I'd heard that there were nice parts of it, that it wasn't all Costa del Puke. What I wasn't expecting was for the vast majority of the island to be beautiful, with loads of fantastic historic towns and villages, with the seedier side of British and German holidaymaking confined to a few small strips of coastline. It's a wonderful place.
Admittedly it doesn't start well, when this is what greets you even before passport control:
Spain has some great lagers. They're not finely structured Pilsners. They don't have a delicate nose of grassy, spicy Saaz hops. But they come with a tight, creamy head, and they have flavour - a nice full-bodied sharp sweetness followed by a drying bitter finish. There's substance in the likes of Estrella and Cruzcampo. They're satisfying drinks.
We didn't do much in Port de Pollensa. We read books and sat on terraces along the unspoiled, pine tree-lined pathway along the bay shore, relaxing and gazing at sunsets like this one:
|"Of course they were much better than this on board Europe you know."|
Wary of the airport Carling ad, for the first few days I asked what the beer was whenever I ordered one, and it was always Estrella or Cruzcampo. The latter soon emerged as my favourite, and we gravitated to the bars that served it.
And so I relaxed. And I grew complacent.
On our fourth night we tried a new restaurant, and I just asked for a beer. When it arrived in a Strongbow pint glass, an alarm bell started ringing in my head, but not quickly enough. I took a mouthful of something that was thin and watery, and yet still managed to taste offensive - overly sweet and cloying, like watered down Cresta soda.
"That's Fosters," I spluttered, to an eye-rolling Beer Widow.
The thing is, I can actually drink Carling. If you haven't yet had a beer that day, so your palate hasn't yet been woken to the flavour profile it expects, Carling is merely bland. It's unremarkable but inoffensive, like a sense memory of a decent beer that you almost evoke, but not quite. Whereas Foster's is one of those special beers that manages to be bland and actively taste foul at the same time. I've never been able to understand how they do that.
But that wasn't the worst part.
The worst part was that later, when I went inside to the loo. I walked past the bar and saw that there were two draught beer fonts: Fosters (so I had identified it correctly - get me) and next to it, Cruzcampo.
My heart sank. Because this meant that when I'd ordered my Cerveza with a heavy English accent, the waiter hadn't even bothered to explain that there was a choice of beers, and ask me which I would like. He'd simply heard my accent, and assumed that I would be a Foster's drinker. I was English. Therefore I would want the shit, English beer rather than the halfway decent Spanish one. He knew this. He didn't even have to ask.
When I wrote about Chodovar I wondered why we Brits actively choose to drink shit quality lager. I pointed out that well made lagers were no more challenging or difficult to get into, no less fizzy or refreshing. They were just nicer. Now, more depressing than that, we actually insist on taking our inferior beer abroad with us, and drinking it when there is a much nicer beer waiting there for us. I'm sure it costs more to buy Foster's in Spain than Cruzcampo, and there's simply no comparison between them. Depressing.
To cheer myself up, we went to the offie. I was hoping to find a decent Fino or Madeira. I failed, but we found something much better - the two best spirits brands I've ever seen.
First up, here's Capitan Huk rum:
|I've no idea who makes this. I'm guessing it's not Diageo.|
This is one of the best brands I have ever seen in my life. I can imagine the meeting that gave birth to it. Translated from the Spanish, it went roughly as follows:
"OK, so we're going to launch a rum. How should we brand it?"
"Well, the history of rum is tied inextricably with the British navy. If we're going to sell this to holiday-making Brits, that would be a good association to evoke. They're always wearing England shirts and that, so if we create a sort of naval ensign flag that combines the Union Jack and the St George's Cross we're onto a winner!"
"Brilliant! Let's do it! So who shall we get to draw the label then?"
"How about my eight year old son?"
"Brilliant! Does he know what the Union Jack looks like?"
"OK, but given that we're investing a sizeable amount of money in launching a new brand, should we at least perhaps give him some visual reference so he gets it at least partly accurate?"
"No, fuck it, I'll just describe vaguely what a Union Jack looks like, and then invest several thousand Euros in printing up the first thing he comes up with."
"OK, cool. So what about a name? Something English and naval..."
"How about Captain Hook?"
"Wasn't he a pirate in a children's story, and therefore both fictitious and absolutely nothing to do with the British navy?"
"Ok, works for me."
But Capitan Huk was not the best brand in that offie. Oh no. The best brand, high on the top shelf, out of reach without the use of a stepladder, was this muscular bad boy:
|It says 'Viking Ship' on the bottom. In case you don't know what the drawing is.|
The very concept of a 'cognac of Vikings' is wrong in so many different multi-layered ways, the person who dreamed it up can only be genius.
Every single part of the execution of that concept reinforces the original wrong-headedness of it.
The random inclusion of 'fine champagne' just to reinforce the quality cues.
Labelling it with 'Viking Ship' like a child would label his drawing.
'Le Cognac des Vikings.'
I'm in mourning that I didn't go out and get a stepladder and buy this, just so I could look at it every day when I needed to smile.
Anyway we had a great holiday, even if we did have to fly Ryanair. At the airport on the way home we, along with a long, snaking queue of other budget holiday makers, used unstaffed check-in desks to weigh our bags and repack them to stay within the airline's draconian baggage weight restrictions. Here and there, items were discarded. And in one waste bin, about half an hour's queuing away from the one check-in desk Ryanair deigned to open, we saw this:
Did its owner intend to take it home then change her mind? Or did it symbolise her holiday, and was she clinging to that holiday till the last possible second?
Did she think "Oh I can't be arsed to take this on board now I think about it," or did she think, "I can't bear to part with you, and all that you represent. But I must. For tomorrow I have to go back up Tesco's."
The tanlines fade. But the pint of Carling will always be there for us.