Friday, 28 July 2017

Travel & Beer: Valencia, Spain Part III - Some Cerveza Sampling...

After my last two posts it seemed fitting and logical to write a little about some of the beers and bars of the city, as I'd imagine some of you are curious - and possibly thirsty - by now.

The beer aspect of my trip was far from the most important but nevertheless I did get time to get to a visit or two to a few bars during our stay, just to cool us down from the Valencian heat you understand. I had no real idea of what to expect from the Spanish beer scene, as apart from tasting a few Barcelona beers at Alltech this year I had no real clue as to where the microbrewed beer scene stood in the country, let alone Valencia. I had contacted the helpful Joan from Birraire Beer Blog and he had confirmed a couple of places I had already electronically stalked, so I ended up visiting three main bars and trying their beers, plus I ran into a couple of strays here and there along the way.


Birra & Blues

First up was Birra & Blues who brew just outside the city and have two bars in the city. Spaghetti & Blues near the main beach and a bar on Avinguda de María Cristina very close to the central market. It's a modern, bright bar with a little snug hidden behind the serving area and loads of seating outside. We called in there on the first day after our initial wander around the city to calibrate our bearings, to slake our thirst from the valencian city heat. Herself went for La Rubia - a 5.2% blond ale, and from my small taste I thought it like rock shandy - pleasant, clean and refreshing drink on a hot day like today. I went for La Negra, a 5.8% brown ale with roasted pumpkin - or perhaps gourds of some description - but minus the spices that usually dominate and ruin a pumpkin beer for me. I really liked this one, I'm not sure how much the pumpkin actually added to the beer but there was a nice depth of flavour, which might have came from the roasting process. Anyhow overall it had a nice cola-like taste with a bit of resiny pine that was all nicely balanced in the glass. Next up was the 5.5% IPA Blues, sold as 'English Style' but in reality it's more hopped up and flavoursome than what I would associate with an English IPA. It had a typical grapefruit taste but also lemon zest and a hint of something tropical from one or more of the six hops used. Again it was nicely balanced for me and clean and refreshing. As you can see all of the beers were a little hazy but this didn't impact on taste or cleanliness, at least not to my palate!

This is a nice spot in lots of ways, the location is good for people watching and it serves food - which we didn't try - and seems to be run efficiently and effectively. The bar staff are friendly enough and willing to give samples of any beer before you try them, as I guess is the norm in most bars of this type now. It certainly revived our tired limbs anyhow.

Birra & Blues
I called back by myself one night later in the week and tried a few more beers, as there was a Belgian-style stout I specifically wanted to try. Unfortunately that was sold out so I went first for the 6% Amber on a tip off that it included Sorachi Ace as one of its hops. This was supposed to also contain roasted pineapple according to the blurb on the menu but sadly I could detect neither, it was pleasant enough but a little boring for my palate. Next up was the 7.5% Tripel which was a fine beer but perhaps a light bodied and lacked that little bit of the  'Oomph' I would have expected from a tripel. Service was a little less friendly tonight and I did feel a little like I was an inconvenience, sitting inside reading by myself, in earshot of the bar staff's incomprehensible conversations - my paranoia heightened by own social awkwardness.

My beady eyes happened to noticed a strange looking bottle in the fridge that turned out to be a smoked beer and I went for that next. Smoke My Beer is 8.2% and seems to be trying to be all things to all drinkers. It tastes like a hoppy tripel, has some smoked malts and is oaked - although I'm not sure exactly how. The bottle was opened at the bar and immediately started to gush - albeit slowly, so not quite a bottle bomb - out of the bottle and along the counter, much to my wide-eyed consternation but without causing the bar person to bat an eyelid! Now a fussier, more particular and less tired person than me might have sent it back and got something different, but with the bar person gone elsewhere to clean and tidy I took my erupting bottle to my seat and waited for it to calm down a little. This took a while... It poured cloudy but without too much of a head - anymore. Sticking my nose in the glass I decided this was a good one, containing all the above elements that I like in a beer. I got a taste of sweet smoked oranges with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar and the now-smooth carbonation gave it a lovely syrupy quality. It just goes to show that first impressions are not necessarily a way of judging a beer - I was really glad I hadn't sent it back.

