deliciosa Mente Amarga" (basically "deliciously bitter") and it is. Mrs C is impressed. A perfect Spanish, any time, any day refreshment. Yep, this is going well.

The IPA is a hard act to follow. Next is the VIPA, a session English IPA with a flower aroma, citric notes, described as fruity and herbaceous. It has a 3.8% ABV but is actually more bitter in taste than the IPA and, as with Tyris Original, you need to give it a chance. But by sup number three I am won over. I could mistake this for a pale ale and that ain't no criticism. I like my session ales and would be hard pressed to choose between this and the IPA. Mrs C on the other hand gives it to the 6% IPA, but that's 'cos she's well hard. Who's idea was this? I really wanna give 'em a hug.

Finally we are tasting the Tyris Trigo wheat beer. This is an interesting beer as it emerged from a collaboration with Danish brewer People Like Us with workers with Aspergers and Autism. It is a solidarity beer with part of the profits utilised to finance charitable projects so the more you drink the more you're allowed to feel good about yourself and I certainly do. Described as sweet, fresh and with an intense aroma, the citrus, fruity (banana) and honey touches appear together, with the wheat base in the background. ABV 4.5% means that it's not to be messed with but the taste is really smooth. For me, the honey is most evident whilst Mrs C is picking up on the banana (no comment). In fact she reckons this is her favourite of the four beers tested. This is going really, really well. I love the world and you, dear reader, are almost certainly my best mate, apart from Mrs C who is really, really my really best mate but you know what I mean. Give us a kiss.

Great beer, no rubbish. That's what the website stated and they weren't wrong. Have I mentioned it's a great website? It's really great (really, really) with an English language version and they really, really want you to visit their brewery, and their pub and to join their club. And as soon as this bloody lockdown is bloody well over I am bloody well going to do all three. 

For the eagle eyed amongst you, that is indeed a bottle of 61 Deep at the back of the Tyris beers in the image. It is there as a tribute to the Cerveza Tyris beers because they did indeed leave us wanting more and as we didn't have any more we treated ourselves to the 61 Deep instead. Really.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Close the Fridge Door!

The Chinese may be getting a bit of stick at the moment over the Coronavirus pandemic but at least I have them to thank for the extension to my current stint in Spain. Nine weeks into our intended four-week trip we should now in fact be somewhere in France, in the car, heading back to Spain for another three months. But thanks to someone in Wuhan who didn't close the fridge door properly, we're now cutting out the middle man and enjoying staying put for the foreseeable. It all sounds rather good doesn't it, nine weeks in Spain with loads more to go. But for seven weeks we have been confined to barracks as part of the Spanish lockdown restrictions which have been far more strict than those imposed in the UK and policed with a vigour one might readily expect from the Guardia Civil. Trust me these guys wouldn't stand idly by and watch whilst Extinction Rebellion dug up your front lawn. 

For seven weeks the only legitimate reasons for leaving one's abode have been trips for essential shopping (basically being food supermarkets and pharmacies), taking the rubbish out and taking the dog for a walk. And that's it. Exercise? Nah, forget it. Going out together? Don't be silly. Honestly, we've been fighting over who gets to take the half-full bin bags round to the bins just so that we can legitimately set foot out of the house. In fact we've barely got anything left in the house as we've thrown pretty much everything away in the desire for an occasional few minutes of freedom. And pity the couples where only the husband can drive and which has led to supermarkets full of bewildered blokes wandering haplessly from aisle to aisle.

I even considered buying a dog.

So after seven weeks imagine the sense of relief, nay euphoria, which accompanied the partial relaxation of lockdown restrictions meaning that families can leave their houses together (albeit not for the purpose of exercise - Covid will apparently get you if you go jogging in pairs!?!?). With differing time slots throughout the day for (accompanied) children, the over 70's and everyone else, our first opportunity for freedom fell between 06.00 and 10.00 on Saturday morning. Obviously when you're in Spain 06.00 hours doesn't actually exist but at 08.00 I was out of the house and - I am embarrassed to admit - I ran. Now, I don't do running. Never have. But I ran. Such was the joy of being on the other side of my front door. 

And I wasn't alone. People running. On their bikes. Out with their dogs. Couples out walking together. Everyone was just happy/ pleased/ relieved to be outside, enjoying the early morning fresh air and the beautiful scenery that this part of Spain has to offer. For me and Mrs C our legitimate freedom extends to just one hour a day during the morning hours as above or between 20.00 and 23.00 in the evening. But it's a step (jog?) in the right direction and the Spanish government has announced a provisional 6 to 8 weeks timetable for further relaxations. 

Now we will all have our own thoughts as to the rights and wrongs of the lockdown restrictions and the way that national government(s) is handling the situation but that is what they are there for. We elect a government to govern and they are ultimately accountable at the ballot box. I am a guest here in Spain so I respect what the Spanish government is doing to protect its people. That respect extends to the Guardia Civil with whom I recently had a conversation and (reluctantly) concluded that I wasn't going to convince them that Warburtons crumpets represented an essential food purchase justifying a nice stroll to the British supermarket. So I went without but I still got a nice stroll.

It wouldn't have been difficult to go a little bit stir crazy during these past seven weeks but I will be the first to admit that Mrs C and I have had it relatively easy and of course the beautiful Spanish weather has certainly played its part in allowing us to remain fairly sanguine about the whole affair. And after years of (yes, I know this sounds a bit pathetic) my struggling with the nondescript Spanish beers typically at my disposal, the local supermarkets do now stock some rather more tasty options with Mahou IPA having proved to be a particular ally during the lockdown.

From an El Real Thing perspective, there has obviously been no football to enjoy, be it Spanish or English, so I can only take solace in the fact that Wednesday are unbeaten since 7th March and Liverpool still haven't won the Premiership title. And apart from that, whether you work in a virus research lab in Wuhan or you just like to keep your beers cold in the Spanish heat, always remember................close the bloody fridge door!