A city such as Valencia that celebrates the famous Bavarian Oktoberfest tradition with great enthusiasm must harbour a beer-making tradition of its own and indeed, both city and region have a history of brewing German-inspired pilsner that reaches back over a century.
Many a member of the older generation rues the fact that beer has gained such popularity in a traditionally wine-drinking nation, but in reality beer has been around for a very long time in Spain. The story of modern pilsner-style beer starts in the second half of the 19th century, when German brewers founded or inspired tiny factories across the north and east of the country.
Valencia was by no means bypassed in this process, and thus the concept of the cervecería was born. Lively establishments where hearty Spanish meat dishes blended beautifully with beer, the cervecerías soon became a common feature in Spanish life and continue to do so today, complete with slightly retro décor touches reminding us of their origins during the elegant Belle Epoque.
While many of the small breweries in and around Valencia would eventually disappear or be taken over by larger companies, it was the Cerveza El Águila brand originally founded by Augusto Comas y Blanco in 1900 that was to dominate beer production in the city. Though originally from Madrid, the large factory, which opened in Valencia in 1949, was eventually to become one of the biggest breweries in Spain.
It continued to produce the brand some fifty years later, when the Heineken group took over El Águila and gradually converted it into its own Amstel label. Today this important Heineken facility competes for domination of the regional beer market with Estrella Levante of Espinardo, a neighborhood in the city of Murcia at about two and a half hours south of Valencia.
One of the smaller and more regionally based of Spain’s beers, the Estrella Levante brewery was founded in 1963 and in recent years has been benefiting from the revived popularity of so-called independents and microbreweries.
A staunch supporter of cultural events and local sailing regattas, Estrella Levante is on the rise in the greater region with its refreshing Clásica pilsner, its slightly stronger Especial brand and its very practical Sin 0’0% alcohol version.
In a country that boasts among the highest consumption levels of low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beers in the world – perhaps not surprising if you’re familiar with Spain’s very sensible attitude towards drinking – beer is above all an accompaniment to the eating, socialising and café society that makes this one of the liveliest and friendliest places in Europe.