If we put American surfers into an equation and craft beer surely our sight will go to the American West Coast. However, a small collection of expats have turned Euskadi into a small California and Hernani (Guipúzcoa) in the ‘San Diego’ of Spanish craft beer.

The ‘creature’ is called Basqueland and from its opening in 2015 has already established itself as one of the references in the world of craft beer -not only Spanish, but international- filling their showcases on the outskirts of Hernani with the awards that endorse it.

The last one, the award to best craft brewery in the world in the recent Barcelona Beer Challenge. An achievement that does not surprise industry connoisseurs, but that helps us to set the record for a story that has everything to become a Planet award.

San Diego and New York; surfers in search of the perfect wave; a dose of reciprocated love; Karlos Arguiñano and the need to make a beer that would match the food served by one of the partners. The script almost counted itself.

Love, surfing and Karlos Arguiñano

You could almost put a Beach Boys soundtrack on this surfing-beer adventure which begins in 2002, when Ben Rozzi -one of the founders- landed in Guipúzcoa to surf. What he did not count on was that in 2005 love would knock on his door, convincing him – she, not love – to move in 2006 to live in the Basque Country.

“I in America worked for alcohol distributors such as Diageo or the LVMH group“Ben, who is in charge of the commercial part of Basqueland, explains by phone. When he moved to Spain, they set their eyes on him from K5, the txakoli winery that Karlos Arguiñano has in Getaria with several partners.

That is the link with Kevin Patricio, chef and co-founder of Basqueland. “I met Kevin in New York because I used to sell Karlos wines at Kevin’s in-laws restaurant“recalls Ben.

With that rumble behind your ear, Ben, Kevin and a third in concord (Ben Matz, the brand’s first brewer) started Basqueland in 2015.

From making beer almost borrowed from his own factory

Basqueland Brewing has won the award for Best Spanish Brewery in the National Beer Championship four times and in 2021 it has won the award for Best Brewery in the World at the Beer Challenge Festival.

“We didn’t make the first beers in the Basque Country because it was very expensive,” he says. “It is a sector that needs a lot of money to start, so before investing we look for a place to do the beer test and then sell that beer and raise capital, “he explains.

Because, the first batches of Basqueland were made in Logroño. Success was almost immediate with a beer style that emulated what the American market put on the map.

IPA (indian pale ale), good hops, good malts and the approval of the craft beer gurus. “The first year we made 150,000 liters and since the local market was not prepared to absorb the offer, we had to go outside, “he explains.

cosmo sutherland basqueland brewing

The Basqueland Brewing team is quite international, not only in its founders. This is the case of Cosmo Sutherland, Scottish and lead brewer of the brand.

It is not that Basqueland is not a prophet in his land. In fact, it is present in most alternative bars and in many of the Michelin stars in the Basque Country, but the explosion was as unexpected as it was sudden.

“When exporting it, it explained that we were building a craft beer factory in San Diego, but in the Basque Country. Same recipes, American malts and hops and better water than in San Diego, yes, “he says with a certain sarcasm.

“They are very fresh beers, easy to drink and we started sending them as samples to outsiders because they were freaking out that something like this was done in Spain, “he says.

London’s big gate

I asked permission to go to the London Craft Beer Festival [uno de los certámenes más aclamados del sector], but they told me that all the stands were already occupied “, continues Rozzi.

“We sent you six cans of Unstoppable [su primera cerveza] and two days later they wrote to us to go because we had a stand there, “he recalls.

“The gateway to the world of craft beers is not a question of money”

It may seem like a Cinderella story, but the gateway in the sector of the craft beer it is not a question of money. “It is difficult to get invited to the big festivals because they always go by invitation, it is not paying a fee to enter, “he warns.

“Them they buy your beer at a lower price per liter than normal and then they give you the opportunity to serve your beer there. That’s where you get the contacts later, “he explains.

Exporting, the temptation of the big brands and the kitchen

Basqueland Izakaia

In the center of Donosti, Basqueland Brewing has a small place where it serves its beers and is accompanied by oriental cuisine: Izakaia.

“We have always struggled to associate beer with gastronomy because sometimes you only think about drinking a beer before eating, but the idea is that it can be in a meal and it pairs well, “he illustrates.

“It is true that our sales volume comes from specialty bars where people who are going to drink more than eat, but also a beer can be next to a wine “, he considers.

For this reason, and with Kevin Patricio by your side, it makes sense that Basqueland, whose factory is in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Hernani, is dare with the kitchen in a small place in the Gros neighborhood, in the heart of Donosti.

