Anyone who has lived in London will know that it can take as long to reach the outskirts and anything resembling open country as it would to run a half-marathon-length egg and spoon race. You set off full of the joys of spring determined to commune with nature and breath some fresh air but after a couple of hours stuck in your car, you can still see your house and a tortoise has just overtaken you. Which is one of the reasons why we left to pursue our dream of creating BeerCat Craft Beer Brewery in Barcelona.
As we said this really was just one of the many reasons why in the summer of 2009 we packed the remaining bits of our London life into the car and headed for rural Catalunya. And that’s the point. It is indeed both bucolic and peaceful yet the Penedès region starts a mere 30km or so from the fleshpots of downtown Barcelona. You can be on La Rambla gawping at statue-men one minute and 20 minutes later after collecting your toll ticket for the AP7 (I prefer its more evocative appellation – Autopista del Mediterráneo) you will find yourself in rolling countryside, passing pine-covered hills and fields filled with olive trees, almonds trees and of course, vines. Lots of vines. Everywhere.
You can avoid the tolls by leaving Barcelona via the N340 which will take you past the beautiful Muntanyes d’Ordal nature reserve, or more spectacular still, the C31 coastal route via Sitges. Either way, you will soon end up in the Penedès which is an ancient geographic entity now with its very own DO. As usual in these areas, there is a good deal of local rivalry. Sant Sadurni is generally accepted to be the Cava capital and is home to mega-producer Freixenet whilst Vilafranca is the actual capital and is where the mighty Torres is based alongside other renowned houses like Pinord, Mascaró, and BeerCat Craft Beer Brewery.
Vilafranquinos like to joke that Vilanova I la Geltru is their beach, which Vilanovans don’t find very funny, whilst Sitges considers itself to be a cut above the rest, which everyone thinks is hilarious.
We had bought our Catalan farmhouse (or at least the bank had) in 2006 and had planned meticulously to ensure that when we got here all of the refurbishment had been done and we could hit the ground running. WRONG! After taking a couple of days to drive through France with a rather lively jack russell who seemed determined to see if she could operate the brakes, we arrived to find our cherished furniture which we had painstakingly packed up in London, carelessly stacked up in heaps with bits broken and missing and all covered in a inches of dust. There were no windows in the kitchen, tangles of loose wires protruded from every junction box and after a few minutes, the jack russell came in with a rat between her jaws. Lovely.
The next morning, however, we woke up to a brilliant blue sky with a big yellow sun hanging in it, surrounded by the most beautiful countryside covered in (you’ve guessed it) vines. Loads of them. A green sea of vines gracefully sashaying in the breeze. As we stood, taking it all in, staring at these vines heavy with grapes, Merlot, Parellada, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Garnacha, Tempranillo, it was obvious what we had to do: MAKE BEER!
But not just any old beer, pale imitations of what had been done before; oh no. We were going to make Penedès beer, using local ingredients wherever possible. We were going to live in a land where IPA meant Illustrious Penedès Ale and where the Flor d’Ordal wasn’t a flower but a prize-winning pale ale made with Ordal peaches.
But all that was still some way off. With a house to make habitable, kids to get into school and not one but two new languages to grapple with, creating BeerCat craft beer brewery in Barcelona was going to be a long-term project and the biggest challenge of our lives. If you want to learn more about us why not take a look at the video below! Or even better – why not visit us at the brewery and see what happens inside our doors!