Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Craft beer: the sole winner in Spain's economic woes

Por: | 23 de junio de 2016

The tour is so overbooked that Jaime Riesgo, 29, splits the group in two and leads one half to the basement of his La Virgen craft beer microbrewery. Business partner and wife AnaElena Coelho, 30, takes charge of the remaining attendees.

“We have doubled production each year since we opened” Riesgo tells me, who after being introduced to the world of microbrewing in San Francisco began producing arguably Madrid’s most popular craft beer in 2011. “This year we’re due to brew 4,500 hectolitres of beer. We have the capacity to make 40,000 hectolitres.”

La Virgen 1
La Virgen has seen sales double each year since opening in 2012. Image: Alec Herron

In Spain, it’s not just La Virgen that is seeing sales of craft beer bubble over. Between 2008 and 2016 the number of microbreweries in Spain grew by more than 1,600%, four times more than the second highest growth rate, in Czech Republic.

While Spain continues as the world’s number one producer of wine, squeezing 22.6 million hectolitres form its vineyards in 2014, the Mediterranean country climbed to sixth position that same year in the league of European microbrewers of beer.

Putting a solid reason to the sudden growth in beer full of flavour and brewed with care, is difficult to define with certainty. However, the correlation between Spain’s hop revolution and the start of the economic crisis in 2008, which pushed the country's unemployment rate above 20%, is more than coincidence.

La Virgen 2
Craft beer production grew more in Spain than any other European Union country between 2008-14. Image: Alec Herron

“People have had to search for a different way to do things. The little money people now have, they want to spend on what makes them happy.” Explains Jaime, as we sip one of La Virgen’s summer-inspired Pale Ales ‘360’. “But I believe the culture of craft Beer is here to stay.”

With just 21 craft breweries operating in 2008, the drinks industry in Spain was dominated by a small number of large brewers whose regional sales had been cemented by government policy during the Franco dictatorship. Madrid was Mahou, Cataluna the territory of Estrella Damm, while Cruzcampo held the South.

In Madrid, trendy neighbourhoods such as Malasaña, Chueca and La Latina were among the first to open their doors to smaller brewers. In April, the second Lavapiés Craft Beer Festival was held supported by 27 bars and two stores. In June, the third Madrid Beer Week hosted tasting sessions, classes in brewing, brewery tours, beer markets and product presentations across more than 140 locations.

Separated into columns headed by state flag, Birra y Paz proudly displays Spain’s regional variety in craft beers. The shop opened in Madrid’s upmarket Retiro neighbourhood in 2013, as one of the first shops to sell craft beer outside of the capital’s central streets.

Birra y Paz
Birra y Paz was one of Madrid's first craft beer suburban stores. Image: Alec Herron

“Right now we’re in a phase of catching up with countries that have been producing craft beer for much longer than us,” says Maria Paz, who runs Birra y Paz with her husband, Miguel Angel. “Six years ago you hardly heard of craft beer in Spain.”

Since Spain’s economy went into deep recession in 2008 and unemployment has soared to above 20%, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have left the country to seek opportunity elsewhere. Alongside returning with a taste for products inspired outside of Spain, Maria believes the crisis has encouraged the country’s food and drink entrepreneurs to stand on their own two feet.

“People, who have lost their work, have had to look for a new way of making a living and some of those with knowledge of how to brew beer have seen an opportunity to make money,” says Maria, whose own interest in craft beer began following several trips to the Czech Republic. “Most of our customers are young, open-minded and well travelled.”

As the tour at La Virgen’s Madrid brewery wraps up, Jaime explains that Spain is not destined to remain globally famous just for its wine. “Sixty years ago there wasn’t variety in the wine you could drink in Spain and in reality, the wine that existed was pretty bad,” says Jaime, whose own father recounts how the country took a taste for the grape during his lifetime. “The people of different regions changed the culture of wine in this country. I think the same is now happening with beer.”

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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