Palma Diary – Feb/Mar, 2019
An Englishman abroad in spring, 2019
Day 1 – Saturday
Although the purpose of this trip is research for a forthcoming book about local craft beers, I know full well that one cannot go to Mallorca without people insisting it must be a holiday, so I’ve largely given up protesting. At least people on the island are taking it seriously.
We land on time and I get checked in to Hostal Pons for about 10pm, so there’s time to nip out for an hour or so. I have a quick beer at Plaça Drassana and then call in Bar Dia on Carrer dels Apuntadors. Out of the many bars and restaurants in the area, it’s one of the very few that cater mainly for locals as opposed to tourists and is always busy. I find a seat at the bar and enjoy a glass of red wine and some tasty mixed croquettes. Back to the hotel for a reasonably early start tomorrow.
Day 2 – Sunday
It’s Sa Cerviseria in Cala Ratjada today – right on the east coast of the island and about as far from Palma as it’s possible to go, but still only about an hour and a half! The bus to Manacor leaves at 10.15 and the bus for Cala Ratjada is waiting there at the other side of the road.
It’s a pleasant journey and I’m enjoying the view when the bus comes to a halt. I fear it’s broken down, but it turns out it’s waiting for a cycle race and after about fifteen minutes, we move on and arrive at our destination. The bar is supposed to be nearby, but I can’t see any sign of it. I ask for directions at a shop and find it tucked away down a side street.
I receive a warm welcome from Catalina and Rafel, who shows me round the tiny brewhouse. He produces twenty different beers and has six on tap at any one time. They are available in a tasting selection and range from a 5% Golden Ale to an 11% Imperial Stout and they are all really good.
I enjoy a platter of his mum’s camaiot (a Mallorcan sausage) with melted cheese as an accompaniment. Rafel speaks perfect English and tells me about the Mallorcan craft beer scene, including news that five of the breweries on my list have closed down.
I wander into the town and go to have a look at the Mediterranean washing in over some rocks, but resisting the temptation to make like a tourist, I eventually find the bus stop and head back. This time I take the train from Manacor and the ticket machine does me out of five euros.
Back in Palma it’s a lovely evening and, strolling down Las Ramblas, I notice that Al Punt is still offering a Menu del Dia. It’s a homely looking place tucked away from the road, so I decide to go in. I have paella followed by grilled bream and flan, with a glass of red wine. All for €14, which isn’t bad for the centre of Palma. Opposite are two family groups with a baby and two toddlers running around and it’s quite noisy. At home, I’d probably think this behaviour was remiss, but here it’s perfectly normal and acceptable, and I delight in the company.
Day 3 – Monday
Today I’m off to Puigpunyent to visit Cas Cerveser. I get to the bus station in good time, but there is no sign of the bus on the listings, so I go back to the information point and she says it should definitely be there. I go back and confirm it is not listed. I ask a bus driver and he points to a minibus which is about to leave. I hop on just in time, but there’s no explanation as to why it’s not on the departure board. No matter, we’re off on a journey through picturesque forests and mountains to the pretty inland town of Puigpunyent.
It’s a bit of an uphill walk to the brewery, but Sebastián is waiting for me and what could be better right now than a nice cold beer? Well, three or four is the answer to that! Whilst trying the different beers, we talk at some length about the history of the brewery and his plans for the future. Sebastián shows me a shortcut back to the centre and it’s a lovely walk in the pleasant spring sunshine. I’ve plenty of time for lunch before the next bus, so I call in La Vila and have vegetable soup, pork fillet with cream, mushrooms and rice, and Mallorcan pudding (a kind of sweet bread pudding made with ensaimada). Simple, but good.
Back on the little bus to Palma. I tell them at the station about the five euros in Manacor and, after filling in a short form, I get a refund. I feel like a bit of a cheapskate, but hey, five euros is a couple of beers!
I wander down to Santa Catalina in search of Del Món Beer Shop which is supposed to be near the market at Plaça de la Navegació, but nobody has heard of the place. Then somebody suddenly realises that it’s where we are, but nobody calls it that – they just say market square! I turn the corner and there it is. This place is where Mallorca Craft Beers used to brew before closing down in 2017 and amazingly, I find one of their beers on a shelf, so I buy that together with two from another brewery – Talaiòtika – which closed recently.