By my reckoning I had more than an hour to go before closing time but when I went to get another drink, the double IPA as a night cap, I was told sternly that this would have to be my last as they were closing soon. Perhaps the sight of a lone male slowly working his way through a few beers was somewhat unnerving to them, so with this in mind I declined the beer and wandered back through the quiet streets to our hotel, wondering all along if I was really that scary looking...

Even with the erratic customer service I quite like Birra & Blues, and the beer appears to be well brewed although not all of it is to my taste. The smoked beer was excellent and was one of the beer highlights I had in the city. I'd certainly go back there again if I'm ever back in the city ... although I might go earlier and bring some company!

Oh, and maybe act less creepy...

Tyris on Tap
Tyris on Tap sits in a weird little intersection north of the central market on Carrer de la Taula de Canvis. You could miss it if walking in the wrong direction in this part of the city, and indeed we did on our first reconnoitre. It's the tap house for the same named Valencian brewery and I wandered in by myself one day while the rest of the family were at the hotel pool. I immediately liked the look of the place with its funky mismatched furniture, polished cement floors and unfinished look, the bar counter looked very cool with its leather seated high stools and chalkboard listing the beers on offer. I scanned the list and decided on the smoked porter ... but it turns out that this listing isn't updated - presumably someone stole their stepladder - and instead the beers are listed under the taps, a little annoying and lazy perhaps? Instead I went for Paquita Brown a 5.2% American brown ale that wasn't very brown as it turned out (It's on the right in the picture above) and the beer-style-police would say it tasted more like a hopped up amber than a brown ale. But hey I'm not a member so I drank away ... and it was okay taste-wise but definitely had a raw unfinished quality, like some of my own homebrew if I'm honest.

A little wary I moved next to guest beer in the form of a 6.6% juniper citrus rye IPA from H2ÖL here in Valencia and Bax Bier in The Netherlands imaginatively called - Bax Bier Meets H2ÖL. This was another strange one with a bitter, almost acrid taste and an unappealing quality that I couldn't quite get a handle on. I began to wonder was it something to do with this bar, or maybe just me ... I decided on the latter.

As I really wasn't sure about this place, I vowed to come back and keep an eye out for Tyris beers on my travels too.

And I did both ... I tried the CCCP in Burger Beer - as I mentioned in the previous post - and found it okay if not overly exciting, then Au Yeah an American pale ale that was a little rough around the edges for me, Diablos Joe was an okay red IPA with a strange burnt sugar quality and something was not quite right again, but their VIPA was better with a nice clean hop kick. Some of the beers were quite cloudy and wondered could they do with some filtration ... but perhaps it was the yeast they used that disagreed with me, or the hops, or something else? It frustrated me that I couldn't pin-point my issues, so ironically I'd urge others to try them to see if it is just me...

Tyris on Tap
But I persevered...

We all went back to their taphouse later in the holiday because I really wanted to like the place. Service was excellent and herself got the 5% Tyris Original blond beer, which was actually quite nice, and was clean and crisp with just a little haze. I spotted the 4.5% Smoky Porter that I had wanted on my first visit in bottles in the fridge so asked for one of those. When I poured it first I ended up with a huge head and a tiny bit of beer in the bottom of the glass. I embarrassedly gulped down the foam and went to pour gently this time when I noticed how hugely over carbonated it was. I have no idea how it didn't explode from the bottle! I took me ages to pour it and trying to get any taste from it was difficult, as the carbonation stripped any hints of roast or smokiness from your palate almost immediately and made the beer feel quite watery. This was hugely disappointing again and it left me wondering about Tyris ... if you can't get the carbonation right on a porter it seems to me like a bad sign...

So with Tyris I had mixed feeling. None of the beers were undrinkable but many seemed to me to have minor issues and none really stood out, although the blonde was pleasant enough as was the VIPA. I guess that sometimes a beer just doesn't suit your palate...


Zeta Beer at Olhöps

I heard about the Zeta Beer tap takeover at Olhöps on Carrer de Sueca from Joan at Birraire Beer Blog again, so one night while the rest of the family were tucked up in their hotel rooms with books and screens, I made the twenty minute journey south of city centre to the bar. It was quite busy when I arrived with people standing outside and all seats taken in the front section, so I squeezed down to the back. The fact that the air conditioning unit was down here was helpful too, so I stood blocking the cooling breeze from others and taking in my surroundings, as well as scanning the beer list on the chalkboard behind the bar.

