So what did I think of Malta overall, in terms of beery diversity? Not much change since the last time, if I’m honest. The giant that is Farson’s is still dominating and monopolising what is on sale to the public. I reckon they will continue to do so for a good long while. As I mentioned, they’ve even positioned themselves in a, fairly conservative, craftsploiting (acknowledgements to Boak & Bailey who inspired this term) niche with their higher ABV Double Red, IPA and bulked up Blue Label, complete with upgraded prices to match. Am I concerned here? About the prices … Yes, about the direction … No. Will they ever go into real ale … Cask? Never, it’s not the climate for it. Bottle conditioned? Maybe, lets wait and see.
Why do I say that? Have I got some insight? No, just a feeling because there are signs of a bit of a beer revolution going on in the Maltese islands.
At risk of sounding like Lloyd Grossman, lets look at the clues … There is already a history of strong links with the UK and with UK culture, particularly beer and football. You can go into British style, Maltese owned pubs that have endured for some considerable time, long after Maltese independence. Maltese blokes still go out drink British style pale ales, as well as local lagers. They also drink at home, and again there’s another similarity €6.54 for six 500ml cans in a supermarket against €3 a pint for Cisk in a pub!
Then, there’s the excellent Lord Chambray start up on Gozo. Professional set up, there seems plenty of financial clout behind it, two years on and they haven’t quite cracked it, but their beers are spot on. I’d love to see their products on every bar next time ago, on draught at a reasonable price instead of an overpriced bottle option.
Next we’ve got the first Brewpub on the islands Again, a very professional set up and money seems to be no option. I don’t see Ukranian money teaming up with established Maltese families for no reason. Personally, I see this venture potentially as the one that breaks the camels back, in terms of turning peoples heads against the mainstream monopoly. When this succeeds others will follow, and you then go back to Lord Chambray, giving them the ‘in’ I think they desperately need.
I didn’t mention another little brewery that I came across –The Phoenix. A small start up in an industrial unit out at Naxxar that stems from an Italian home brew enthusiast. I didn’t get chance to go and see him, but I tried a couple of the beers in one of the bars that is pushing out the beer revolution. You get a warning when you buy that this is a raw beer, something meant for those used to drinking the usual Maltese fare. Reasonably priced, very well presented real ales that have a pronounced craft style influence. Personally, if I could make home brew as good as this then I’d be like a pig in … Commercially? Just a bit lacking, a bit thin, a bit short and lacking in flavour. If Alessandro sees this, my genuine advice would be to keep going, keep improving, I think you are one of a few sparks that can get a bit of a blaze going. Be brave with your malt bill and go for bags full, as opposed to handfuls of hops.
The last piece of evidence is the existence of a chattering beery class, mainly younger people, as well as some established characters. Locals and people from the UK and mainland Europe who are enthusiastic about beer and who will pay the premium for something bit different, something new, as well as the established classics. It’s almost like a miniature UK, the only thing is, I see Malta going from a lager dominated marketplace and gently migrating to a more craft style environment, missing out the real ale rooted revolution that we experienced in the UK. Like I said earlier, Malta’s not really a cask real ale place, too many small outlets and anyway where would you keep it?