If I had to point out a key moment of my immersion in the universe of craft beer, I would probably choose the day I decided to get a higher beer education and I enrolled in the Specialization Courses in Craft Beer and Microbreweries taught by the University of Alicante. This was in 2015.
In addition to the knowledge acquired, one of the greatest lessons I learned from these courses was the simplicity and closeness of the excellent professionals behind both the faculty and the students, and the contagious passion that this drink usually causes to all those who approach it.
Raúl Tejerina is the co-director of these courses, and therefore, one of the main people responsible for the success of a pioneering educational project in Spain that today has a presence in nine countries.
If this were the prologue of a book dedicated to him, it would begin something like this: Graduate in Chemistry, he decided to turn his life around, abandoning his research career in science and materials engineering to devote himself to other tasks. But Raúl, unlike the legendary Walter White (Breaking Bad), instead of buying a caravan and planting it in the middle of the desert, opted to invest his academic and professional experience in a much more legitimate adventure, specifically in shaping a university education specialized for professionals in the beer sector.
I was lucky to meet him again during the celebration of the past Barcelona Beer Festival, an ideal setting to talk about life and toast with beer, and that also served as an precursor for this interesting new interview of the POURTRAITS series, that we all now have the privilege of enjoying in C R A F T E D. Thank you very much Raúl!
Ø: Many people know you for your duties as coordinator and alma mater of the Specialization courses in craft beer and microbreweries of the University of Alicante, but as a first question, I would like to ask the beer enthusiast inside you that one day decided to abandon his research career in science and materials engineering, and launch into the fascinating adventure of craft beer.
Where and when do you think that the first "beer seed" was planted that eventually germinated and, in some way, marked a before and after in your life?
Raúl: Well, I remember very well the moment and the place: it was in 2005 in Newcastle upon Tyne (England) where I was doing an Erasmus semester. I went to a traditional pub to drink beer and I asked for a Newcastle ... My classmates looked at me with surprise, canceled the order and ordered me a local ale, which was more bitter than I had ever tasted before, and at first it was hard for me to understand it.
It was my first beer away from the traditional market in Spain (industrial lagers and Belgian beer), and in the conversation that followed in that bar, I also learned for the first time about the possibility of brewing beer at home. From that moment I began to be interested in drinking more for variety and quality than for volume.
Ø: I imagine that of all the countries that you have visited and / or in which you have lived, you have been bringing great memories and fantastic experiences related to beer. But can you tell us a special place that has marked you specifically?
Raúl: Well, my second big "beer revelation" was during another stay abroad, this time in the US, where in 2010 the "craft beer revolution" had already taken all the bars in New York and the rest of the East Coast. I fell in love with the West Coast IPAs that were so fashionable, fresh, tasty, bitter ... Again I have to thank my colleagues who showed me what they considered the best examples of each style.
Ø: There is no doubt that since you started the courses, the craft beer sector in Spain has grown significantly and that each day greater importance is given to having specialized, quality education. But the truth is that at the time, you were practically pioneers in the Spanish-speaking academic field.
During the planning of the courses, and looking back, were you really convinced that offering superior education in craft beer in Spanish would end up being consolidated in the way that it has?
Raúl: It is true that when we presented the courses, there was practically no trainings aimed specifically at the microbrewery field. We like to think, and on some occasions we have been told, that we have contributed with our grain of sand to the technological growth of the sector.
For me that represented a leap into the void in my professional career, and answering your question, the truth is that we were not sure if it would be prosperous, but we were driven by the thrill of it and you know that this can often cloud good judgement.
Year after year we see the number of enrollments, which reflects the perception of how essential it is to educate yourself.
Pioneers in the Spanish-speaking academic field
“We like to think, and on some occasions we have been told, that we have contributed a grain of sand to the technological growth of the sector.”
Ø: Currently you have several courses, which cover practically the entire spectrum of the industry, how many editions does each of them have and how has the profile of the students who decided to study them evolved from when you began?
Raúl: The initial educational offer was made up of two courses, "Technical bases of brewing" and "Microbrewery as a business model", of which in September 2019 we will start the sixth edition. The first deals with aspects exclusively related to the development (ingredients, process, finished product), while the second is aimed at entrepreneurs who need to know "a little of everything" when opening their microbrewery, and covers aspects such as industrial hygiene, marketing, equipment design, special taxes, etc.
