Some cities are beer cities while others are wine cities.
In Canada this is represented by Toronto and Montreal. When we moved to Toronto a few years ago, Alan was surprised when he couldn’t find Tornados and Boomerangs in any bar. Popular in Quebec, these were fruit-flavoured beers sold nation-wide but somehow absent in Toronto. I wondered about that for a while but the more I went to Toronto bars, I realized a basic difference between the two cities – Toronto had a beer culture whereas Montreal, as any French city worthy of the name, was a wine city. Torontonians liked their beer and patronized bars that prided themselves in serving a variety of beers from local microbreweries. They wouldn’t dream of tainting their beer with fruit juices. I soon took a taste to ales and dark lagers and used to love going to Cafe Volo on Yonge Street where the knowleadgeable staff would guide me through their interesting beer menu. Just as I learned to enjoy dry red wine in Montreal, I learned to appreciate a nice dark ale in Toronto.
Here in Spain I can see the same dynamics between Madrid and Barcelona. The old rivals also belong to distinct drinking cultures, the former priding itself on pouring the perfect draught while the latter understands more about wine. Yesterday’s edition of El Periódico, the regional newspaper, had a feature on the quality of beer in Barcelona. The reporter went to ten bars across the city and ordered the same thing in all of them: “una caña, por favor.” He got ten different drinks, at different price ranges. A caña is traditionally a small draught beer that shouldn’t cost more than 2 euros but in the Ramblas this translates into a half liter mug for almost 5 euros. Quality also varied: from a beer served at 0 C with 1,7 cm of foam to one at 8 C with 0.4 cm. The lowest price was in Gracia at 1.70 euros for a 330 ml vs 6.15 euros at the bar of an expensive hotel for 250 ml (by the way, in the latter case, the pump wasn’t working properly so the barman had to top it off with bottled beer!). The main point of the feature was that the art of pouring a proper draught – never a main feature in this wine city – is disappearing in Barcelona. And, like in Montreal, the beer mixed with fruit juices (aka clara) predominates.
Madrid, on the other hand, has always prided itself for serving a proper draught. I noticed when we were there how barmen took their time in pouring a draught. They would fill the cup, let it sit for a while, fill a bit more, wait some more, fill again until about 5 min had gone by and the beer had reached its optimum temperature and thickness of foam. It was very nice. We saw very few people drinking claras. I certainly couldn’t think of spoiling my perfectly-poured draught with lemon pop.
Lesson learned: for nice beer, go to Madrid. In Barcelona, have some cava. Or a clara.
Disclaimer: all this talk of beer city vs. wine city does is not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t mean there’s no wine or wine-lovers in Toronto or beer in Montreal. The Niagara region, just outside of Toronto, is a well-known wine region and Toronto was the place where Alan and I attended a wine appreciation course. And Belgian immigrants have founded very interesting breweries in the province of Quebec. I went to a bar here that had about 10 bottled beers, one of which was a microbrew from Quebec!!