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?

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