Spain. The evidence of brewing taking place in what we know as the Iberian Peninsula predates the creation of the country called Spain by several thousand years. Beer was present at the dawn of civilization and has gone hand in hand with the development of social organization in Europe from the outset. It is impossible to say exactly how much of the Neolithic “package,” in which the art of brewing beer was well bundled up, was put together by the indigenous people and how much introduced from elsewhere, directly or indirectly from the Middle East. It has, however, been clearly demonstrated that this package (containing, among other things, sedentary communities, the transition from foraging to an agro-pastoral economy, and ceramics) included the brewing of beer in what is now Spain.
The earliest archaeological remains of beer to be discovered in Europe have been uncovered in recent years by a team of archaeologists from the University of Barcelona. Traces of malt and beer were found adhering to grinding stone artifacts and pottery bowls from the Post-Impressed Ware phase in a burial context in a cave, Cova de Can Sadurní (Begues, Barcelona), which had been occupied by post-glacial hunter-gatherers and their successors until Roman times, and have been dated to mid-fifth millennium cal BCE (beginning of the middle Neolithic period). Remains of beer dating from the Bronze Age (second millennium BCE) have also been found at the same site.
Later remains have been discovered on pottery from the late Neolithic period (mid-third millennium cal BCE), called the “Bell Beaker phase” after the type of drinking vessels used at various sites throughout present-day Spain. Further evidence has been found at Bronze Age (second millennium cal BCE) sites, and, in the Iron Age (first millennium cal BCE) beer residues become even more widespread.
The cereals used for malting were barley and wheat, and in some cases the presence of honey and aromatic herbs (Filipendula, Arbutus, Epilobium angustifolium, among others), was detected.
A golden thread of beer running from the distant past to early Roman times thus emerges, but it was destined to lose its luster. The Greeks and Romans looked down on beer as a drink fit only for the hoi polloi or plebeians (respectively) and barbarians. Though brewing evidently went on in Roman provinces—as is clearly demonstrated by an Imperial Decree by Diocletian in 301 BCE that fixed prices throughout the Empire for three types of beer—it tended to be eclipsed by viniculture for a very long time, especially in Southern Europe.
From the fall of Rome to the Industrial Revolution there is little documentation of brewing in Spain, but what can be surmised from indirect sources is that it was a small-scale, local activity and that the resulting beer was not of very high quality and often needed the addition of lemon juice to make it more palatable. There was, however, to be a fleeting glimpse of gold again in Spain. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain) retired to the monastery of Yuste in Cáceres, and in 1557, missing his favorite drink, had “Mechelschen Bruynen” or “Mechelen Brown” imported from his native Flanders. He immediately followed this up by summoning the Flemish brewer Enrique van der Trehen to commission a brewery in the monastery and practice his arts there. Charles’s empire has been described as one on which the sun never sets; it could also be said to be one in which beer started flowing in Spain once again.
The next beer-related event of any significance was the arrival in Barcelona in 1851 of Louis Moritz Trautmann from Pfaffenhoffen, Alsace. Moritz’s brother had been a brewer there, and this helped him get a job in a small brewery run by a Frenchman, Ernest Ganivet, in the center of old Barcelona 2 years later. By 1856 he had not only learned his trade but also bought the company, and he went on to take over another rather larger brewery in 1859 from a man of German origin, Juan Maurer. Municipal by-laws prohibited the opening of new breweries in the old city, so Louis Moritz y Compañia moved the short distance out to the Eixample, which would eventually become a district of Barcelona. The new brewery took 2 years to construct but once up and running proved to be a great success.
While Moritz was building up his business another immigrant from Alsace arrived in Barcelona in 1871. August Kuentzmann Damm, a brewer fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, immediately set about finding a Catalan financial partner, and by the following year the new firm of Camps y Kuentzmann was up and brewing. The first partnership was short-lived and by 1876 August was in business with his cousin Joseph, also a refugee, and a third partner, Adolf Leinbacher. On Leinbacher’s death the company was renamed Damm y Compañia and by 1897 Joseph Damm was the sole owner, in due course bequeathing the company to his children: Joseph, Maria, and Carles.
At this time there were two other breweries of significance operating in Barcelona: Cammany, established by Catalans in 1899, and La Bohemia, set up by a Czech brewer and a Catalan wine dealer in 1902. Initially known by the founders’ surnames, Miklas & Musolas, the firm changed its name to La Bohemia upon the incorporation of an additional nine associates. The new company started building a large brewery in Carrer Rosselló that same year. However, Miklas left before the brewery started operating, in 1905, and the company name was changed again to Joan Musolas (though the brewery kept its original name).
In 1910 Barcelona’s four main brewers very nearly merged, but Moritz, the largest at the time, was temporarily under the management of Ernesto Petri, a Swiss who changed the name of the company to Expert. He refused to cooperate, keeping the company independent until 1920 when the Moritz family regained control. The other three brewers duly merged under the name Damm S.A. and decided to operate from La Bohemia—though it was the furthest from the center it was also the largest and had the most modern plant. The new brewery was very successful and in its first 10 years doubled production from 30,000 hl (25,565 US bbl) (a little less than Moritz at the time) to more than 65,000 hl (55,390 US bbl). With increased profits came the temptation to invest outside Catalonia in order to open new markets. In 1929 Damm took over La Alicantina and started planning the construction of a new brewery in Valencia in 1935. There was by now a plethora of small and mid-sized breweries dotted all over Spain, each with its own local market; they would later tempt the bigger brewers, but the predatory phase was delayed by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936.
