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    Wednesday
    Apr162014

    JUICE!

    Sometimes the very thing you want is hiding right in front of you.  So many days I was feeling under the weather, or unhealthy, and found myself longing for something besides fresh-squeezed OJ. Yes, I appreciate that it's available in every respectable café for kilometers. But sometimes you just want something green, something with more oomph.  So when I walked into a cherished neighborhood café to the sign you see above, my heart skipped a beat.

    "Are these juices?" I asked.

    "Yes, fresh squeezed," said the owner.  And it's all a bit informal, you just chat a while about what you want in your juice, she might make a recommendation about what is good at the moment, and a few seconds later you have your own REAL juice.

    A beautiful specimen: beet, carrot, and orange.  Fresh squeezed fruit and veggies, to your specifications, for only 2.10. Also available to take away.

    Cafe Tal :: Calle San Francisco, 6. San Sebastián.

    Tuesday
    Apr152014

    pintxo astearteak (tapa tuesdays)

    casa urola:::espárragos a la plancha con mayonesa ajetes (grilled asparagus with young garlic mayonnaise)

    Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 20 ::Donostia-San Sebastián

    Casa Urola only relatively recently amped up their pintxo offerings, but this old town spot has long been a hidden gem and favorite of the locals.  It's the type of place where there's no wrong choice, where the menu changes daily, where produce comes directly from the producer, not from a distributor.  Their pintxos are incredible (and a great way to enjoy their cuisine on the cheap).

    Monday
    Apr142014

    Vermouth in the Gintonería

    It's been a while since I talked about La Gintonería, the bar in Gros that serves a bastion for fine drinking in a city that places a priority on pintxos. In fact, my last post was to highlight their opening. Little did I know how much I would come to enjoy it, and how devoted owner Txema and his barpeople would be to their craft.

    Imagine my surprise, then, when I *finally* take a break from their selection of a hundred or so gins and classic cocktails to request a vermouth.  In this city, you never know what might happen when you order a vermouth....a bartender may ask you, as if to correct, "Oh, a Martini?" (referring to the brand name of the world's least delicious vermouth). They may say "Marianito or vermouth?" which is a question about size, marianito being the smaller version. They may not ask you anything.  And the rarest ocurrence is when they ask you "What kind?" This means you have hit upon one of the few bars in San Sebastian that have a variety of vermouths.

    La Gintonería is one of these bars. Owner Txema pulled out all his line for me to smell, see and take pictures of: Dos Deus, several Yzaguirres, vermouth Miro, Noilly Prat, and more. I opted for the brand new vermouth from Galicia, vermut Nordesía. It's made by the folks behind Nordés Gin. Both are so new, they are hard to find both in bars and online, but trust me...they are delicious.

    La Gintonería |  Zabaleta 6, 20002 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain |  943 02 19 56

    Wednesday
    Apr092014

    pintxo astearteak (tapa tuesdays)

    hidalgo 56:::alcachofas con jamón en texturas (artichokes three ways with crunchy Spanish jamón and jamón broth)

    Paseo Colon, 17::Donostia-San Sebastián

    This bar is one of the best in town. Just go down the checklist: bar full of great pintxos. Ample hot pintxo list. Curated wine selection. Careful product choice. Seasonality. Serious chef at the helm.  Hidalgo 56, I love you, and not because you're right under my apartment.

    Ps. Better late than never this week. Oops.

    Friday
    Apr042014

    Basqueland Brewing Project

    There's a new beer on the block, everybody.

    Basqueland Brewing Project was founded by a couple of Americans living in Donosti, whose passion for all delicious things in life (one works in wine and the other heads La Madame, a restaurant recently featured in The New York Times) has led them to brew their own line of craft beer.

    BBP's new line premiered in February and is slowly taking over the finer bars of San Sebastián. The first offering consists of three brews, engineered by American brewmaster Ben Matz:

    Belgian Blonde Ale: A bière blanche, true to the Belgian style, with beautiful citrus notes and a bit of smoke. Light-bodied and refreshing.

