Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Barcelona Beer Festival 2016

I arrived home at lunchtime on Monday, after a really enjoyable weekend in Barcelona. The primary objective of my visit was the Barcelona Beer Festival (BBF); an event which is now in its fifth year, and which is growing in both popularity and size with each passing festival.

Enjoying the Spring sunshine
The home of the BBF for the past few years has been the Barcelona Maritime Museum, a magnificent building which formerly housed the Royal Shipyards. Appropriately the museum is situated on the city’s seafront, at the foot of the Montjuic Mountain. It proved an ideal venue, being close to the city centre, and with sufficient space to house such an event, together with an auditorium for presentations and professional tastings, it is easy to see why the organisers chose the Maritime Museum. There was also an outside area, which was a perfect space for enjoying a spot of al fresco drinking whilst enjoying the early spring sunshine.

Key Kegs behind the bar
The Barcelona Beer Festival was my first experience of a true “craft beer” festival. This might sound surprising but my festival going in the UK has been confined to CAMRA-run, or CAMRA-inspired beers festivals in which cask ale is the main, and often the only feature. I have yet to experience the delights of home-grown, “craft” events, such as IndyManBeerCon, Craft Beer Rising, Birmingham Beer Bash or the London Craft Beer Festival; although I aim to rectify this situation later this year.

As for foreign beer festivals, again my experiences are confined to two traditional-type festivals held in southern Germany; namely Annafest and Fränkisches Bierfest. The former is an annual folk-festival, held in the small Franconian town of Forchheim, in which beer is the main attraction, whilst the latter takes place in Nuremberg. Fränkisches Bierfest is probably the nearest thing Germany has to a British CAMRA festival, as it features beers from around 40 local breweries, but like Annafest, the beers are almost exclusively traditional styles and varieties.

Given this almost total inexperience of a craft-beer festival, it would be wrong for me to attempt to look for common ground between the BBF and our own GBBF, but it is still worth making the following observations.

Interior Barcelona Maritime Museum
The average age of attendees at BBF was a lot younger than that at your typical CAMRA bash, and I would estimate that around 90% of those present were in the 20-40 year age group; with probably 75% of those being under 30. There were also a much higher proportion of women at BBF; most of whom were in the above age groups. Here I would estimate that around 40% of attendees were female.

Craft beer is obviously a relatively new phenomenon in Spain, as it is in many parts of the world; Britain included, but it was good to see so much enthusiasm for the best long drink in the world, amongst the younger age group. It was particularly nice to see so many attractive young ladies enjoying and appreciating the different beers, and I don’t mean to sound patronising or sexist with this observation.

The Beer List
There were around 350 beers on the list, but with just 70 taps available, only a percentage were available at any one time. This meant the range was constantly changing, so in order to keep people informed a large chalkboard, at the far end of the hall, was used to display which beers were on sale and at which particular tap. There were a couple of people positioned on a gantry in front of the chalkboard, whose mission was to keep the list up to date, and also to deafen anyone in earshot by ringing a loud bell, every time a new or different beer came on line!

The majority of the beers were Spanish, with many sourced locally from Catalonia. There were quite a number of Italian beers as well. Other countries represented, included the USA, Belgium, the UK and the Quebec region of Canada, where the local brewers association have a reciprocal agreement with the organisers of BBF. (Fellow would be separatists?).

Busy pouring
The festival was tokens only; large plastic discs, each worth one Euro. There were holes at conveniently spaced intervals along the bar tops, for staff to drop the tokens into, after each beer purchase, making them conveniently out of reach of other punters but easy to retrieve for re-use by the festival staff. The latter, most of whom were female, all wore T-shirts with the legend BBF Crew emblazoned across the front and back.

Beers were dispensed only into specially commissioned festival 25 cl glasses, with beers priced at either two or three tokens a pour (horrible American expression). There seemed little correlation between strength and price, as there were some strong Imperial Russian Stouts (9% ABV), selling for just two tokens, whilst other much weaker beers were costing three tokens.