Most of the initial growth of industrial brewing had taken place in Catalonia, but the fact that beer could be a good business opportunity did not go unnoticed in the rest of Spain. The turn of the century turned into a liquid gold rush. Most of the breweries that were to be long-term key players were already operating, brewing German-style lagers (the exception being a pale ale, Ambar 1900, from La Zaragozana in Saragossa) and most of the names of the beers still survive today in one form or another.
If the Agrarian Revolution in the Iberian Peninsula probably began in Catalonia, the Civil War sparked another revolution there. Workers collectivized many factories, and the breweries were no exception. Damm and Moritz were run by the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) from June 1936 until the end of the war in 1939. Wages were equalized (this meant better pay for most workers), health insurance was extended to all, and the retirement age was lowered to 60. Raw materials were supplied by agricultural collectives. Profits were plowed back into the factory and provided the workers with a library, a canteen, and sports facilities, as well as financing the CNT militia. Two of the firm’s best lorries were sent to the front.
Just 5 months separated the end of the war in Spain and the start of World War II. Raw materials became increasingly scarce. The national association to which most brewers had belonged since 1922 was taken over by the new regime in order to promote and regulate the growing of barley and hops and the production of malt. Today, after various transformations, the industry is served by three organizations: Cerveceros de España, which represents the remaining six big brewers; Malteros de España, which defends the interests of farmers and the seven maltings; and S.A. Española de Fomento del Lúpulo, which aids hop growers and processes the hops. Thanks to the efforts of the latter (set up in 1945 by the then 33 main breweries), Spain is self-sufficient in hops. The majority of these are high alpha varieties, mainly Nugget (since 1993 largely replacing the traditional H-3 and H-8), Magnum, and the more recent Columbus. Perle is also being grown commercially and trials are underway with other aroma hops. Most hops are processed into Type 90 pellets and the rest into extracts. Similarly, efforts are being made to phase out the myriad traditional strains of barley and introduce varieties better suited to brewing. Malteros is promoting the cultivation of Pewter, Scarlett, and Quench for base malts, and Prestige, Henley, and Shakira for special malts. Clarion and Braemar are currently undergoing field trials.
Recent developments among mass-market breweries include the reintroduction of Moritz beers. Although the beers are actually brewed by La Zaragozana, a microbrewery is planned for the Ronda Sant Antoni in Barcelona, where the company formerly had its head office. Moritz recently launched an unpasteurized lager, Alfa. La Zaragozana now brew a bottle-conditioned wheat beer, Ambar Caesaraugusta, and Damm another, called Inedit.
Craft beers have been available for some time now in Spain, if not always easy to find. The birth of craft beer, however, was not an easy one. The main problems were caused by an insensitive, inflexible bureaucracy—or burrocracia (“rule by donkeys”) as Spanish wit would have it. The first to suffer, in 1989, was Naturbier, a pub-brewery in Madrid, brewing German-style lagers. It operated illegally for 4 years until its owner, a parliamentarian, eventually succeeded in obtaining a license. The second was the Barcelona Brewing Company or BBC, another pub-brewery, which opened in April 1993. The BBC produced Three Graces English-style real ales: a bitter, a special bitter, and a stout. Despite great public acceptance it was not so well-received by the public authorities. Closed by Customs and Excise in 1995, the heroic efforts of brewers and customers to extricate it from the administrative labyrinth ultimately came to naught. At the turn of the decade ridiculous situations arose. What should have been two national chains of brewpubs, one based in Seville and the other in A Coruña, were forced to produce hopped, concentrated wort in sympathetic municipalities and ship it to the others where it would be fermented and conditioned. The only survivor is Magister, in the center of Madrid, though Boris de Messones, the former head brewer, has since fled to Korea, where, among other things, he is running one brewpub and constructing a second. Others from this period closed for technical or financial reasons.
Where craft beer has really taken off in the last few years is in Catalonia in northeast Spain. The seeds were sown in the last days of the Barcelona Brewing Company during a brewing education course, with Alex Padró and Paco Sánchez attending, and in the Wolf Brewery in England, where Pablo Vijande worked during his university summer break. Two beer associations were set up: Humulus Lupulus in the Cerveceria Jazz with Padró as one of the founder members and Catalunya Home Brewers set up by Sánchez and Vijande. These two associations have educated and inspired, directly or indirectly, most of the people now involved in craft beer in Catalonia. If we discount the reopening of the BBC under the name La Cervesera Artesana and the fleeting existence of the Sant Jordi brewery on the Costa Brava, the first microbrewery to open in the region was in 2005, Padró’s Glops, brewing Bavarian-style beers, followed by Companyia Cervesera del Montseny, or CCM.
A critical mass is now being reached. Carlos Rodríguez from Agullons, a farmhouse-brewery near Sant Joan de Mediona producing three critically acclaimed ales, finally obtained official permission to operate in 2008. Others, too, are up and brewing: Guzmán Fernández at Ca l’Arenys (who also fabricate microbrewing equipment and supply raw materials) is making Guineu, a wide range of ales and lager including the audacious Riner, a highly hopped 2.5% ABV pale ale. Josep Borrell at Moska, near Girona, is also brewing lagers and ales together with special beers containing indigenous cereals such as buckwheat, under the brand name Kecks. These are meant to be paired with local food.
Some microbreweries in the region are also using exotic additions: La Gardenia (La Rosita) is using rose petals in one beer and hazelnuts in another, Les Clandestines add thyme to one of theirs, and Bleder is using dates. The most recent arrival is another farmhouse brewery, Art Cervesers, set up by Paco Sánchez, brewing Art beers: an IPA, a märzen, and a stout.
The seeds from Catalonia are spreading to Valencia and further south and look likely to be disseminated all over the country. Spain has become a fount of creativity and innovation for chefs worldwide, and we cannot be surprised if we soon see the emergence of an equally interesting Spanish beer culture.