“We set up Izakaia to join our point of sale in the best city in the world for gastronomy and our beer taps. We didn’t want to make more pintxos, but to look for opportunities that are not so present in the Basque Country such as Asian cuisine, Chinese cuisine, noodles, ramen, wan tuns … “, he indicates.

As is logical, seeing the boom of Basqueland, it was necessary to ask about the siren songs of the great industry. “Big brands have come to ask us to make a beer for them, but we are very clear that everything we want to do will be from Basqueland“, he synthesizes.

There may be a Basqueland 2.0, with something bigger, that focuses on making more lager, more Unstoppable or more Juice [otro de sus hits], but on a scale that allows us to reach more places “, he concludes.

Where is the limit?

basqueland brewing.

Basqueland started producing 150,000 liters of beer in 2015, although by 2022 they aim to be at 1.1 million liters.

In just six years, Basqueland has won several national awards for the best craft brewery in Spain and 2021 has been a final accolade with the Barcelona Beer Challenge. All this accompanied by some renovation works to produce even more beer.

“In 2021 we will finish with 700,000 liters but the work we have in hand will have a capacity for 1.3 million, although in 2022 we expect to be already at 1.1 million liters “, he indicates about the future.

It may seem like an exaggerated amount and may not sound like a craftsman. If we compare it with a large national brand, which produces more than 1,000 million liters per year, things change.

Generally

Generally, craft beers come in cans -in different formats-, although the most commercial ones are also bottled. This is the case of Unstoppable and Arraun, two of Basqueland’s best sellers, and also of Zumo, which make up the entry range.

In any case, they want that future to pass through the local and the Basque and Spanish customer to know what craft beers, IPAS, dry hopping, HRDs, HRDs and countless other terms behind this booming sector.

We could sell a lot more outside but we have always thought of Basqueland to sell here. When the market was not mature, we had to export, but now we want good beer to stay here as well, “he acknowledges.

In total terms, 65% of its sales depend on the national client, while the other 35% is exported, but he is optimistic about the future of this balance and of a greater importance of the national consumer.

To coexist is to live

basqueland brewing

In its factory on the outskirts of Hernani, Basqueland Brewing has also set up a lively tap room where you can enjoy its beers and music on weekends.

Basqueland enters to compete in a beer niche, but in no case are Taliban from the craft beer. “You can combine craft beers and industrial beers, obviously. If we have a crew that goes to a bar, some can drink IPAs and others drink commercial lagers. For us there is no problem,” he explains.

Nevertheless, their craft beer not only boast of content, but of continent. “Our batches are smaller [de hecho, algunos apenas superan los 3.000 litros]So we can offer more news, another labeling, transmit an image, “he says.

In just six years of life, Basqueland Brewing has produced more than 80 different beers, although the figure has a certain trick.

Reason why their labels depend on Marcos Navarro, a local designer, who has in charge of giving life to the more than 80 beers that Basqueland has brought to the market in its history.

Yes, 80, a fact that can be overwhelming but that Ben Rozzi immediately clarifies. “Many of them only have one print run, we make a deposit and that’s it, because they are session or because we make them with another brand, or for other reasons, but it is also the charm of craft beer “, he indicates.

How to enter the world of IPAs

Basqueland juice

Zumo is another of the great successes of Basqueland Brewing, in this case with a hazy IPA.

In Basqueland they recognize that the craft beer niche has also given rise to certain follies. “Yes, there are examples of beers that have gone to extremes of making them very hoppy or very bitter, but the sector has already been channeled “, believes Ben.

The IBU brand fashion has been left behind (a factor that informs the degree of bitterness of the beer), for example, but we are always going to be dealing with different beers.

Our bases are pale ale, which don’t have a lot of alcohol and not so much hops. In Basqueland, I would start with Aupa, which is the entry range. Perhaps also by Arraun, which are the softest.

In addition, it explains that they are the ones with the least amount of dry hopping (the addition of hops after fermentation in order to obtain more aroma).

Direct to the Paladar Newsletter

Subscribe to receive our recipes, nutrition information and gastronomy news every day.

From there, the natural leap in this beer with Basque American origins it is clear. “I would then go to Unstoppable, which is our West Coast of reference.” It is fresh, has body, a fruity flavor and a great prominence of hops in the mouth and aroma “, he indicates.

If we don’t look so brave recommends the hue of the Juice. “It is similar because it is a HAZY IPA [más turbia, no tan amarga y más presencia de cereal] which is an East Coast style beer, “he clarifies.

Although once you enter your tap room, only the sky is the limit to discover the Basqueland universe.

Images | Basqueland / Tob Strategy

Directly to the Palate | IPA, stout, pale ale … Brief dictionary of the styles of beer that we already find in the supermarket