October 12th, 2015 12:00 PM
Er Boqueron with Crispy Chicken at Autre Monde/photo: David Hammond
In the United States, we are living in a golden age of beer, and our enthusiasm for beer is spreading.
"The growth of the Spanish beer industry," said John Aranza, co-owner and Wine Director at Autre Monde, "is being driven in part by the growth of craft beer in the United States."
The renewed interest in beer is everywhere in the United States, where craft beer is showing double-digit growth rates. Spain – like most of the rest of the world – has had beer for millennia, but the U.S. is a huge market, and beer drinkers are always looking for something new…and beer from Spain is unlike any beer I can remember having, anywhere. We all have a sense of what beer should taste like; Spanish beers challenge those preconceptions; they expand your beer brain.
Like other Mediterranean countries, Spain has had beer for a long time, but the country is not well known for producing beer. All that's changing now, and there are new and challenging (in a good way) varieties of Spanish beer out there, some of which are now showing up on the drink list at Autre Monde. Taste these beers will expand your palate and yoru understanding of what a beer can be.
Er Boqueron ($10/bottle) is brewed with purified sea water, but it's not at all salty; rather, it has a light, herby flavor that helps it pair well with even more complexly flavored food. We had it with Portuguese Crispy Chicken with pickled Napa cabbage and chili honey, and all the flavors worked very well together, the beer offering crisp contrast to the chicken.
Pairing wine with vegetables is not always easy. With a dish of Brussels sprouts with Calabrian chilies, bacon and maple, we had a Mateo & Bernabe #21 ($16/500ml bottle). This beer uses hefeweizen yeasts, which might explain the notes of banana it exhibits. Slightly effervescent, this beer cleansed the palate between bites of vegetable and seemed to bring out the best in it.
My favorite sip of the night was La Socarrada ($35/750ml bottle), brewed with rosemary and rosemary honey and probably the most nuanced beer of the evening. It's a pilsner/amber malt blend, so it's kind of a mid-weight beer, very food-friendly, with a lot of fruit and spice. This is the kind of beer that makes you question whether you ever again will order a Bud Light, which is still the top-selling beer in the U.S. Incidentally, the top selling beer in the world is one you've probably never heard of: Snow, from China.
Autre Monde's Spanish beers were not only way different from the more popular brands of beer (thankfully), but they were also way different than any other craft beers I've tasted (and I've tasted many). With some of these Spanish beers, I would defy anyone to do a blind taste and guess what country the beers came from. Heck, I think it'd be hard to even determine if some of these beers are, in fact, beers. The flavors were so unusual, good tasting but hard to pinpoint, that it'd be forgivable if someone were to guess that they were wine or a type of cider. That's a compliment, too, because wine and cider are usually (at least to my mind) more food friendly than many beers.
Beer drinkers are always looking for new flavors. When you drink the same beers all the time, palate fatigue sets in. These Spanish beers are a welcome change, offering flavors we don't usually associate with beer, and keeping it interesting for people who like beer – and especially for those who are eager to explore new beers.