From farm to glass in Barcelona: the story of Estrella Damm and its homegrown, world-class beer

The lager — made from ingredients harvested near the brewery in Barcelona — is known for its distinctive taste that’s savoured in bars, restaurants and homes around the globe. But when it comes to its creation, things remain strictly Mediterranean.

By Estrella Damm
Published 31 Oct 2020, 14:00 GMT, Updated 5 Nov 2020, 04:57 GMT
Estrella Damm

The finest barley plays a starring role in Estrella’s distinctive fresh flavour.

Photograph by Estrella Damm

The buzz around Barcelona has remained at fever pitch for some time — it’s a progressive powerhouse where travellers pitch up to revel in the fun times and sample the delectable food available around every corner. And there’s one drink that ties the city’s outstanding culinary repertoire together: icy Estrella Damm, which is cracked open for the post-swim crowds, the uptown set, the hipsters and the out-of-towners alike. It’s a beer born from a bright idea had by the young August Kuentzmann Damm more than 140 years ago, and is still meticulously brewed in Barcelona to the original 1876 recipe, using barley malt, rice and hops — whether you drink it from the keg, can or bottle.

Its roots may be entwined with its past, but the team behind Estrella has its gaze firmly set on the future. Its green initiatives include a pledge to phase out its plastic rings and replace them with 100% biodegradable cardboard as early as next year, and a plan to see sustainably sourced cardboard take the place of decorative plastic in 2021. The brand's new Soul campaign, launched in October 2020, champions the need for such changes, further shining a light on the environmental efforts needed to preserve land and protect one of the world's most treasured elements: the Mediterranean Sea. 

A homegrown ethos underpins much of the beer’s grain-to-glass journey, too, including the brand’s commitment to using raw materials from local farmers based near its La Moravia malthouse close to Barcelona — making Estrella Damm one of the few breweries in the world to still produce all its malt barley in its own malthouse.

The holy grain

Pere Costafreda is a technical agronomist who works with a local Catalonian enterprise that cultivates and harvests barley varieties (selected by Estrella Damm), an ingredient that plays a starring role in Estrella’s distinctive fresh flavour.

“I’m very lucky,” he says. “I work in the great outdoors, in the fields with the farmers, and I get to see every stage of the crop. I watch how it grows, how things are nurtured.”

Along with his team, he looks after the fields of barley, researching new varieties and helping local farmers grow their crops. The arrival of the summer signals the blossoming of the barley plants and, from late July, trucks are piled high with freshly harvested barley and taken to La Moravia.

“Our crops have to be just right,” says Pere. “It’s a science. We analyse the soils and carefully manage the fertilisation and irrigation of the fields. If you get it wrong, you can impair the flavour. Obviously, plenty of sun and rain help things along, whereas cold, dry winters can delay the first shoots. There has to be the correct balance of proteins in the crops — and it’s part of my job to ensure the flavour is just right when it arrives at the malthouse.”

For Pere, it’s a resounding thrill to know the barley he’s had a hand in cultivating will eventually be used in the celebrated beer. “To know that our crops will make it into bottles of Estrella — it’s a good feeling,” he says. “I’m proud of it.”

At La Moravia malthouse, the barley is taken to the soaking rooms, also known as steeping vessels, to prepare for germination. During this process, the temperature remains at 16-17C, with a humidity of around 40%, for five days. After those five days, the malt is moved to the drying and toasting boxes; the germination stops and the temperature is increased to 85C within a 24-hour period. Referring to them as boxes may be somewhat deceiving: these germination boxes are actually huge rooms, each one holding around 232 tonnes of barley – enough to produce four million 330 ml bottles of Estrella Damm.

Next, the malted barley is transported to the Estrella Damm brewery, where it’s ground down with rice and brewed with water at different temperatures, filtered and then boiled. It's at this stage that the hops are added, giving the beer its bitter taste, before the wort is cooled down, ready for fermentation. 

It’s then added to the fermentation tanks with a one-of-a-kind strain of yeast that’s kept under high-security watch in Barcelona, Valencia and London. The beer is kept in these tanks for one week, then for a further two weeks in ageing tanks. This stage is key to ensuring that crisp, refreshing taste with which the brand has become synonymous. It’s also recognisable by its dark brown bottle, which protects the beer from light exposure.

A homegrown ethos underpins much of the beer’s grain-to-glass journey, including the brand’s commitment to using raw materials from local farmers based near its La Moravia malthouse close to Barcelona.

Photograph by Estrella Damm

So, being a Barcelona creation from start to finish, it's no wonder every bottle of Estrella feels like a refreshing jolt of the Mediterranean. Even the label has links to the Med, having been created by Barcelona-based Italian designer Salvatore Adduci. It’s perhaps this clever attention to detail and commitment to the original taste that's caught the eye of top chefs. Big names including Jamie May, head chef at The Hand and Flowers, and Jose Pizarro have championed Estrella as an on-trend addition to curated food and drink pairings. World-renowned chef Ferran Adrià, and Joan Roca, head chef at Girona’s three Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca, have also been known to sing its praises.

For Estrella Damm, it seems the only way is up.

For further information about the brand, its sustainability initiatives and its new Soul campaign, visit the Estrella Damm website.

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