The bar was long and narrow with a nice modern warehousey feel that was hip and trendy - unlike that phrase I suppose - with industrial style shelving on the walls and more polished concrete. Obviously all the beers were from Zeta (Yet another Valencian brewery so at least I was keeping things local!) or collaborations with another brewery. I was a bit wary of quality to be honest and I always think that if you can brew a nice clean lager then you can brew almost anything, so first up was a half pint of the 5.5% Zeta Hell. My first taste put a smile on my face as this was clean and crisp with a lovely subtle honey and lime zip complementing the biscuity base. I felt in safe hands and sat down to do a bit of crowd watching. It was then that I noticed that apart from perhaps one other person I was the oldest here by at least a decade and probably more. Feeling slightly paranoid again about the whole auld-lad-sitting-in-a-bar-looking-at-young-ones thing I saw a spare seat at the counter and plonked myself on it, once again hoping I appeared slightly less creepy ... but doubting it.

Next up was the hefty 7.8% Zendra, a rauchbier, and one of my favourite styles and this had the usual bacon-like flavours and some nice barley sugar sweetness, with just a hint of bitter hops and perfect carbonation, very tasty indeed. The place was really buzzing now with a vibrant, eclectic crowd full of happiness and incomprehensible chatter as I sat there trying to absorb their youth and energy. Then quite suddenly, one of the bar men vanished and the one guy now behind began to get hammered with orders, and not just for beer but for snacks and the interesting hop ice cream they sold here. I had decided that my next beer would be the 8.7% Blackbell Baltic Porter, a Zeta collaboration with Bluebell coffee roaster from the city. But suddenly I became invisible as my eyeline and the barmans were blocked by the taps and no amount of standing up and down on the rungs of my stool or finger waving at him got his attention, as he worked his way through the younger, better looking and quite frankly better spending clientele at the other end of the bar. It was clear they weren't expecting to be this busy, but where the other barman went I never figured out.

Zeta Beer at Olhöps
Eventually having done a little dance on top of the bar (I jest - but I was tempted) I got my half pint of porter, which was very much worth the wait. Full bodied and with more of a dark chocolate than coffee flavour, which improved as it warmed up a little - and with its lovely silken carbonation it jumped to the top of the nicest beers I'd had in the city. As I savoured the beer I chatted to a few people, who all seemed very friendly, and one pointed out the Zeta brewer, who I decide I'd thank on my way out - after my final beer.

I had planned to have whopping 10.5% barley wine for my last one but tiredness from our busy day, the heat and the beers were taking their toll and I changed to the 6.7% Zeta Hop IPA at the last minute, as I was in need of a pick-me-up. Service was back on track and I received this one relatively quickly. This was a very well made IPA, with resinous pine and lychees combined with a sticky malt sweetness that just stopped short of being cloying - my kind of IPA.

By now time was pushing on and with a twenty minute walk back to the hotel I decided to head off. On the way out I spotted the Zeta brewer, who I complimented on the beers. He asked me what ones I had and seemed impassive when I started waxing lyrical about the helles, my first beer. I could see his eyes glazing over and I knew I'd lost him. Before I got to talk about the rest of the beers he had wandered off, writing me off as a lager lout no doubt ... I really do make a bad impression with brewers, regardless of the country.

I very briefly chatted with a guy from a local bottle shop (more on that spot in another post) and another person from Zeta who I'd conversed with in the Twitter universe. At this stage it was getting late and I was tired, so almost falling over a big black dog that appeared to be standing guard at the door, I toddled off into the night, full of happiness and osmosis-gained youth.

Olhöps is a great bar, although the service was a bit scarce and brusque at one point, but this seemed to be just a glitch that night, and it was more than compensated by the terrific atmosphere and great beers. It's a bar I'd like to check out when I'm less tired and they're less busy. The Zeta beers I had were great and very clean and clear. (Not that I'm against cloudy beers, unless I'm blaming it for a flawed beer!) In my travels through the city I also tried an American amber collaboration called Nublar with H2ÖL, which was excellent too, I was really impressed by this brewery. I'm not sure they felt the same about me though!


