Words – Rach Smith | Photos – Rach Smith, Mike Smith.
We’ve traded in the gloom, both the weather and the news items, for scenery exposed through hair-raising hairpin bends; the scares outweighed by the big sun in the bigger sky; impaled by jagged mountain; deep blue filling the spaces in between. Orange juice is fresh and refreshing as I sit and get used to the quiet surroundings; pierced only by the occasional toot from the trams at the bottom of the valley, the sparrows buoyed up and giving it their all and goats laughing as they skip along red, dusty, olive & carob-lined pathways.
We settle in with San Miguel and Estrella, par for the course in these parts, they help us get the lay of the land and aid in status: Palate Neutral ready for some potential local beer hunting later on. I won’t complain about ‘big beer’ when cans of San Miguel, Estrella Damn and Estrella Galacia are the equivalent of 83 pence a can from the local convenience store, providing cooling refreshment after a hike in the mountains surrounding our hotel.
Later on we travel to Soller, just south of where we’re staying on an old olive farm overlooking Port de Soller. We search the Internet for potential local beers and discover there is a local microbrewery, Sullerica, and a list of local stockists. Our search for a bar stocking the brews isn’t fruitful as Sunday opening hours hault us. We hop on the tram that connects us back with the port, swapping screeching swifts over shuttered sandy buildings for crashing waves and lobster-red bathers. A walk along the prom yields the usual tourist fare, among which lies a more classy gem, Randemar Lounge, purveyors of the Sullerica Original that proved elusive only a few kilometres ago. It’s a decent beer, interesting and completely different to the lagers we’ve been sipping. It’s brewed with local orange blossom, lemon verbena and rosemary and is perfumed with a distinctive herbal quality. An initial herbal character washes over the palate with an underlying honey-cereal sweetness and an orange pith bitterness to balance. Mike asks the waiter if there are any other beers worth trying here, to which the reply “that is the best one”, tells us all we need to know, so we opt for a second. At 4.6% it could keep me company all evening but the cocktail list catches my eye and I finish the night on a Mallorcan Potion: Can Vidalet Mallorcan Gin with sage, lemon wedges and sugar. I pair it with the sunset over the port.
With the sun firmly back and overlooking everything on the island, the next day sees us travel north east to Alcudia. It’s a small town, busy with tourists ambling through narrow shop-lined streets and walking what’s left of the old defensive walls, the views overlooking the medley of restaurant and residential rooftops on one side and distant mountains on the other. A quieter back street away from the hustle of the narrower shopping areas puts us on the path to a beautiful little deli; Es Raco de Ronda; the craft beer bottles displayed outside catch my eye like sun glistening on water. Inside, a selection of various local food items including breads, olives and cold cuts, shelves and fridges lined with Mallorcan and world beers. Chimay and Brewdog stand out but it’s the Mallorcan brews that deserve attention. We sit at a large wooden table in the view of the mountains, colourful pot plants at our backs, sipping Boscana Cream Ale, brewed with water from the Tramuntana mountains, with sweet malts and balanced hops offering a gently fruitful palate reminiscent of traditional English pale ales. Beer Lovers Hop IPA is the other choice, brewed in Alcudia with Chinook, Columbus and Cascade hops on show offering pine upfront, with a syrup-like mouthfeel, then tropical fruits and a bitter bite enough to rival the bitterness of the accompanying olives. Back on the road we don’t have any more craft beers that day but do we experience seemingly endless white-knuckle hairpin roads and the most exquisite, breathtaking scenery along the coastal areas of Formentor through to Cap de Formentor and I don’t need anything else.
The smell of varnished wood mingles with the perfume of flower blossom warmed by the sun as we travel by vintage tram and train from Port de Soller through to Soller and onto Palma. Graffiti tags and street murals replace orange groves and goats as we swap rural for urban, the vintage train suddenly looking less at home in the more built-up surrounds of the islands capital. Initial sights of Palma tell me this place needs an injection of money and love, faded facades and general grot scream out, but perseverance brings us to the old town, in the shadow of the almighty cathedral, with its quieter, prettier, more interesting backroads and side streets. We spend the day being typical tourists; gratefully seeking shade in the courtyard gardens of the Arab Baths, marvelling at the obscene grandeur of the cathedral, gazing at modern art, overlooking the renovated port and tucking into tapas. There’s one final destination on the list before we head back toward the rickety old train: Lorien Bar.
