The evolution of beer in the Basque Country
From nostalgia to a bright future
How beer arrived in the Basque Country
Between the 16th and 17th centuries, sea commerce introduced beer to the Basque Country, a land where, up until then, the consumption of wine, cider and txakolí were predominant. The beer that was drunk back then was exclusively foreign, as it arrived on board the ships that came from the north of Europe. .
Since beer was a foreign import it was subject to certain taxes from the authorities of the time, much alike cod, whale and salmon. The profit obtained from these taxes would later on be used to defray several public works.
The production of beer was not regulated until the beginning of the 18th C. In Bilbao, for instance, individuals were given the permission to produce and sell their own beer in the year 1703 for the first time. This beer was highly fermented and a rather high alcohol content since they were produced at room temperature and could be preserved for a short spell of time.
The liberalization of beer production in the year 1833 set the foundations for our modern beer industry and put in motion an intensive hop cultivation all around the Spanish peninsula. This would highly contribute to the production and consumption of beer.
Due to the taxes put to it, beer was directed towards a rather well-off sector of the population.
By the end of the 19th C., bigger scale breweries and beer establishments could be found all over the country, which, in turn, helped to the rising popularity of the beverage itself. Famous beer enterprises of the time were the likes of Cervecería Vascongada, Vizcaína, Cervecera del Norte, La Salve in Bilbao, or Fábrica de Cervezas El León run by the Kutz brothers in San Sebastián.
Basque Beer: a trademark of quality
Well into the 21st C., the production of craft beer becomes more relevant, for which the use of quality local produce and raw materials turns out to be key. 2012 was the boom year for the opening of Basque craft beer breweries, and in just six years the number of such breweries has soared from 2 to 20.
The year 2014 marks a turning point for Basque craft beer, since it was then that the Euskal Garagardoen Elkartea was born. The creation of this non-profit association comprised by 12 Basque producers implied a qualitative leap for the sector, mainly because it put in motion several innovation and research projects. Since then, the Basque Beer trademark that said association manages has become a trademark of quality and origin that seeks to put value on tenets that are shared by all of its producers: the quality of the raw materials, maximum care over the whole production process, the essence of what is natural and closeness.
Future: Euskadi brings back hop cultivation
LUPULUS is a project that seeks to recover hop cultivation in the Basque Country. Boosted by several breweries belonging to the Euskal Garagardo Elkartea, it receives help from institutions like Niker and UAGA and is financially backed by the Basque Government.
The initiative, which will expand over a decade, set sail in 2017 with the planting of six varieties of hop⎯Nugget, Cascade, Perle, Magnum, Spalt and Saaz⎯in a 1,200m2 plot in Berantevilla, Álava. The harvests will be used in trials for recipes and research in search of the highest quality local beers. At the same time, this project seeks to promote the use of local hop in the production of beer, since, today, it only represents 7% of the whole.