WHOEVER decided to call the wine column Wine and More did me a big favour, because it allows me to write about subjects other than wine. And that includes a quite unique shop that opened three weeks ago in Palma. Indeed, it's almost nationally unique, because there's only one other shop like it in Spain and it's in Barcelona.
The shop's name tells you what it's all about. It's called Breweriana and, as its name suggests, it sells nothing but beer. Not any old kind of beer, but the best in Europe. There are some 170 brands on its shelves and they come from about 16 European countries. Many of these beers are on sale in Majorca for the first time.
The shop was opened only three weeks ago by a Majorcan called Antonio Comas and his partner, Pep Joan Sánchez. Pep has a bar in Calle Capuchinos, off the Calle Unión, which also specialises in beers. He has more than 100 brands.
When his friend Pep opened the bar specialising in the best European beers, Antonio became a regular customer. He also developed an interest in fine wines and single malt whisky, but his big interest and love was good European beer.
Then one day his friend Pep suggested that they open a shop that specialised in beer. That idea, after a lot of searching for premises and European Union paper work, became Breweriana, a neat little shop in an old renovated building at Calle San Jaime 28.
Antonio is also a distributor for certain brands so he spends the morning delivering to bars and shops all over the island. At the moment, Breweriana's opening hours are from 4.30-8pm Monday to Friday and 11am-1.30pm on Saturday.
Antonio says that beer is every bit as mysterious and marvellous as wine (and I fully agree with him) and he hopes that people of all ages will become more interested in the finer aspects of drinking beer once they try some of his special brews.
To help speed up the process, he will be organising courses and classes in beer tasting. He hopes to start the first courses in about four weeks' time. But even without the courses, the discerning drinker will learn a great deal from the 170 beers on sale at Breweriana. There are some real gems on the shelves, including very special beers from the top producing countries such as Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Britain as well as others. Antonio says there are many superb little breweries in the United States and he hopes eventually to have some representative samples in stock.
Many of the world's fine small breweries do not go in for exporting their wares and it is difficult to find a supplier. Going direct to the source isn't the solution because transport of small shipments ups the cost and the price per bottle becomes astronomic. Not many people would want to pay 12 euros, say, for a small bottle of beer, no matter how good it was or where it had come from.
But that doesn't happen with the top European beers. One of the advantages fine beers have over equally fine wines is that the price of tasting the best beers is most reasonable.
One of the dearest beers Antonio has in stock is a smoked one from Belgium. The malt is smoked over wood, thus producing unusual aromas and flavours. This beer costs 2.20 euros a bottle. Most of the other special brews cost 1.30-1.80 euros.
Antonio hopes that eventually Majorcans will go to bars and restaurants and instead of simply asking for a beer, will order brands by name, or beers made with a particular variety of hop, or brewed by a special method.
For those who fancy making their own beer, Antonio also has home-brewing kits that sell for 90 euros. He says these kits appeal to men who played with chemistry sets when they were children. Making your own beer is a bit similar to messing around with a chemistry set.
At the moment he has only ready-mixed preparations of hops and malt, but if enough people are interested in home-brewing he'll stock different varieties of hops and malt so that customers can make up their own special preparations and experiment with different flavours. Although Antonio has some really fine beers from 16 countries, he has very few from Spain. This is because beer production here is very much in its infancy. Some Spanish breweries have started to produce high quality strong beers, but most of them still go in only for light brews that make a refreshing drink on hot summer days.
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