Located up a cobbled side street, just off of a popular shopping area, Lorien blends into the old architecture of the city, there’s nothing flashy or brash about this place, it’s all about a welcoming home-from-home atmosphere, an international family of beer lovers united by their love of new wave and traditional brews under the one roof. Celtic inspired decor and music suggest a love of Irish culture, old beer bottles line the walls and the menu caters to every taste with popular English, American and Scandinavian craft favourites represented alongside traditional British, Irish, German and Belgian brews. Local Mallorcan and mainland Spanish beers are here too of course, and those are the beers we’re here for.
Toutatis La Blanche, a Mallorcan take on a Witbier sits at 5.9% and provides a herbal, fruity and perfumed refreshment to the trapped heat bouncing within the streets of Palma. A delicate and delicious delivery of slight tart citrus, sweet apricot, orange pith, a typical bread profile, and a complex herbal element from the addition of coriander and jasmine, this beer proves to be traditional in style but with a very Mallorcan twist. Sullerica brewery makes up the majority of the local beers listed on the vast menu and bottled Valenta is our choice. It’s very different to the Toutatis, brewed with rose petals it gives off an aroma reminiscent of Turkish Delight. The light IPA base is punctuated by the candied-rose hit on the palate and with the risk of becoming too soapy a bitterness cuts through keeping the beer well on the super quaffable side of the tracks. From the mainland of Spain and from the keg taps, Piris Old School IPA Resin sits at 7.5% and provides aromas and nuances over the palate of sweet cream and tinned pineapple with a resinous vibe weaving throughout. Give Me Hop, Jo’Anna (5.2%) by Monsieur Gordo Brewery delivers more than just a witty name, a dry hopped red ale, it throws mango and passionfruit at the senses whilst being balanced by a full, malt body.
The past couple of days have seen us balance exploration with hours of doing very little; taking the time to see the island and taking the time to just enjoy having time to spare. The sun hides behind cloud for the first time this week, and a closeness almost strangles as the heavy humidity settles in for the first half of the morning. The insects buzz and annoy. The deep blue of the ocean is replaced by British grey. Today will see another day of doing very little, and I’m totally OK with that. The previous night we sipped our way through Gin & Tonics (note: standard measures are pretty generous in these parts) followed by Herbes de Mallorca, a local digestif, similar to Sambuca with it’s aniseed quality, but a little sweeter and a little smoother. Served over ice it was a refreshing digestif to the day. The clouds, humidity and pestering bugs begin to retreat and the clear blue of the sky and sea return to the view. We head down to the port for some lunch at restaurant nunu, sit with a selection of tapas and wash it down with Cerveja Nunu, brewed by Sullerica, drinking like a Belgian pale ale with yeasty, bready notes. Back at the hotel I sit next to planted lavender and consider the role herbs have played in the flavour profiles we’ve experienced this week. Rosemary is abundant, orange groves are everywhere; so plenty of orange blossom to use in Sullerica Original, sage played a part in my cocktail earlier in the week, aniseed is a huge character too, and the likes of jasmine, verbena and rose have also featured in the local beers we’ve tried. When considering the collected character of the region, could herbs be to Mallorcan artisan beer what hops are to American craft or yeast character to traditional Belgian beers?
Mountains have almost continually overlooked us this week and it’s water from these mountains that’ve gone into producing some of the local artisan beers. The mountains are key too, to the tourism that draws people to the island and helps boost the economy. Whilst our visit to Mallorca wasn’t about beer hunting, more a break from the everyday routine, it has been exciting to see that the craft boom has made it to the Balearics despite the popularity of big brand Spanish lagers. This is very much an island for foodies and anyone interested in artisan food and drink will be excited by what the island has to offer (some of the best food and drink has been found at the little delis that double as small bars), and should help Mallorca shake, or at least balance-out, it’s reputation given by the scene down in Magaluf.
Some of the island’s breweries are clearly branding for an international market, whilst others are keeping it more low-key, some have got recipes dialled-in and others have some way to go, but all are inspired somewhat by the brewing history and tourism of the British and Germans with pale ales and wheat beers proving popular. As these breweries grow, so too will they aid in boosting that economy, and with a distinctive set of brews already in the island’s collected portfolio, Mallorca is set to become a better known destination for craft beer fans looking for quality over quantity.