Basque Country, known for its pintxos, abundance of Michelin stars, txakoli, and other culinary riches, has historically neglected one daily staple—beer. Along with the rest of Spain, industrial beer has been the norm, and for the beer drinker watered-down brews are the accompaniment to everything from designer pintxos to three-star tasting menus.
It’s no surprise, then, that one of the major motivations for the Basque Country’s newest microbrew is culinary. Basqueland Brewing Project was started by two Americans living in San Sebastián who, once they got used to the level of dining, realized the level of drinking wasn’t quite up to par. “Our goal is promoting better beer drinking in places like Arzak, Martin [Berasategui], that don’t have any beers to match the caliber of food,” says Benjamin Rozzi, co-founder.
The difference between an artisan beer and a macrobrew is as easy to distinguish as a box of Don Simon tinto and a reserva from a good year in Rioja—it’s appreciable, even for amateurs. Basqueland Brewing Project brewed three beers as part of its first line with the help of Ben Matz, a well-known brewer with experience at some of the United States’ most well-known microbreweries (Stone Brewing, among others). From their Belgian Blonde, a low alcohol-content blanche, both citrusy and smokey, to their AUPA Pale Ale, which is hoppy and aromatic, the BBP beers have distinct characters.
The runaway favorite is the Arraun Amber, a beer made for drinking alone with rich maple and coffee notes and an incredible malt structure. “These are basically ‘introductory beers’,” says Kevin Patricio, co-founder. “The idea of making all three of them was to make something low alcohol, easy-to-drink, that’s not going to weigh you down or overpower you with the hoppiness.”
Currently, BBP is brewing batches in another brewery’s facilities. The search for a location in San Sebastián will allow them to experiment more with various flavor profiles and intensities at a time when beer’s caché is growing. Terms that once belonged to wine—vintage, terroir, mouthfeel—are now used liberally in the brew world. Basque Country is slow on the uptake of this trend, which is generally considered to have “landed” in Spain in 2012. Approximately half of Spain’s around 150-200 microbreweries are located in Cataluña.
The way BBP sees it, the more local beer, the better. “It’s impossible for a beer to be made fresh in the States in this style, be sent all the way over here, and to arrive in good conditions,“ says Kevin. Temperature and shipping conditions can cause the oxygen to break down the beer faster, changing its taste and characteristics. So the closer to the source you can drink your beer, the better. It’s very local,” says Kevin. “To be able to make that happen here, to bring something this fresh and this good to people that really are passionate about good food and good living, it feels good.”