Back at the hotel I photograph, then try, the beers. They’re ok, but a long time on a warm shelf hasn’t done them any favours. I freshen up, then head out to Ombu, at the foot of the Born. I’ve had morning coffee here a few times, but it’s the first time I’ve thought about dinner.
It’s really nice and atmospheric inside, much bigger than it looks from the outside, and even has an upstairs. From a large and interesting menu, I choose mini cornet filled with tuna, wasabi and apple sour, Mallorcan-style squid croquette with kaffir lime and lemongrass mayonnaise, patatas bravas with sobrasada foam and charcoal aioli, and foie gras yogurt with brioche and sweet wine, accompanied by a glass of Macià Batle Añada and a bottle of water. Finishing with a carajillo and a hierbas, this fantastic meal, in the heart of Palma, comes to just €36. I cannot fault the food, the presentation or the service and I shall definitely be coming here again.
Day 4 – Tuesday
I take the mid-morning train to Alaró to visit Sven and his English assistant Tristan at Forastera. They are preparing a new mobile bar for the fiesta in Palma at the weekend and we discuss developments at the brewery since my last visit. Sven shows me a new beer called Sa Roqueta – Mallorquin for “Little Rock”, which is what the Mallorcans fondly call the island (so do I, but that’s just being a poseur). He also tells me about a new “brew guy” in Llubi, so ‘phones him and, despite my reservations, leaves a message that I am keen to meet him.
Sven has some errands to run, so I wander into the little town square and have a nice pa amb oli for lunch. Whilst there, the brew guy, who turns out to be Eduardo, telephones and sounds very friendly. I tell him that I will try to make it to see him, but in reality, I am doubtful that I’ll manage it. On my return, Sven isn’t back yet so I accompany Tristan to their house, a short distance away. When Sven returns with his daughter Sofia, they have lunch on the roof terrace, with wonderful views. Envious? Oh, yes.
Sven gives me a lift back to Palma and Sofia comes with us. She’s only four years old and can understand Spanish, Catalan, German, and English!
In the evening, I go to Beer Lovers Bar and Restaurant. The brewery itself is in Alcudia, but last year they opened these premises in Palma. They have two or three of their own beers on tap, plus a large selection of international draught and bottled beers. I am just sampling my second when I am joined by a really friendly Welsh couple. We have a good old chinwag and I add beer aficionado to my tour guide credentials. After a few drinks, they leave and I take a table for dinner. I go for the pork cheeks marinated in stout and stuffed with goat’s cheese, served on a bed of mashed potato. It’s very good and, having had enough beer, I try a glass of Muac! from Terra de Falanis, which works really well.
Day 5 – Wednesday
Wednesday, and it’s always good to have an excuse, if one were needed, to visit Sineu on market day. However, today’s reason isn’t to browse stalls or pet mules, but to visit the comparatively new Món brewery. It’s set just back from the square, which means not only is it easy for me to find, but they get quite a good trade from visitors to the market.
Pelayo serves me their three beers, a blonde, a red and an IPA and they are very good. I take some photos and then, after a token look round the market, decide to go for the train. I’ve realised that if I get off at Inca, I can get a taxi to Llubi.
There is a taxi waiting at the station in Inca and after the short drive to Llubi, he drops me off outside Eduardo’s restaurant, Brut. There is nobody around, so I telephone to find they are having lunch at S’Acústic, a short distance away and I am invited to join them. We have a convivial meal of sole with chips and salad and when I offer to pay, Edu won’t hear of it and says I’m his guest. How kind. As we are preparing to leave, a middle-aged lady says she thought she’d heard English being spoken and we explain who we are. “Oh”, she says, “I thought you must have taken a wrong turn and ended up in Llubi. It happened to me thirty years ago and I’m still here!”.