Get your tokens here
There were a number of interesting innovations which caught my eye, including some machines which dispensed tokens plus, CAMRA festival organisers take note, a glass rinsing station. This was a commercially available “hired in” piece of equipment, so it would be worth CAMRA taking a closer look at this. The token machines were designed to beat the queues, and spued out the appropriate number of tokens in exchange for €5, €10 or €20 notes

The only criticisms I would make were the low number of food stands, with just three “boutique” type stalls selling a mixture of posh beef or pork burgers, Asian food plus Asturian cheeses from Spain's northern coastal province. The queues were lengthy, and prices slightly on the high side, so a few more basic food stalls would not have gone amiss.

CAMRA take note- a portable glass-rinsing station
The other criticism was the large number of overly loud, young Americans present at the festival. Does the USA specially train its citizens, from an early age, to talk so much louder than any other nation on earth; and why are they totally unaware of this irritating trait? As for the word “awesome”; surely the most over-used and least properly understood piece of vocabulary in the entire English-American lexicon?

I attended on all three days of the Festival preferring the Sunday afternoon session above the others, as this was the least beast and the least crowded of them all. In contrast, when I left late on Saturday afternoon, the queue of people waiting to get in stretched right round the building.

Queuing to get in on Saturday afternoon
I enjoyed the festival and found it very professional and well-organised. Because of the rotating nature of the beers, my sampling was completely random; although I did follow the tried and tested approach of starting  each session with something light and refreshing, before working my way up through the gravities to the Imperial Stouts.

Were any of the beers awesome? Probably, but you know by now that’s not a word I would entertain using! Would I go next year? Probably, but a year is a long time, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens between now and then.

Finally, it seemed a shame not to spend a portion of my time in Barcelona enjoying a few of the city’s other attractions; not least of which was a pre-booked tour of Antoni Gaudi’s magnificent, and still unfinished, basilica, the Sagrada Familia.

Outside the Black Lab Brew Pub
I also had a wander around the harbour on the Sunday morning, followed by a stroll along the beach. Fourteen degrees may have been cold, so far as the locals were concerned, but it was fine with me and double the temperature back home! With wall to wall sunshine, it was the perfect prelude to the final session of the festival, and was made all the better by a decent lunch, and some equally decent beers at the Black Lab Brew Pub, in the Palau de Mar, right by the harbour. 

I received my invitation to attend the festival via fellow blogger, Joan Villar-i-Martí, who I met at both the 2014 and 2015 European Beer Bloggers Conferences. Joan hosts his own site Blog Birraire, and has also co-authored the first Catalonia Beer Guide. You can check out his blog here.

I bumped into Joan a couple of times during the festival, but he was being kept very busy, being interviewed by the local media whilst at the same time juggling with the logistics of such a large event.

Joan also acted as host, and translator, for the BBF Brewers Presentation, which I attended on the Friday evening. More on that later.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting post Paul, particularly your observation about the age of attendees. IndyMan, which I really do recommend, had a wide age range but plenty of 50+, showing the middle-aged like craft (or whatever you want to call it as much as the youngsters).

I did smile at the term "long drink"; several of the beers at IndyMan, and the main Manchester fest, are wine strength now !

Glad you enjoyed Barcelona.

Paul Bailey said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Martin. It was an interesting festival, but I have to say I enjoyed Barcelona itself, far more. This was my second visit to the city in 15 months, and the place seemed even better second time around. The weather definitely helped, as we had strong winds and rain during our first stay in back in November 2014.

As mentioned, I had a tour of the magnificent Sagrada Familia, and a stroll along the seafront the following day. I even re-visited what was the city’s main railway station, the Estacio de França. I was last there in the summer of 1975, whilst travelling around Europe by Interrail with a friend from university.

We had to change trains in Barcelona shortly before midnight, but an over zealous conductor wouldn't let us board. We sneaked on at the last minute, and the following afternoon we were in Valencia. Franco was still in charge of Spain back then, so it might not have been the wisest thing to do, but when you’re young life’s a big adventure and you don’t really think about these things.

The station has been spruced up a bit since then!

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