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In Seville, Where Cruzcampo Is King, a New Beer Tradition Is Brewing

January 28, 2019

By Stephanie Gravalese, January 28, 2019

Stepping off the train from Madrid to Seville, I’m greeted by two giant banners advertising Cruzcampo, the regional lager that has been brewed and served in Spain since 1904. Outside the station, the glow of the red Cruzcampo logo is visible in windows of nearby restaurants and bars. Until about a decade ago, if you were to ask for a beer at any bar in Seville, Cruzcampo would probably be the only option. However, since the opening of Seville’s first brewpub Maquila Bar in 2015, local interest in craft beer has increased dramatically. I arrive during the city’s siesta, so many of the restaurants were closed, save for a cafe that my host had recommended. There, I ask the bartender if she thinks Seville is known for beer, wine, or cocktails. “Beer. Seville is a beer city…and that one,” she says, pointing to the two taps at the bar—one of them is Cruzcampo and the other is non-alcoholic Cruzcampo.

Bierkraft

Later that evening, I make my way to Bierkraft, just off of the bustling Alameda de Hercules. Even before I reached the bar, there is much to admire: Hand-painted denim jackets by local designer hang artfully on the brick walls, an impressive tap list is handwritten on tall mirrors, and customers gather in blue leather and red velvet banquettes. The bar’s weekly Friday Night Social Club is in full swing and the two bartenders are keeping up with the flow of the evening—one is focused on sampling and pouring beers, while the other concentrates on cocktails.

Opened by American expat Adam Joseph in 2016, Bierkraft’s tap list features selections from across Europe, including Seville’s Cervezas Rio Azul, Barcelona-based Garage Brewing Company, and Norwegian brewer Lervig Aktiebryggeri. A bottle shop in the back rounds out the selection of offerings to over 100. With the opening of Bierkraft, Joseph’s goal was to offer the world of beer without leaving Seville. “When I first came here, you couldn’t get more than a Cruzcampo or a Heineken in this town,” he says as we sample one of his favorites, local brewer Hecatombe’s Lost Horse, an American Pale Ale. As I sip my first Spanish beer, I feel this is a spot to see and be seen. Bierkraft would feel right at home in a more beer-centric city like New York City or Chicago.  

For Joseph, the growing mix of tourists and locals is a sign of success. “I started feeling more confident once I would see repeat customers,” he says. “I love it when I come in, and the bar is packed, and I don't recognize anyone. That's a good sign. That means we're buzzy for people outside of our little niche.” Education of these new patrons has been a top priority for Joseph, especially during the early days of the business. “Some customers would come it and ask for a beer and were very confused that there were so many choices,” he says. Adopting a self-described American attitude about promotion, Joseph organizes open mic nights, tap takeovers, and special events to encourage customers to try new beers. He doesn’t stock Cruzcampo, but always carries a light beer for those who are just looking for a drink to beat the heat.

Cervezas Rio Azul

My second day in the city brings me to Cervezas Rio Azul, the first in the city and the largest craft brewery in Andalusia. Located outside of the city center on Guadalquivir river in a former textile mill, the brewery and taproom occupy a warehouse filled with giant windows and oversized murals.

It’s here where I sit down with brewer and lead owner Eloy Del Rio. The first thing he does is offer me a pint of Fina, the brewery’s best-selling beer. It’s an easy drinking pilsner made with Valencia oranges and is usually offered to those who might ask for a Cruzcampo. Brewery by day and occasional live music spot by night, Del Rio’s dream for Cervezas Rio Azul was for it to be a locals bar, rather than exclusively a tourist destination. He is proud to share that over half of his customers are from the neighborhood. Cervezas Rio Azul’s beer offerings currently consist of Fina; Flora, a dry-hopped saison; Farovita, a pale ale; Solaris, a New England-style IPA, Pai Pai, an American IPA; and True Brut, a Brut IPA.

Celebrating its first year, business at Cervesas Rio Azul is thriving, with 90 percent of the beer sold in the city the rest shipped to Barcelona and Madrid. Between doubling production and expanding product lines, Del Rio is pleased to see the market shifting to accommodate more craft beer. But changing the conservation about beer in the city is not without its challenges. For Del Rio, these changes needed to happen outside the brewery and were often out of his control. “In the early days, making sure the beer is kept cold was a big issue,” he says. “I now supply distributors and restaurants with temperature cards and instructions with those whom store the beer. It’s much better now, but it’s taken time.”

When I ask about Cruzcampo, Del Rio is quick to tell me that this has never been about competing with the beer giant. “It’d be silly to think that it’s about competition. It’s about complementing what’s already here,” he says. “There will be people who will always drink Cruzcampo, and there will be people who are looking for something different. It’s about creating different beer experiences.”

Hops and Dreams

As I leave Cervesas Rio Azul, I pick up the Craft Beer Map of Seville. One of these places is a craft beer bar on the opposite end of Alameda. I know I’m close when I see the sandwich board that boasting in all caps, “CRAFT BEER THIS WAY.” I cut down a side street to find Hops and Dreams.

Walking in to the sounds of The Strokes, I pass by a small seating area with a bookshelf full of cans and bottles behind it. The long and narrow bar has Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling and exposed metal cross beams visible throughout. The bar, with a steel base and a wooden top, perfectly captures the design aesthetic. Compared to a hipster-cool atmosphere of Bierkraft, Hops and Dreams more of a casual rock-and-roll vibe.

The eight taps feature a mix of Spanish and European beers, including two from Cervezas Rio Azul as well as beers from England’s Thornwood Brewery and Rome’s Rebel’s. There’s also a small food menu that is part tapas and part pub fare—think octopus with roasted potatoes as well as burgers and fried chicken. Sitting down at the bar, I meet an American couple who, like me, was lured by the promise of craft beer via the sandwich board. I go with Tovarisch Block, an imperial stout from Cervezas La Pirata in Barcelona and the couple, who had recently relocated from Ohio to the nearby naval station an hour south in Rota, shares stories of adjusting to life in a new country. 

Hops and Dreams was opened in 2017 by Nicolás Aguirre and Ignacio Gómez, two lifelong Sevillanos who met when working together at Maquila Bar. For Aguirre, who also created the Craft Beer Map of Seville, opening the bar was about sharing the adventures he’s had as a traveler and looking for breweries along the way. When I ask about the reception of craft beer, he explains, “Three years ago, locals here couldn’t tell a New England IPA from a stout. Now, more and more locals come in and ask for an IPA. It’s amazing! It’s an evolution.” He mentions Cruzcampo as element of Sevillano life, but as something separate from the craft beer scene. “You see, it’s something to drink during our six months of summer,” he says. Industrial beers have their place, but they’re not for me.”

My visit to Seville ends the same way it began, in Santa Justa train station. Before my departure, while catching up on emails in the Renfre train lounge, I peer into the refrigerator coolers to see if there might be a beverage I haven't tried yet. My eyes catch the ever-present red of Cruzcampo. It is a hot day, so I decided to crack open the long-standing lager to see what Sevillanos have been coming back to for so many years. It is absolutely fine. It does its job and keeps me cool. And while this may be my last taste of Seville, it’s good to know that those coming into the city have some more enticing choices when it comes to beer.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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