The protagonist of this new POURTRAITS edition is Alex Lazarowicz, founder and alma mater (together with his partner and friend Dimi) of one of the most genuine and inspiring projects in the Sant Antoni neighborhood: Barna-Brew brewpub.
Little would this London student of International Relations know that the year he decided to go to Brussels to carry out his internship, as well as meeting the Catalan woman who would end up becoming his girlfriend, he would sow the seed of an exciting life project. Proof of this is that after returning to London to finish the last year of his studies and completing a master's degree, Alex felt the urgent need to return to step on Belgian soil, where he ended up living for six more years, occupying various positions in institutions and organizations of the European Union.
But his most enterprising vision, however, was taking shape away from the diplomatic sphere. Motivated and amazed by the country's beer culture, Alex began to study and brew beers inspired by Belgian styles. This also allowed him to establish contacts within the sector. And then it was time to take the next step: set up his own brewpub.
Luckily for us, the place Alex chose to achieve his dream was Barcelona, and best of all, despite the maturity and clarity he conveys when talking about his project, this fascinating Belgian-Catalan beer adventure has only just begun!
Ø: A few years ago you settled in Barcelona, but before that you left your city, London, to move to Belgium for six years. At what point did you realize that your destiny was to dedicate yourself, your body and soul, to brewing quality beer?
Alex: During my spare time drinking Belgian beer :) For me what was incredible was that I could try something different every day in normal bars so every day was a discovery. Apart from that there is always the personal journey- wanting to work on something real and tangible, thinking you have some good ideas for beers, seeing that the Barcelona craft scene was starting to develop
Ø: There is no doubt that beer in the UK, besides having a long history, has strong social and cultural roots. But in your case, the passion didn’t surge until you moved to a country where the brewing tradition has since 2016 been recognized an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. What do Belgian beers have that make them so unique and respected?
Alex: It seems crazy now, but when I left the UK 12 years ago there was quite a bleak choice in my opinion: watery industrial lagers that my peers would force me to drink by the pint, or warm, flat and bland ales. Of course the ale history in the UK is strong, and I now have a lot more respect for it, but it never excited me in those days.
Arriving in Belgium back then I was struck by how apart from the sheer variety, that the Belgians treated it with the respect reserved for wine in other countries. I love the depth of flavour, the added ingredients and the fact they always manage to pull off a balanced tasting beer no matter the style/strength/ingredient added.
Ø: The opening of Barna-Brew brewpub in Sant Antoni took place in March 2017, but long before that you were already brewing beers from your own recipes in places like Brouwerij Anders! or More Malta. How do you remember that first stage and when did you decide that it was time to take the next step and start brewing in your own facilities?
Alex :As anyone who has done such works before, they take a lot longer than you imagine, and especially in my case as someone who had never overseen such a project.
So although there seems a gap between our first beers at Brouwerij Anders! in 2014 and 2017, we always had the idea to open a brewery here. We saw our Anders experience as a testing ground for our ideas, and how the market would react. As we had both the amazing response from festivals and markets we participated in, as well as winning the the gold medal for the Moreneta Blonde at the Brussels Beer Challenge in 2014, that gave us the impetus to go forward and set up our own brewery.
After that began the long story of finding the right location, financing and ordering equipment, and doing the works.
Ø: Barna-Brew has its perfectly defined leitmotif, which in my opinion is a strength that sets it apart from other proposals and increases its brand value: modern beers inspired by Belgian styles intimately connected to the local Catalan tradition. Although, on the other hand, a few months ago you launched the SantonIPA, a NEIPA in collaboration with Ratpenat Cervecers inspired by the popular American style. Do you think that the key to the success of any brewer lies in maintaining the balance between a recognizable and clearly identifiable line of beers without refusing to explore other proposals or styles that can be considered more trendy?
Thanks for the compliment! We will always stick to our idea of Belgian style beers with a local Catalan twist - and our Moreneta series with the Blanche, Blonde and Brune will be sacred, and which we hope to distribute in bottles in the future - but obviously you have to listen to your clients, and always look to innovate.
