My piece on international brews and bars, published in InMadrid, the city's English-language newspaper:
Have we got brews for you
Craving something other than Mahou or Cruzcampo? Amy Segreti tells you where you can find great beer from Germany, Belgium and elsewhere without leaving Madrid.
José Luis Ramírez doesn’t want you to have any distractions when you come to his bar. His beer haven, Oldenburg (C/Alburquerque, 13, Metro: Bilbao), appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest selection of cerveza in the smallest space–14.4 square meters to be exact.
No distractions means no television to watch the fútbol game, no Wifi for checking e-mail, no cigarette machines, no juice machines, nor anything else that characterizes old Spanish bars, even though Oldenburg was founded over two decades ago. And although you’ll find pinchos, salchichas (hot dogs) and a wonderful tortilla de patatas on Fridays and Saturdays, you won’t find anything else to drink besides beer and Coca-Cola, which Ramírez only started serving two years ago when his long-time clients began to have children.
“When you come, you must come only to drink beer,” says Ramírez firmly. And that is something he makes very easy.
Oldenburg offers more than 150 bottled beers from all over the world, as well as half a dozen on draft. And despite the great variety, there is a distinct lack of snobbiness about the bar, which is decorated in beer memorabilia and showcases a small model of Oldenburg, the city in Germany the bar is named after.
“There is no such thing as ‘bad beer’,” says Ramírez. “They are all different.”
While some of us may beg to differ, there are enough options in the thick menu to satisfy everyone. Toward the back of the menu you’ll find a glossary of terms defining each style of beer and lengthy descriptions of the areas in Belgium in which each beer is made.
And if you’ve seen Te Deum beer around Madrid, it’s because Ramírez helped to create it in Belgium in 2002, hecha al gusto español (made to suit the Spanish taste). Eight years later, it is still only manufactured and bottled by Du Bocq brewery in Belgium and shipped to Spain, the only country permitted to sell and distribute it.
“The Belgians say the only defect Te Deum has is that it doesn’t contain enough alcohol,” says Ramírez.
If you can’t decide what to order, you can always try the beer of the month; order two and you’ll receive a glass especially made for that beer. Ramírez started the program in 1998 because he found a lot of his clients always drank the same thing, year after year. “It’s easier to say, ‘Have you tried our beer of the month?’” says Ramírez. “If you start listing specific beers, they don’t pay you any attention.”
If you want to focus specifically on Belgian beer, just behind Plaza Mayor you’ll find Cafeeke (C/Cuchilleros, 3, Metro: Sol), where attentive waiters speak several languages and there are plenty of small flat screens to watch the games. Prices are a bit higher, which is to be expected because of its central location (you’ll pay 5.40€ for a Delirium Tremens, a bit less for others). However, it has a cozy upstairs salon and if you come with your pet to have a drink on the terrace, dog treats are provided free of charge.
Cafeeke carries 50 bottled Belgian beers and five on draft. Try the Mongozo coconut beer, which comes in a coconut shell (but ask for a spoon, as the rich mixture quickly separates).
If you’re looking for microbrewed beer made in Madrid, try both Naturbier (C/ Plaza de Santa Ana, 9, Metro: Sevilla) and Magister (C/Príncipe, 18, Metro: Sevilla). Naturbier claims to produce the only “natural” beer in Madrid; they don’t use any chemicals in the beer’s production, and you’ll get it straight from the cask in which it was produced. Right down the street is Magister, which is similar to Naturbier with the wonderful exception that you can choose which of the 10 free tapas you’d like to accompany your brew. The quality of the beer is adequate, and there are usually around three options.
Finally, a Spanish chain named La Fábrica: Museo de la Cerveza (C/Princesa, 5, Metro: Plaza de España, and C/Génova, 21, Metro: Alonso Martínez, among others), offering almost 20 different types of Spanish and world beer, deserves an honorable mention. It serves as a restaurant as well, so you can eat your meat and potatoes with your beer and admire interesting collectibles that showcase the evolution of the Spanish brewing industry since the 19th century.