Valencia wouldn't be on many peoples radar as a beer destination but like much of the rest of the world it's seeing an explosion of new breweries and beer. And like other places some are good, some are bad, and many just produce beer that doesn't suit your palate. I really only sipped at the surface of the beer scene here, as this was a family holiday and not a beer tourist one. Service varies a great degree in bars here too and although none were outright rude some were brusque and disinterested, but again that's possibly the effect I have on people...

But I liked it all with the benefit of hindsight, even those beers I felt were a little off were worth trying because life should be about the bigger experience, with less focus on the little things.

I have a round up of some of the other bars and bottle shops still to come - along with posts about tapas, jellyfish, snails and horse meat, plus buildings and people. This series could go on for a while yet...


Part IV is here, and this is where the series starts off ... Travel: Valencia, Spain Part I - Wonder Walls

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Travel & Food: Valencia, Spain Part II - Bueno Burgers


Okay so I know that burger restaurants are hardly synonymous with Valencia or indeed Spain but during our week in the city we sometimes craved something different from the more traditional Spanish fare, which I will cover at a later date. But in reality it's a testament to the ever evolving food scene in most countries that as well as a craft beer explosion we are also seeing great burger bars - other than the usual globalised suspects - cropping up in most cities. And as I was going to try some of the local beers it seemed only fair that we also sampled some local burgers, and so on three occasions when the mood for a meat sandwich hit us we tried three different spots in the city...

Mediterranea de Hamburguesa
First up was Mediterranea de Hamburguesas on Calle San Fernando (It has a sister restaurant in the trendy Ruzafa area...) quite close to the the huge food market that dominates this part of the city. Valencians don't really start to strap on their nose bags until well after nine so unsurprisingly we arrived to an almost empty restaurant. We were seated near the door beside an American group who were obviously used to eating early like ourselves. It had rained pretty hard that day and as there was a bit of a pong wafting in from the street we decided to move further inside the restaurant. It was only when we were sitting down again that we thought that the Americans may have thought we were moving to get away from them ... the fact that they were black exacerbated that feeling and our discomfort. (It is quite possible that somewhere out there someone has written a blog post discussing the racist Irish family that they came across in Valencia...)

Anyhow, hiding our embarrassment we studied the menu, which boasts 14 different types of burger - with a choice between veal or beef - and includes a vegetarian and vegan option, as well as a selection of starters and sandwiches. I chose the Ibérica - an Iberian pork burger with ham, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and crispy onions - served in a rustic Mediterráneo bun, while the rest of the family went for a Mediterranea - a veal burger with goat's cheese, baby spinach with apple and mango chutney in an Americano bun; a Panceta - a veal burger with emmental cheese, bacon, lettuce and onion in a Mediterráneo bun; and a kid sized burger for the smallest in our party. Incidentally there were three types of bun servings available including a topless version!

The beer list didn't seem to run past macrobrewery stuff and anyway I wasn't really in the mood for beer so I plumped for a sparkling water - teaching our confused waiter a new English term in the process. Service was quick, unsurprising I guess given how empty the restaurant was at this time, and my pork burger was decent sized with an undersheet of lettuce leaves and a snug duvet of ham on top, with the crispy onions cleverly scattered on the mayonnaised bun. The fries were pretty standard but inoffensive and nicely cooked. The burger tasted good with the succulent pork combining with its piggy cousin perfectly and complimented by the crunch of the lettuce and crispy onions - but I still looked jealously at the burgers being devoured by the rest of the family as we sat quietly eating our meals and taking in our surroundings, which were a nice mix of urban (If that's really a descriptor?) with a rustic modern feel, and a few bicycles and advert-throwing projectors thrown in for good measure.

We had room for a chocolate and a cheese cake afterwards, with ice cream for the kids (Well I say we had room ... in truth it was a tight squeeze.) before paying the bill and waddling out onto the square where most normal people were only just considering that they may go for a meal in a couple of hours time ... it was 8pm.

Our Opinion: Very pleasant and efficient service plus quite tasty food. The lack of beers that I like might have been an issue on another day but is hardly a deal breaker. The atmosphere was a bit quiet but that was down to our early visit we presumed - but were all happy all with the choice of restaurant and the food itself.