Edu, his two chefs and I return to Brut. It is quite a large space, but only seats twelve and has an open kitchen at the rear, where Edu and the team are prepping for the evening’s service. The little brewery is off to the right and a blackboard on the back wall proclaims today’s beers, of which there are ten with incredible combinations including one with grapes from a local vineyard, another based on turrón with honey and almonds, and a coconut imperial stout. Some favourites will return, whereas others are one-offs. As his food is innovative and constantly changing, so it is with the beers. I try all ten, but only tasters – I’m not having ten pints! Sometimes, people come up with crazy combinations just for the sake of it, but these are all thought out and really work. I am so pleased that I made the effort to come here and not just dismiss it as some restaurant that had decided to brew a nondescript house beer as a novelty.
Edu is originally from Argentina and moved to Madrid to open a brewery called Monsieur Gordo, before moving to Mallorca a couple of years ago. As a parting gift, he gives me a bottle of his original 13% Dulce de Leche Imperial Stout. I find the bus stop a short distance away, just in time to catch the bus back to Palma.
On the way from the station to the hotel, I pop in to La Rosa Vermutería for a vermouth and sit on a high stool in the white-tiled bar. I had noticed that one of my favourite restaurants, Gaudeix, happily only a hundred yards from the hotel, has opened early from its winter break, so I think it beckons for dinner. When I arrive it’s busy as always, but in any case, I like to sit at the bar and order my tapas one at a time, so I manage to grab a seat and have a look at the blackboard.
I begin with scallop with pumpkin cream and a glass of 3030 local wine* and then move on to cod with black cheese cream and free-range egg with sobrassada, finishing with Iberian pork fillet with shallots in port wine. A hierbas dulce and a black coffee to round off the meal. All superb as usual and a five-minute walk back to the hotel. All in all, a pretty good day.
*The waiter showed me the label on the bottle, but I can’t find a reference to it anywhere.
Day 6 – Thursday
Today I’m going to Sóller. The Sullerica brewery does tastings on Fridays, but they’re closed tomorrow as it’s a fiesta, so I’m going to pay them a visit today. During the season, the old wooden train meanders from Palma to Sóller, but the bus is quicker and cheaper, and the scenery is nearly as spectacular.
The brewery turns out to be just around the corner from the bus station and I am welcomed by Maria, who shows me around and tells me a little of their history whilst I take some photos. I return to the bus station and have a coffee in the café next door while I wait for the bus back to Palma.
Tomorrow is the National Day of the Balearics, a public holiday. It’s hardly known about outside the islands, but it’s a big event here and the fiesta in Palma begins today and lasts until Sunday. I wander down through Plaça de la Drassana to take a look and there are rows of stalls in either direction as far as the eye can see. To the left, they continue on both sides of Avenida de Antoni Maura and through Parc de la Mar, opposite the cathedral, where I find that Marta from Forastera has a stall. I stop for a drink and a chat and she tells me that Sven is over on the other side with the rest of the brewers.
I stroll down Paseo de Sagrera, parallel with the seafront, and sure enough, further down is a row of brewery stalls – Cas Cerveser, Forastera, Món, 4 Alqueries, Ralf, Toutatis, and Sa Cerviseria.
After a few hellos and a couple of beers, I make my way up to Parc sa Feixina, a large open space with fountains, which is normally quite tranquil but today is packed with food and drink stalls and a stage has been set up at the bottom of the square.
I have a roast pork sandwich with thick rustic bread and then browse the stalls, stopping for a couple of montaditos and a glass of red wine. As I head back down to the square, it’s getting dark and a band is starting to perform. They’re knocking out some old school rock and blues and I find my foot tapping, when I suddenly realise it’s the Pa amb Oli Band, whom I’d wanted to see for a long time. The front man is David Templeton, the artist, and the bass player is Tomás Graves. You can be forgiven for not being familiar with Tomás, but his father was the prolific author and poet Robert Graves, possibly best known for I, Claudius. Whilst Tomás has only written three books, he still ranks as one of my favourite authors and I am thrilled to meet and talk with him after the gig. On the way back, I excitedly tell Marta, Sven and Tristan and they understandably look somewhat bemused.
