Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Beer; organic versus local.

Over 3 years ago we came across the beer “San Miguel Eco” the organic version of the Spanish (global) beer. It’s a light lager but very slightly more bitter than the normal San Miguel. It is made in their production plant in Lerida and is the only organic beer made in Spain at the moment. In 2007 we stopped offering the normal San Miguel and only offered the Eco version, and most customers seemed to enjoy it. However I wasn’t totally convinced, not only coming from such a large company, it only comes in a 250 cc non returnable bottle format. Having said that, the other organic beers available in Spain tend to be made in Germany or Belgium and also come in a non returnable format.

So we have been looking out for an alternative beer for some time and first came across “Belenos” The Asturian beer. Whilst I was speaking with the salesman for the beer (and about to order a considerable quantity) I asked him; where it was made, wondering what part of Asturias it came from. So he told me; it was made in Belgium! Ah – but the recipe is from Asturias so that it is why it is an Asturian beer!! So I cancelled the order.

Just over a month ago I was very happy to be presented with an empty beer bottle from Seb (my son). It was a special artesian beer called “La Xana” and produced in Noreña Asturias by a small family company who also distil liqueurs. After finding a full bottle we sampled the beer, enjoyed it and soon got in contact with the company who make it. We have now been offering this beer for just over 3 weeks in the hotel. It comes in a flip top 500 cc bottle, is unfiltered and has a secondary fermentation in the bottle. In its production they only use malted barley, hops, yeast and water, following the German beer purity law. It’s considerably more expensive than the San Miguel Eco which we sell the 250 cc bottle at 1.25 Euros compared to the Asturian La Xana beer at 4.50 Euros for the 500 cc bottle, (and we make less money selling the Asturian beer at this price!)

What has surprised me has been the reaction by our guests. If people ask for a beer I (the barman) explain the two types we offer and their comparative prices and I don’t try to push one above the other, but the Asturian beer is outselling the San Miguel Eco despite its price. People obviously like trying the local products (I think it’s to do with authenticity) and are often rather wary of global brands even if they are organic.

I personally think it is positive when the global brands have organic products, although I am very concerned about their influence on standards and legislation. However when possible I would always support a diversified (ecological) cropping system rather than a large monocrop, and encourage people to do like wise. Diverse cropping systems are much more sustainable and better for the environment than mononcrops.

One final advantage with the Asturian beer is that as the bottle comes with a flip top and lots of people from the local village are keen on taking the bottles to use them for storing different drinks etc. So rather than getting recycled the bottles are getting re-used; now that is good.


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Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.