Advancing in these five editions here in Spain we have seen how the initial profiles of the students, who were mostly enthusiastic home brewers and professionals with their own breweries, has been changing towards the profile of brewery staff. Now the companies that have grown during the years need qualified personnel to continue advancing in their projects; and not only in the brewing process, but who also need help in aspects such as the (exhausting) relationship with administration, with the treasury, health department ...
However, in some Latin American countries where the "craft beer revolution" has begun a few years later we still see the profile of an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is eager to start his business.
Having such a dispersion of profiles of students, and of so many different countries, means that in each live class there is an interesting exchange of ideas and that serves as a think-tank for all attendees (including teachers).
Ø: Besides educating about beer, you have been and still are an international judge in a multitude of championships and contests. In your opinion (keeping in mind that in addition to having specialized training and qualification in tasting you are a Chemistry graduate) what is the most important thing to keep in mind when evaluating a beer within the framework of a competition?
Raúl: Well, I think it's important to approach each beer without prejudice, leaving aside personal preferences and taking into account the judgments of the rest of the judges at the table. From the personal point of view you learn a lot by sharing with the rest of the judges who attend these types of events.
And there is one thing that is fundamental for me: what you transmit to the brewer who will receive your evaluation sheet must always be respectful and have a constructive spirit; it is about offering suggestions that could improve the quality of that particular batch that we are tasting... Don’t forget that reproducibility remains one of the pending issues in many microbreweries.
Ø: The previous question inevitably leads me to the following: From 1 to 10, what grade would you give to national craft beers?
Raúl: After visiting many countries and having judged a large number of beers, I can affirm that the Spanish microbreweries are doing an exceptional job. I am comparing in particular with America, which is where I have been mostly traveling during these last few years, and I include the USA: there are beers from Spanish microbreweries that have won medals, winning against great American icons, and that is a sign of their quality.
So, if you ask me for the numerical note, we will give them a 9 for the brewers to continue with their spirit of improvement and improvement.
Ø: Because the specialization courses in craft beer and microbreweries at the University of Alicante are present in nine countries, you tend to travel quite regularly and, therefore, you have had the opportunity to know first hand what the situation of the sector is in multiple beer landscapes. Can you tell us which is the scene that has surprised you most - positively - lately?
Raúl: Well, from the countries that I have visited lately, I was surprised by the craft scene in Argentina, which is precisely one of the countries in which the brewers have shown a greater interest in training, and that despite being such a vast country, reflects national identity when consuming beers. Also the Argentinian brewers I know are tremendously passionate about what they do, and that also shows in the beer.
This passion is also seen in other countries with a lower percentage of craft beer sales, where resources and ingredients are scarce but where great imagination and use of local products is pronounced... All of Latin America has an enviable gastronomic and natural potential; we will certainly hear great news from Latin American breweries in the coming years.
Ø: I know you're passionate about hops, so the next question is directly related to two variants of the Indian Pale Ale style. If you had to choose one: West Coast IPA or New England IPA?
Raúl: There’s no doubt: I definitely prefer the cleanliness (visually and in taste / aroma) of the traditional West Coast IPAs ... I can recognize the merit of the NEIPAs, but they have an intrinsic characteristic to the style that makes them "less preferred", and is related to the texture and mouth feel of these beers.
Also, as you say, I'm passionate about hops and I like it in all its expressions in beer; the Neipas aren’t particularly bitter, and I think that a good bitterness is very pleasant and necessary to properly balance a beer.
Ø: Finally, and briefly because I am aware of the complexity involved in answering this question. What is, in your opinion, the main challenge professionals have to face in the craft beer sector in our country at a time when, although there are signs of a certain maturity, every day alliances and acquisitions carried out by large industrial breweries seeking to make a place in the craft segment increase?
Raúl: Well, yes, it is difficult to answer this question in a concise way. Although it is the most talked about subject lately, the acquisitions of microbreweries by the macrobreweries do not seem so relevant to me. There are still more than 500 Spanish microbreweries that work independently, growing each one at their own pace, and I believe that each brewer, whether macro, micro or invested, will have its place in a market that is gaining more and more followers.
The main challenges? You have to know how to grow without losing the essence of quality and innovation that has characterized the microbrewery movement. We must continue working on the stabilization of beers, to be able to guarantee transport with minimal impact on the product. And we must continue to communicate the virtues of our beers to more consumers in order to grow the sector.