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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

What I did on my holidays

Post Cask Report launch, the Beer Widow and I took a much-needed week's holiday and went to Majorca.

I'd heard that there were nice parts of it, that it wasn't all Costa del Puke.  What I wasn't expecting was for the vast majority of the island to be beautiful, with loads of fantastic historic towns and villages, with the seedier side of British and German holidaymaking confined to a few small strips of coastline.  It's a wonderful place.

Beer
Admittedly it doesn't start well, when this is what greets you even before passport control:
Oh.  Great. 
Spain has some great lagers.  They're not finely structured Pilsners.  They don't have a delicate nose of grassy, spicy Saaz hops.  But they come with a tight, creamy head, and they have flavour - a nice full-bodied sharp sweetness followed by a drying bitter finish.  There's substance in the likes of Estrella and Cruzcampo.  They're satisfying drinks.

We didn't do much in Port de Pollensa.  We read books and sat on terraces along the unspoiled, pine tree-lined pathway along the bay shore, relaxing and gazing at sunsets like this one:

"Of course they were much better than this on board Europe you know."
"Yes dear."
Wary of the airport Carling ad, for the first few days I asked what the beer was whenever I ordered one, and it was always Estrella or Cruzcampo.  The latter soon emerged as my favourite, and we gravitated to the bars that served it.

And so I relaxed.  And I grew complacent.

On our fourth night we tried a new restaurant, and I just asked for a beer.  When it arrived in a Strongbow pint glass, an alarm bell started ringing in my head, but not quickly enough.  I took a mouthful of something that was thin and watery, and yet still managed to taste offensive - overly sweet and cloying, like watered down Cresta soda.  

"That's Fosters," I spluttered, to an eye-rolling Beer Widow.

The thing is, I can actually drink Carling.  If you haven't yet had a beer that day, so your palate hasn't yet been woken to the flavour profile it expects, Carling is merely bland.  It's unremarkable but inoffensive, like a sense memory of a decent beer that you almost evoke, but not quite. Whereas Foster's is one of those special beers that manages to be bland and actively taste foul at the same time.  I've never been able to understand how they do that.

But that wasn't the worst part.

The worst part was that later, when I went inside to the loo.  I walked past the bar and saw that there were two draught beer fonts: Fosters (so I had identified it correctly - get me) and next to it, Cruzcampo.

My heart sank.  Because this meant that when I'd ordered my Cerveza with a heavy English accent, the waiter hadn't even bothered to explain that there was a choice of beers, and ask me which I would like.  He'd simply heard my accent, and assumed that I would be a Foster's drinker.  I was English.  Therefore I would want the shit, English beer rather than the halfway decent Spanish one.  He knew this.  He didn't even have to ask.

When I wrote about Chodovar I wondered why we Brits actively choose to drink shit quality lager.  I pointed out that well made lagers were no more challenging or difficult to get into, no less fizzy or refreshing.  They were just nicer.  Now, more depressing than that, we actually insist on taking our inferior beer abroad with us, and drinking it when there is a much nicer beer waiting there for us.  I'm sure it costs more to buy Foster's in Spain than Cruzcampo, and there's simply no comparison between them.  Depressing.

Booze
To cheer myself up, we went to the offie.  I was hoping to find a decent Fino or Madeira.  I failed, but we found something much better - the two best spirits brands I've ever seen.

First up, here's Capitan Huk rum:

I've no idea who makes this.  I'm guessing it's not Diageo.

This is one of the best brands I have ever seen in my life.  I can imagine the meeting that gave birth to it. Translated from the Spanish, it went roughly as follows:

"OK, so we're going to launch a rum. How should we brand it?"  

"Well, the history of rum is tied inextricably with the British navy.  If we're going to sell this to holiday-making Brits, that would be a good association to evoke.  They're always wearing England shirts and that, so if we create a sort of naval ensign flag that combines the Union Jack and the St George's Cross we're onto a winner!"

"Brilliant!  Let's do it! So who shall we get to draw the label then?"

"How about my eight year old son?"

"Brilliant!  Does he know what the Union Jack looks like?"

"No."

"OK, but given that we're investing a sizeable amount of money in launching a new brand, should we at least perhaps give him some visual reference so he gets it at least partly accurate?"

"No, fuck it, I'll just describe vaguely what a Union Jack looks like, and then invest several thousand Euros in printing up the first thing he comes up with."

"OK, cool.  So what about a name?  Something English and naval..."

"How about Captain Hook?"

"Wasn't he a pirate in a children's story, and therefore both fictitious and absolutely nothing to do with the British navy?"

"Yes."

"Ok, works for me."

But Capitan Huk was not the best brand in that offie.  Oh no.  The best brand, high on the top shelf, out of reach without the use of a stepladder, was this muscular bad boy:

It says 'Viking Ship' on the bottom.  In case you don't know what the drawing is.
LARSEN, the cognac of vikings.

The very concept of a 'cognac of Vikings' is wrong in so many different multi-layered ways, the person who dreamed it up can only be genius.

Every single part of the execution of that concept reinforces the original wrong-headedness of it.

The random inclusion of 'fine champagne' just to reinforce the quality cues.

Labelling it with 'Viking Ship' like a child would label his drawing.