For example, we already had our dry-hopped Moreneta Blonde on the menu, and many people looking for a hoppy beer were loving it, but the amount of people asking for an “IPA” became so much we made one and called it “Ceci N’Est Pas Une IPA”, staying true to our Belgian surrealist traditions :) In general I think that the variety of styles Belgium has to offer will never limit us, and on top of that new styles get invented (A Belgian IPA did not exist as a concept say 5 years ago).
Our SantonIPA was a great opportunity to work with Albert from Ratpenat who has strong links to our Sant Antoni neighbourhood. We even managed to add an ingredient which Belgians always love to do, in this case being lemon peel.
As for what is the key to success, well we are happy with doing things this way, but that is not the only way- some breweries focus on having novelties constantly, and others have recognisable ranges which now they try to complement with trendy beers, and others have trendy beers and now introduce ranges of more accessible beers.
Ø: When you enter your premises, you immediately feel a mixture of tradition and modernity that infuses the character of the city of Barcelona and fits perfectly with your concept. Moreover, you are located in one of the most lively and fashionable streets of the Sant Antoni neighborhood. Do you think that somehow, for better or for worse, the fact of being separated from the area of Beerxample (where most of the city’s beergeeks tend to congregate) has any kind of influence in your project?
Alex: Well when we found our property Beerxample was basically Biercab and Garage, and it has now exploded even more. I think there would be gains to be had being in such a beer hub, but equally seeing some places struggle and shut down, maybe the area has reached its ceiling.
Equally, we are still part of the Eixample district and walking distance from there, so we do not feel too far away. It is nice to feel part of a neighbourhood like Sant Antoni, which still has a nice feeling of barri unlike further up in Eixample.
Ø: Let's talk about your award-winning beers. Apart from the classic Pils Parlament, and the different varieties of the Moreneta (Blanche, Brune and Rossa), you also brew seasonal or special beers such as La Fumée, WinterTonka or even the SantonIPA that was mentioned earlier. Of all these beers, if you had to choose one: which of them is, in your opinion, the one that in some way by its nature would best define the essence of the Barna-Brew project and for what reason?
Alex: I would say the Moreneta Blonde (Rossa). It has been the start (made first together with the Blanca), hope (award-winning) and continues to be the star at our brewpub (our best seller and favourite of mine). It has everything we look for in a beer of ours: a classic Belgian style, made modern (dry-hopping), with a local twist (orange-blossom honey from El Perelló) which gives it a beautiful balance (key Belgian characteristic in my opinion) and drinkability for the local climate.
Ø: Besides Barna-Brew, what other place - or places - in Barcelona would you bring a friend who is visiting Barcelona for the first time and who asks you to show him the city's craft beer scene?
Alex: I will choose one from each of our neighbouring districts: Biercab because if you are a beer lover you will always find something great there, and it has great food. Brewpub Le Sec for a great vibe- love the authenticity.
Ø: Taking advantage of your expertise and knowledge about Belgian beers, I would like you to name three beers - classic or more modern - that have really marked you and that any lover of good beer has to try.
Alex: Only 3!? On arrival in Belgium, my first love was the ORVAL beer. I just felt there was nothing I could compare it to from all the previous beers I had had. Although I have my share of dark beers that I loved to snuggle up to on cold winter nights, I feel trying the OMER was a breakthrough for me in terms of blonde ales- fresh but with depth. Finally it would have to be the ZINNEBIR from Brasserie de la Senne. The beer that started the new-wave Belgian beers, and started using more hops. Any time I wanted something that bit fresher I went for the Zinnebir. Very unique beer in my view.
Ø: If you had to choose a style, which would you choose: ¿IPA, Belgian IPA or American IPA?
Alex: Obviously Belgian IPA! As I have said, Belgian mastery for me is in finding the balance- everyone loves the freshness of hops, but they are best when balanced against the malt.
Ø: Finally: will we soon see any Barna-Brew beers in a bottle - or canned -?
Alex: For sure! We are working on having the 3 Morenetas in bottle next year, and we would love to make the SantonIPA in cans! Watch this space :)
Barna-Brew. Calle Parlament, 45, 08015 Barcelona