Berny's Burger
few days later, we arrived at Berny's Burger on Carrer dels Valencians a little after its supposed opening time of 8pm to find it shut, but as we were walking back down the street we heard the rattle of shutters and turned to see it opening up for the night. We decided to give them a chance to properly open up before heading in so we grabbed a quick drink close by and wandered back half an hour later.

As with Mediterranea de Hamburguesas it was pretty quiet when we got there with just one lone guy munching on his burger. This place has an arty/music vibe and theme with movie star photos and some cool looking t-shirts, which were for sale, hanging on the walls. Indeed the menu is music themed too, as each burger is named after a musician or movie star it seemed. The very freindly Berny himself - we presumed - was in attendance and quickly translated the menu for us with no fuss, explaining the menu carefully and concisely. We decided on the Berny's Nachos for a sharing starter and then the kids went for plain beef burgers, one with an egg on top, while I went for the Jackson - a veal burger, crispy bacon, mushrooms, loads of cheese and a bourbon sauce - while herself went for the Boris (Karloff?) - a veal burger with goat's cheese, rocket, alfalfa and salsa del bosque.

From my research I knew that they had some craft beers here but sadly he was out of stock when I asked, so instead I was recommended an Alhambra Reserva Roja. This was a doppelbockesque red lager - far from exciting but pleasant and clean enough, and suspiciously easy to drink given its 7.2% abv.

The nachos arrived quickly, laden with guacamole, chili and what appeared to be a mascarpone-style cheese. Personally I would have liked some jalapenos too but it was still all very tasty and nicely balanced when scooped up together. Our burgers arrived soon after, served with a handful of potato wedges and in a nice floury bun. My own burger was a wonderful combination of juicy meat with the cheese, bacon and mushroom raising the flavour profile up a notch ... as only bacon can do! The wedges were fine if a little boring, but then they are only the supporting cast and not the stars so that wasn't a huge deal for us. The rest of the family were well impressed too and as we sat there discussing our day the place started to slowly fill up, with Berny greeting everyone - many by name - with a great smile and a genuine interest in their choice of meal and drink. This came across as a real local hangout as well as well as attracting the odd (literally) pale looking Irish family with their monolinguistic issues.

We had no room for desserts after the nachos and our burgers - I'm not sure if any were available - so we paid our bill and made our way out into the darkening streets of the city to walk off our meal and perhaps find somewhere along the way for a digestif...

Our Opinion: We really enjoyed the personal service, the laidback vibe here and the quiet street it stands on, you could easily wander past it and not give it a second look - I was lucky I had researched a little before heading to Valencia. The lack of microbrew beer was a little disappointing but again it was wasn't a big issue, and seemed to be just a temporary blip. We were all very impressed with the food though!


Burger Beer
When I spotted that there was a spot called Burger Beer in my research of Valencia I knew that my life would be somehow incomplete if I didn't give it a try. This is another burger joint that has an outlet in the Ruzafa area of the city but we visited the one on Calle de Luis Bolinches, as it was less that ten minutes from Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) where we had spent an enjoyable and educating morning wandering through exhibits and gazing in awe at the ultramodern buildings, pretending to be time travellers - or at least I did! Having spent a good while there we were a little tight for time as we wandered in through the easily-missed door of the restaurant a little after 3pm, as they close at 4pm but open again in the evening until late night.

We were seated quickly and shown menus in English which helped ... even if it also helped to highlight once again how useless we were with foreign languages. An impressive range of mostly Spanish and Belgian beers were cleverly listed on our place mats and I decided on a Tyris CCCP IPA (Pronounced Ee-Pah seemingly!) while my other half decided to forgo her normal Ribera del Duero and tried the Zeta Hell. Foodwise I chose the B&B - a beef burger with pork belly slices, lettuce, tomato, gherkin with a mustard and tarragon sauce. Herself went for the Pastor - a lightly spiced lamb burger with tomato, lettuce, yogurt sauce and caramelized onion - while the boy went for a plain burger with bacon and cheese, and the girl a kid's sized hot dog.