'Le Cognac des Vikings.'

I'm in mourning that I didn't go out and get a stepladder and buy this, just so I could look at it every day when I needed to smile.

Sparkly hat
Anyway we had a great holiday, even if we did have to fly Ryanair.  At the airport on the way home we, along with a long, snaking queue of other budget holiday makers, used unstaffed check-in desks to weigh our bags and repack them to stay within the airline's draconian baggage weight restrictions.  Here and there, items were discarded.  And in one waste bin, about half an hour's queuing away from the one check-in desk Ryanair deigned to open, we saw this:

Majorca.
At some point, the glittery cowboy hat has replaced the Kiss-Me-Quick policewoman's hat in British holidaymaking law, quickly and completely.  If a picture paints a thousand words, this one tells you the story of a thousand Mediterranean holidays, encapsulated perfectly.  The object itself.  The fact that it's been discarded.  The fact that it was only discarded minutes before check-in.

Did its owner intend to take it home then change her mind? Or did it symbolise her holiday, and was she clinging to that holiday till the last possible second?

Did she think "Oh I can't be arsed to take this on board now I think about it," or did she think, "I can't bear to part with you, and all that you represent.  But I must.  For tomorrow I have to go back up Tesco's."

The tanlines fade.  But the pint of Carling will always be there for us.

11 comments:

mybrewerytap said...

Great blog, I know Port de Pollensa and the 'pine walk' well. For years we always went to a certain bar because we liked the beer better, one year we asked what it was only to find out it was Cruzcampo like in more or less every other bar in town. Funny how memory and surroundings contribute so much to enjoying beer..

Did you venture in land to Pollensa old town? there are some lovely restaurants and bars there.

Chris King said...

I went to Menorca last month on a family holiday. Villa, beach... not expecting anything from it and it delivered just as expected.

I assumed Cruzcampo (which is a beer I enjoy from time to time in the bars in Leeds) would be the best I would get out there. Menorca isn't even renowned for having a decent local wine.

However, hidden on the shelves of an ex-pat catering supermarket I found this delight:

http://www.cervezartesana.es/noticias/1-noticias/118-cerveza-artesana-de-sa-illa

Poured like a homebrew with a fair amount of debris in the bottle, but it tasted lovely. Great drop, really cold, cutting through the mass marketed rubbish that dominated the shelves beside it.

Cooking Lager said...

I hope you didn't eat any of that foreign food. Fresh seafood and the like. You can get Pukka and Holland pies out there now.

Stick to places that have pictures of chips by way of a menu and a union jack flying outside.

Sid Boggle said...

Pete sez: "Did its owner intend to take it home then change her mind? Or did it symbolise her holiday, and was she clinging to that holiday till the last possible second?"

Boggle muses: If she was a young Brit lass, then it was probably the first time in a fortnight she hadn't walked bow-legged... B-)

Knut Albert said...

Larsen is a major brand in Scandinavia, a Cognac house established by a Norwegian immigrant in the 1920s. A bit similar to Port with English names on the label, perhaps?

The Beer Nut said...

I'm sure I don't need to point out that the reason we insist on bringing our shit beer abroad is because of the absolutely bang-up job being done by the boys and girls who create and maintain the brand.

Pivní Filosof said...

I can't even begin to imagine the face every Spanish beer geek that happens to read your blog put afer reading in your blog that Cruzcampo was fine.

I know everything tends to taste better while on holidays, so I've read this keeping that in mind. Still, when I was in Spain a few years back I drank a few Cruzcampo, San Miguel and Mahou. They were drinkable, yes, just like really cold water is when you are thirsty (and man, they tap their cañitas REALLY cold in Spain), but I wouldn't say they are fine. But then, I live in Prague, where I can afford complaining about the average quality of Pilsner Urquell..:)

BLTP said...

Sounds like you had a nice time :). Interesting to see Estrella hasn't been "Budafied" particularly as it contains corn as well as barley.
Shame about the fosters, I told you about being given a Tennants Super at the lido in Venice without being asked. Although they swapped it without to much hassle.
(I imagine Captain Huk is so named so it sounds the same in Spanish as in English)

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Why do people who travel on Ryanair feel embarrassed about it ?
Other than following a long tradition of snobs deigning to travel with the hoi polloi while somehow thinking they're better than them.
Without Michael O'Leary there wouldn't be thousands of middle-class saddoes doing poor Peter Mayle impressions in second homes all over Europe.
Ryanair is the Carling of air travel and as you rightly put it even Carling is drinkable at times.
Majorca is fantastic however.

Gary Gillman said...

Astute comments on the good Spanish lagers, both Estrella Damm and Cruzcampo are excellent and much above the standard of most countries' commercial beers (i.e., widely available beers which aren't priced to nick an arm and a leg). Not that some lagers made in that country aren't ordinary: San Miguel always left me cold, for example.

What was available though in that off-license? Surely some good craft beer from Barca or elsewhere in the country? I recall an Iberian Pale Ale that could give any recreation in the UK or Stateside a run for its money.

Gary

Laurent Mousson said...

Oh, I see you've come across the famous danish Larsen cognac. Indeed, one package whose mere sight may keep one merry for a lifetime !