Around the World in 80 beers episode 1: Spain
Some explanation is in order here. In looking into the feasibility of doing a world tour of sorts inspired by the Phileas Fogg journey it becomes clear pretty quickly that following such a route would not at all be a beery trip these days. I’m not sure all the countries he went through still exist, let alone produce beer, let alone produce beer available in New Zealand and furthermore depending on certain international maritime boundaries possession of said beer would probably land you in a fairly unpleasant prison at some points of the journey. So that’s out. Alternatively, reviewing 80 beers from 80 countries in 80 days is (I realised after about five minutes’ research) stupidly ambitious given that even if there are 80 countries out there producing beer for export, at any particular time it’s extremely difficult to procure even half that number here and it seems pointless to wait for months or years to collect 80 beers in the fridge ready to review if most of them have already gone off. So that’s out, too. I’ve settled for an open ended attempt to get through 80 beers from 80 countries, in no particular sequence, and to no particular schedule (though I’d like to be done by Christmas). A further few minutes interwebbing informs me that in all likelihood these brews will be fairly similar and probably not at all good, and I have reason to doubt they will be particularly representative of their nation of origin. Though I will try to do the best I can to avoid all this I expect a succession of weak, insipid, cheap and unloved nasties, which will provide a challenge both to find and to consume; more a draining, repetitive and frustrating ordeal than an adventure. Which is what travel is all about, really, isn’t it?
So for no particular reason, I’m starting with Spain, and a bottle of the Estrella Damm Inedit which I now fully believe I bought purely because it was a classy looking bottle. It’s not actually bad in some ways but…well, nothing ever quite matches up to the description you get from the brochure, does it? For starters this is not the cheap and nasty lager that Estrella Damm is known for (though not by me, I haven’t had the pleasure as yet), but their fancy-pants craft beer, and by crikey they want you to think it’s something special. Inedit means “never been done before” in Catalan, apparently, though I suspect this one has been done elsewhere, often, and usually better. Created with the help of a team of chefs and sommeliers specifically to pair with “exquisite and challenging foods” this “blend of lager and wheat beer styles” misses both and instead falls somewhere disappointingly in the middle, landing somewhere in one of Belgium’s less fashionable districts. What it is, is a seriously overhyped and underwhelming Belgian Wit.
Not that it’s actually bad, of course. It looks fine, a hazy honey-straw colour with a foamy and almost creamy head that hangs around long enough. The aroma is *ahem* subtle, with grassy hops, orange, though perhaps the coriander and liquorice – which is the contributing factor to its alleged uniqueness – is only apparent to more finely attuned noses than mine. I also missed the liquorice in the taste, though there is a proper wheatiness to it and a surprisingly full and creamy texture with low to medium carbonation which works in its favour. It’s quite sweet, and any spiciness is again subtle (or, if I’m being honest, very nearly absent) but it might be a slight pepperiness, maybe anise. There is, despite promises to the contrary, little or no discernible finish, and in the lack of bittering hops is acutely felt. Fortunately, this is offset by a distinct lack of malt flavour.
However well this may go with some recommended dishes, as a stand alone beer it’s more of a shandy – though a decent enough one, if that’s possible – and the Wit character is always apparent, reminding you that you really should be drinking a proper one of those instead of this. Once the head completely dissipates the adjuncty nature of this thing asserts itself as it morphs into a beer-like drink anaemic in look and taste. Consumed quickly on a hot Barcelona beach this would probably be a refreshing and satisfying drink; with an appropriate meal, served in a white wine glass or chilling in a wine bucket (as recommended) it may well be the duck’s nuts it’s made out to be but sitting wanly on my table on an autumn afternoon it fills me with meh and disappointment.
It might seem lazy to pair this with The Gipsy Kings. What about all the more traditional Catalan music? What about more interesting kinds of contemporary music? And aren’t the Gipsy Kings French anyway? Why would you just go with the first Spanishy band everyone would think of? Well, what I’ve seen of traditional Catalan music seems to accompany some kind of narcoleptic morris dancing that I can summon no interest in, and most contemporary Catalan music isn’t particularly local in flavour, variously reflecting Cuban, French or Western influences. And yes, the Gipsy Kings are mostly French but remain true to their Catalan roots…well, sort of. Apparently responsible for bringing pop-oriented flamenco to the world (thanks, wikipedia!) – even if it is questionable whether the world wanted or needed such a thing brought to it, they also remain true to their apparent vision of getting neither one thing nor the other entirely right. Like the beer it’s a light, fluffy crossover that doesn’t really work as the flamenco, the pop, the Wit and the Lager would all be better left to less deluded specialists. That said, the beer is not actually bad, and the Gipsy Kings can actually play, even as they strip-mine the proud flamenco tradition in their quest for continuing relevance.
Name: Estrella Damm Inedit
Brewed by: S. A. Damm (Barcelona, Spain)
Alcohol: 4.8% abv.
Price: $12.50 /750ml bottle from Moore Wilsons
Verdict: Marketed as unique and almost revolutionary, it’s a blend of Lager and Wit that is, really, neither. Adjuncty, weak and generally disappointing (without actually being bad). Loses big style points (-8) for rampant wankery and wilful ignorance of the entire tradition of matching beer and food. 44/100.