    • alcohol: 4.8%
    • in the bottle: pilsner and crack wheat malts; the hops used to craft are Saaz and Perele.
    • recommended for: anybody, anytime
    • pairs well with: anything. seriously. It goes down great solo, but its light acidity makes it an easy pair with almost any food (a la cava or champagne)

    Aupa All United Pale Ale: A well-hopped but exceptionally balanced west-coast pale ale. Abundant aromas, medium-bodied, and rich golden color. Very sessionable.

    • alcohol: 5.5% 
    • in the bottle: dry-hopped with cascade, columbus
    • recommended for: wanna-be hop converts
    • pairs well with: charcuterie, pate, chorizo, classic basque pintxos and/or fish dishes with lots of acidity (anchovies, sardines, grilled turbot etc.)

    Arraun Amber Ale: This is a beer with some serious personality—nice, clear, great malt structure with a nose of passion fruit and leather. Fllavors of maple and fresh coffee grounds backed up by depth of hop.

    • alcohol:  5% 
    • in the bottle: good deal of specialty malts and dry-hopped with simcoe
    • recommended for: the most demanding of beer drinkers
    • pairs well with: great for cheese courses, stands up to simple or gourmet burgers, grilled meats. Also pairs well with...nothing. It’s a great stand-alone beer.

    I sat down with the guys behind BBP for a chat about what it's like starting up a brewery and the bigger challenge of bringing quality craft beer to a Spanish public.

    What was the guiding principle behind your first range of beers?

    These are basically "introductory beers".  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.

    Do you feel like you sold out at all, trying to make "easy" beers?

    No, no, because Ben (Matz) is such a great beermaker that we can say, 'Hey, there's different syles of pale ale and this is the style that we want for this first round'. We want it to be one of our base beers.. and in the future once we get our own facilities/brewery here in the city we'll probably be doing lots and lots of low-production experimental beers.

    How do you feel about the results?

    We're very very happy with how it came out. We know that micro-craft beer movement is coming...we've got a good representation of what you can do. The ultimate goal is that we would eventually have our own facilities, that people like our beers enough that they give us funding to get our own brewery. Our goal is also  promoting better beer drinking in places like Arzak, Martin, that don't have any beers to match the caliber of food.

    What inspired you to make this project a reality?

    It's about bringing different things to light. Maybe not everybody likes them, but the vast majority of the poeple do. They're thankful for it. The beer is the same way. It's very local, very personal. To be able to mke 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.

    Are there any challenges specific to Basque Country/Spain?

    It's challenging with the beer monopolies here. Bar owners get paid not to buy any other beers. For the beer consumer, it's not really promoting better beer drinking.

     

    What's "better", tap or bottle beer?

    When you taste it off the tap it tastes a little fresher, with one caveat: the tap has to be very clean.  People have infections in their tubing...if you go to a bar and the beer tastes buttery, that's a bad thing. There's also another infection that happens in barrel that tastes like green apple.

    How important is freshness?

    That freshness thing, 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. To have the capability of making a great beer fresh and give it to people, that's something that is special.

    Any *special* memories from the first round of brewing?

    One day, brewing in La Rioja, we had a very special lunch.  It was 4:30 and we'd been there since 6 a.m. with nothing to eat. We were starving. Some companions said, 'We're getting some sandwiches, do you guys like pigs' ears?' and we were like, 'Yeah, I do, you know, Borda Berri.' It coes back and it's like the soggiest, gelatinous thing ever. And we were like, 'Oh my God, this is the worst sandwich I've ever had'.

    And any good memories?

    One of the best moments since we started this project was when I went to Ganbara [in the old part of Donosti]. I had a pale ale outside of Ganbara with the tarta de txangurro. I thought, 'this is a great beer in this great city'. Now we have the luxury of having something we really love alongside a great beer with this taste profile.

    Basqueland Brewing Project is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where they tend to post all the bars and shops that carry their beers, useful for all you microbrew fanatics. Beer in keg format can be found at Bar Neverstop and Bar Txiki.  Bottles are widely available throughout San Sebastián.