“People used to tell me to hurry up when I was pouring a beer carefully; now they say I’m right,” says Javier Sánchez, who has just been crowned Spain’s national beer-serving champion in a event sponsored by brewer Estrella Galicia. Getting this far has not been easy, he says – the bar he owns, Gorila, is in Jérez de la Frontera, where wine, and especially sherry, rule. The 50-year-old set up his first drinking hole in the Andalusian city in 1987, and says that when he first proposed beer-tasting sessions, he was laughed at.
Almost nobody wets the glass, and it’s very important. Fill the glass with cold water, then empty it” Javier Sánchez, champion beer server
We find Sánchez at the Monkey Week music festival in nearby Puerto de Santa María, where between giving classes on how to pull the perfect caña – the traditional measure of beer in Spain – he agrees to explain the secrets of enjoying the country’s most popular drink at home.
1. Chilling your glass in the freezer is disgusting. “Even if it’s clean, it always picks up a bit of the smell. Sometimes you can even get a small film of ice forming that waters down the beer and changes its taste. I never do it.”
2. If you don’t wet the glass, the drink won’t taste the same. “Almost nobody wets the glass, and it’s very important. You need to fill the glass with cold water. Then you empty it. The glass is now cool and the sides are damp, so that the beer can flow better and doesn’t lose its strength or bubbles when served. I think people know this stuff, but they just need to make it a routine part of serving beer.”
3. Don’t pour the entire bottle into a tilted glass. Instead empty three quarters of the bottle into a glass held at an angle of 45 degrees. “The mouth of the bottle should be close to the edge of the glass. You let it slip in slowly so that it doesn’t create a head. The other 25 percent should be served with the glass held straight and raising the bottle little by little to create a crown of foam.”
How not to open your bottle.
4. The head is essential to prevent the beer from oxidizing. “It should be two to three centimeters deep and protect the beer from oxygen, in the same way that you would protect a recently cut melon from going bad. This cream should remain until you finish the drink. It also helps keep the bubbles in the beer. After each gulp, the liquid goes down, and leaves these rings of froth, which in the trade are known as Brussels lace.”
5. Beer is not a good accompaniment to fatty meat. “The animal fat stays on your lips, and then kills the foam. There are beers for all kinds of food; for me, an Irish stout with fresh cheese is a huge pleasure. It also goes spectacularly well with a bit of chorizo. But in general terms, it’s best to take a small bite of bread after each slice to clean the grease from your lips. That way, the froth suffers less.”
6. Beer bellies are a myth. “Beer, which on average has an alcohol content of five degrees, is one of the least fattening alcoholic drinks. The beer belly comes from what we eat while we’re drinking.”
7. Drinking out of the bottle? “No way, you lose half the flavor.”
Drinking out the bottle is a no-no.
8. Is the best beer in Spain served in Madrid? “Yes, generally, because the stuff has always been made there: there’s a beer industry. But other Spanish cities have also had breweries. For example, they know how to pour beer well in A Coruña, but not in cities where there is no beer industry or tradition.”
9. At what temperature should you serve beer? “Not all beers should be served at the same temperature, but in general, beer is best served cold, whether in summer or winter. It’s different if you’re tasting, because the marks of quality are more easily recognized when the beer is at room temperature.” British bitter is famous for being served “warm,” he notes, but in reality, the beer is pumped up from barrels kept in cellars, which are at room temperature. As a rule of thumb, Sánchez says that lagers should be served at between 5ºC and 8ºC – in other words, the average temperature of your fridge at home – and darker beers at between 8ºC and 12ºC.
10. Bottled beer tastes best. “The pasteurization process is different and it doesn’t taste the same. I prefer it, and I believe that the quality of the glass bottle is more important than its size.”
11. Always use a beer mat. “As a rule, people tend not to use beer mats. When we invite somebody over for a meal, we take the care to provide good food and to serve it attractively. But the drink is no less important. We should use a beer mat, wet the glass, and learn to enjoy a beer from the moment we smell the aroma after we pull the cap off.”
12. The Germans are not the only ones who make good beer. “They do produce some fine brews, but so do the Spanish, the English, the Irish, the Scottish and, of course, the Belgians. And so do the Czechs. The Czech Republic is a small country and its breweries are family run, based in small neighborhoods, and so there are a lot of them. They have a serious beer culture.”
13. Home brewing is fashionable, but… “that doesn’t mean you have to do it as well. Since the crisis, more and more people have been trying to make their own beer at home. But strangely enough, this is happening because the beer industry is making a good product. So people become aficionados and want to do so too. But that doesn’t mean the results can compete on quality.”