The place had a clean clinical but not overly harsh look that I liked and I could imagine that this was a busy spot at night, processing orders and turning seats quickly. My beer was pleasantly citrusy and relatively clean, and I enjoyed it more than some others from Tyris that I had tried. (More about that in another post.) The Zeta Hell was criticised for being, 'Too flavoursome'. Go figure... (More about this in another post too, as I had enjoyed it at a well-timed-for-me tap takeover a few days earlier.) Again service was quick and efficient and our food arrived at our table in no time.

The food was nothing short of superb. The burgers seemed to me to be cooked over charcoal as they had that wonderful smoky flavour and tasty charred bits. The succulent pork belly, trimmings and the toasted bun were all top quality, as was the sauce that covered the burger itself. The fries were incredible too, and strangely shaped as you can see from the top photo, with the right amount of crunch and lightly covered in seasalt. The rest of the family agreed with me with our youngest declaring her meaty, grilled hotdog the best ever!

At 3:58 pm we paid our bill and wandered back into the heat of the Valencian afternoon - full, happy and reeking of meat and contentedness - we heard the door click closed behind us...

Timing is everything, remember that.

Our Opinion: Excellent food and great service, and a pretty good looking beer list. We certainly couldn't fault them on anything and we were tempted to try their place in Ruzafa another day but time got away from us sadly. To be fair their burgers are slightly more expensive than the previous two places but in our opinion they were well worth it. Top marks Burger Beer, we were very impressed!


As mentioned earlier it might seem strange for a tourist to search out burger bars with all the great tapas and paella around but they do seem to be a big part of the food offering in the city so it would have been remiss of us not to try some. Overall our favourite was Burger Beer but we did like the food and personal service in Berny's Burger ... and in truth had no real complaints in Mediterranea de Hamburguesas, so choose your pick and try one!

(Just a quick note on the meat...

As you can see veal is popular, and you will be asked how you would like your burger cooked ... there is a good deal of conjecture about the cooking temperature/colour/preparing, etc. of minced beef. We chose medium each time and had no adverse effects but as with everything, make your own decision - I am not a meat-cooking-sciency-person!)


Part III is here.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Travel: Valencia, Spain Part I - Wonder Walls

The city of Valencia is probably not at the top of most peoples wishlists when it comes to holiday destinations, but my long suffering family are quite used to my 'Great Ideas' when it comes to trips away, as they know I'm not a lazing-on-the-beach kind of person, and neither are they in truth. So when the combination of a cheap hotel deal and an affordable - for July - flight synced up on the various screens that are now required to coordinate a non-package holiday, they had a quick look at what we could do and see and decided that maybe my innate frugalness might work out ... this time.

One of my other adorable traits is the need to traipse and poke around every city I visit, as I have a fear of missing out on something wonderful that could be around the next litter strewn corner or down an alley that stinks of cat pee, or worse. And this yet-to-be-be-defined phobia led us at various times through the hot and sticky streets of Valencia, but what it uncovered was an unexpected bonus of fantastic wall art/murals/graffiti or whatever term suits your sensibilities.

Here amongst the now normal tagging and inane scribbles that seem to infect every city in Europe were some masterpieces of art that brightened up some of the plainer and perhaps less visited areas of the city. Indeed we saw very few other visitors admiring these wonderous walls of the city as our sandal-shod feet traced a path through the city, leaving a trail of perspiration and the occasional melted jelly baby in our wake.

So for this post I'll keep the words to a minimum and let the collages of these art works do the talking. It is certainly a side of Valencia that I suggest you explore if you have the time and the inclination. Most of these were in the north western quadrant of the city centre inside Carrer de la Blanqueria and Carrer de Guillem de Castro but there are probably works likes these throughout the city if you keep your eyes peeled. Many cluster around Espaivisor which was closed on our ramble but whose colourful shuttering can be seen in one of the collages.

Even the shop shutters of the city don't escape an aesthetic makeover ... and many a retailer could take note here!

... And where paint can't be applied then art can be hung to brighten up an otherwise bleak wall.

Finally, lets not forget the character, christened 'The Tic Tac Ninja' by my son, who seems to have taken up residence on every street in the city! See how many can you count...

I have no doubt that these works of art encourage the above mentioned tagging, some of which can be seen in some of the images but if we can't have one without the other then I'll take both. Of course some of these images are obviously created to elicit social commentary but many are just art for art's sake ... and that I like.

Part II is here.