Big Al on Barcelona

Good beer, food, art, architecture and bloody good pick pockets !

Alright people, how’ve you been ? Sweet ? Yeah, blinding ! That’s enough chat, lets get down to the nitty gritty, oh yes it’s time for another instalment of Big Al’s beer blog. So sit up straight and pay attention.

Since we last had a pow-wow I’ve been away to Barcelona, what a gaff, for me one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but then again I’ve not been to Hull so I might be bias, but it definitely smashes the granny out of Abbey Wood. It’s home of the Nou Camp, Gaudi, Miro and Dali as well as some bloody good beer and food, a top drawer turn out.

Now people, I hope you know by now I love my beer, but I also love my food, I can’t maintain my ‘Meantime Trophy Cabinet’ without sustenance and this for me is where it’s at. Now this wasn’t my first visit to the Catalan capital, I went there two years ago, and to be honest it weren’t all that in the food and drink department but this time it ticked all the boxes for me.

On my previous visit, whenever we ate or drank anywhere I would always ask the waiter or waitress to give me a kiss and a cuddle. When asked why, I’d reply ‘because I always like a kiss and a cuddle after I’ve been shafted !’ It didn’t help that we stayed on Las Ramblas to be close to La Boqueria (the main food and tapas market in Barca), but it was like staying in Leicester Square and not expecting to get your pants pulled down !

This time was a different kettle of fish people, different gravy all together, oh yes. This time I did a little research and it just so happens that one of my guvnors wives had spent some time there and one of her girlfriends lived out there and lo and behold she was a food critic. So I knew where and when to go, the places that they recommended served excellent tapas, steaks and sea food. If any of you guys want to go to Barcelona then do your research, but, if you’re a lazy bastard like me, drop me an email and I’ll send you the list that I got sent !

So let’s start with tapas. To me it ticks all the boxes, small portions of various foods for sharing, experiencing new flavours, textures and tastes. To me it’s very similar to being introduced to a flight or paddle of beers that you wouldn’t normally try as you don’t want to commit to something 100% if you’re not sure what you’re getting.

So let’s start with the basics ‘pan amb tomate’, this is rustic bread toasted and then rubbed with garlic, tomato flesh and slathered in olive oil. It’s easy to enjoy a simple peasant dish like this if it’s done with good quality ingredients and put together with passion and enthusiasm.

Next up we have ‘patatas bravas’. Deep fried cubes of potato with a piquant sauce, but not like you get in the rest of Spain, it’s not drenched in a blistering hot tomato sauce, in Catalonia it’s served with a punchy aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and then drizzled with a lively chilli oil. Perfect for soaking up beer and keeping your taste buds on their toes.

‘Boqueronies’, small fillets of anchovie that have been cured in vinegar and oil served on good bread.

‘Padron Peppers’ these small delicate green peppers from Galicia in the north west are shallow fried in olive oil (Spain being the world’s largest producer of this peppery rich, green lubricant) and sprinkled simply with sea salt, nothing else. But boys and girls I’ll let you into a little secret, these innocent looking peppers conceal an ulterior motive, one in twenty are blisteringly chilli pepper hot, and even the people that grow them can’t tell them apart. It’s a little like food Russian Roulette (without getting shot in the canister) !

The last thing I want to say about the food is two words…'Pata Negra’ If you don’t know what this is and don’t want something to change your life, as you will have no control over it, stop reading now. You have been warned. Pata Negra is a salted and cured ham, for me it is a desert island disc, I feel Spanish life through this one thing more than any other, to me it bridges a gap between the rich and the poor, for me it is a raison d’etre, a purpose, a life, a passion.

Guys I know that I sound all mushy, romantic and emotional, but after I’ve written this I’m going to go outside and pinch some flowers and then check the oil in my motor. But it’s what goes into this bit of pig that makes it unrivalled across the world.

Pata Negra is the black footed Iberian Pig that, if Bellota, the best ham that you can get is raised on a diet of acorns that it forages free range and is not slaughtered until 36 months old. Sounds good ? That’s just for starters, after it’s slaughtered, it is then cured and air dried for a minimum of 2 years but usually for 4 but some up to 7 !

This produces such an intense, rich aroma that can only be described as akin to a beautiful blue cheese, the flavour is salty, buttery, nutty, intense with the fat running through it, but not offensive on either the palate or the nose, but sensual and full of decadence. Jose Pizzaro once said that ‘a ham without fat is not a ham', and I’m having that all day long.

The thing that sits so well with me is that everybody across Spain enjoys this spectacular product, it’s just that the rich eat more of it than the poor. This says to me that from labourer to city gent they all experience, that same pleasure.

Right I’m all full up now so let’s do a bit of culture. Yeah I know you’re surprised but I’m all about Spanish art and architecture.

Salvador Dali was born here and his favourite work of mine is ‘Christ of St.John of the cross (1951). The reason for this is that any painting I’ve ever seen of any poor sod nailed to a cross is depicted with you looking up at them, this however has you looking down from above, surrounded at the top by a black inkiness, then as you look down there is a cloud, rays of light then blue sky and mountains, at the bottom there’s a tranquil blue lake on which a boat sits on the shore, maybe to sail away in ? I’ll never know.

Then we’ve got Joan Miro, what can I say, 2 surrealists with completely different styles and views, double the surreal nature but from two very different angles. Suits me and my way of thinking.

But for me it’s all about Antonio Gaudi, for me the greatest visionary of all, his buildings show such attention to detail and form that cannot be rivalled. I went to the Sagrada Familia and there is nothing I can say or no pictures to show you jsut that can do this cathedral justice, you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself, tell em Big Al sent you.

Last bit, but not least is the beer !
Now last time I was in Barcelona it was all beer from Damm Brewery, so plenty of Estrella, their flagship, nice enough in itself but nothing to write home about. Then there’s their Galicia which is low in ABV with a hint of lemon, a bit like a shandy but serves the purpose of being able to drink in the scorching midday sun, know what I mean ? They have a black beer called Bok Damm, darker and richer at 5.4% but not my cup of tea. And lastly a wheat beer that they can keep as far as I’m concerned.

All that aside, I couldn’t even get Moritz which is Barcelona’s second biggest brewery. On top of that I was paying as much as 7 Euros for 500ml, that’s not even a full pint, are they having a laugh or what ?!

The beers this time were different...a complete revelation. I found a small vegan restaurant down an alleyway at the side of my hotel in the Gothic Quarter called Catbar where I met Roy the owner, and believe me, what a man. He had a least 10 craft beers on tap and more than 100 more in bottles in the fridge, all vegan, as Meantime’s are. Roy couldn’t have made me feel more at home, willing to let me sample anything on tap and was more than just an innkeeper. His knowledge and passion were overwhelming and the nights that I was there he had 3 craft beers from Spain, 2 from Catalonia, and another 3 from Barcelona itself.

I remember a double IPA at 8.5% from a local brewery called Revolution and my oh my what an experience. We shared, we quaffed and we chewed the fat, he’ll even give you a detailed map of other craft beer and vegan places to go in the city. To me that shows someone who wants to share and spread this craft beer revolution. Roy, if you read this thanks mate...you can get in touch with Roy via email on catbarcat@gmail.com

And now to finish off my lovely time in Barcelona, I got pickpocketed by some little sh1t bag...but hey we’ve all got to make a living !

Sorry it’s been so long since our last chat people, catch up again soon, I promise.

Thanks for your time and don’t forget you can see me at the brewery, my house is your house...Mi casa es su casa !