Day 7 – Friday
As it’s the main day of the fiesta today, I elect to stay in Palma. The hotel is only a few minutes’ walk from the main festivities, so It’s really handy. It’s a little overcast and nippy first thing so I pop up the Born for a comforting ensaimada with hot chocolate. I’ve decided to bring the camera out early so that I can take it back to the hotel and then wander about unencumbered later on. As I walk down to the front, I realise I’ve made a mistake. It is absolutely heaving and one can only shuffle along with the crowd. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen so many people in one place and I can’t help reflecting that there must be some villages on the island that are completely empty. I finally reach the brewery section, but it’s impossible to take any decent photos, so I begin to work my way back. I’m just in time to see the giant peasants (or peasant giants – stilt walkers) and I manage to get a few snaps.
I finally get back to the hotel, dump the camera and set off back. It’s still not particularly pleasant in the crowds, but at least I don’t have to fret about the security of the camera. I’ve still got my ‘phone if there’s anything of which I want to take a quick picture.
I work my way up to the square, pausing to talk to some of the brewers on the way, and discover it has been the World Pa amb Oli Championships and the winner and runner-up have stalls at either side of the stage. Pa amb Oli means bread and oil and at its simplest, that’s what it is, but in Mallorca it’s much, much more. It’s not just a popular dish, but has become something of a cultural icon. Indeed, the aforementioned Tomás Graves has written a very informative and entertaining book on the subject.
It’s usually made with the dense local country bread, then rubbed with garlic and scrubbed with tomato (preferably the ramellet or hanging tomato) and doused with olive oil (or the other way round; a fierce debate surrounds this) and sprinkled with a little sea-salt. It is frequently topped with ham and cheese and served with olives and pickles.
Here’s where it gets interesting: over time, bars and restaurants have vied with each other for the most interesting topping or accompaniment – far too many to recount here – and hence the reason for the contest. And so, the queue is shorter for the runner up, so I wait with suitable anticipation. I am not disappointed – it’s deep-fried cod with red pepper and a sweet tomato sauce over pa amb oli, by the restaurant Es Llogaret. Sounds a little odd admittedly, but it’s delicious.
The winner is actually from Ibiza. Can Alfredo’s offering is topped with cheese and peix sec, a type of dried fish from Formentera. I try this one a little later and it’s definitely innovative and it is good, but personally I prefer the one from Es Llogaret.
It’s thinned out a bit now, so I walk back to the brewery section and try a beer from Pere at 4Alqueries. He is what’s known as a gypsy brewer – he doesn’t have his own brewery, but has his recipe produced elsewhere, currently at Sullerica. His products include the island’s first organic beers.
I wander down towards the cathedral idly gazing at the multitude of vendors, then decide to have a glass of red wine at La Drassana before turning in for the night.
Day 8 – Saturday
Today, it’s Toutatis at Cas Canar, a small hamlet near the town of Sencelles. Michel, the owner, had suggested I take a taxi from Inca, but as it’s a lovely day I think I’ll get the bus to Sencelles and then walk the couple of miles to Cas Canar.
It all goes according to plan, but when I arrive, Michel has just left. I can see the brewery anyway as it’s at the side of the bar, behind glass. The place is much smaller than it looks on the website and it’s hard to imagine it full with live music. I sit down and try the beers, which are all based on Belgian recipes.
I take some more photos outside. The place is an old finca in a glorious setting in open countryside. I stroll back to Sencelles and wait in the local café for the bus back to Palma.
It’s mid-afternoon now and I realise I am a tad peckish, so I stop off at Al Punt again. This time I have clams and fideos – a type of noodle paella. A little later I head back down to the festival. I’d had my eye on a particular local rice dish, but I really can’t manage it, so reluctantly I give it a miss. I finally bid farewell to Sebastián, who kindly insists I have one for the road, Sven, Tristan, and Pelayo and amble down to Antoni Maura, where I stop for a refreshing gin and tonic. I didn’t even know that Mallorca had local gins, but these days I suppose it’s not surprising.
I always like to squeeze as much as I can out of my last night, but there really isn’t anything else to do and I have to pack and get the 7.45 bus in the morning, so I wend my way back to the hotel.
Day 9 – Sunday
Up early and packed, it’s only a ten-minute walk to the bus stop for the airport. A leisurely coffee and the plane is on time. We land in Manchester and, of course it’s raining. I pick up the car and drive home without any hold-ups. In some ways it’s good to be back, but as usual I miss the little rock.
All the breweries will be featured in my new book, The Beers of Mallorca. You can get updates by signing up to the newsletter at