Vaso de Oro needs no introduction. Besides preparing some of the best tapas in town including their famous ensaladilla rusa, they have always treated beer with special care. It is hard to find a spot at their bar, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Their top quality product as well as the excellent service have been their hallmark for the past 53 years. Gabriel, who is the charismatic owner, has devoted the last years also to brewing beer. At night you’ll find him at Vaso de Oro but he spends the mornings at Fort, the microbrewery that he created along with Edu’s help. We spoke with Gabriel to learn his origins and philosophy about his iconic place and to understand why he decided to get involved in such adventure. Besides, we also talked to Edu and asked him a few questions when we visited the brewery.
El Vaso de Oro has been open for 53 years and it’s still a reference in town. What’s the secret?
I come from a family who has been in the hospitality business. My grandfather was one of the first ones who set up bars in the Barceloneta neighborhood after the Civil War. At that time, tapas didn’t exist yet and mainly men used to go to bars to have a coffee or liqueur. Later my father created el Vaso de Oro at the time that the culture of beer, olives and the first tapas appeared. Over the time dynamics changed and people started to eat more outside. We have learned to adapt the offer to the social habits, while maintaining our concept.
Which is that concept?
From the beginning we based our concept in three ideas: take good care of the customer, have quality product and the cleaning. The fact that our clients feel accompanied is very important for us. At the same time we offer premium product. We make everything in-house and we buy local produce. For instance, I buy fresh fish here in Barceloneta every afternoon. I feed people with what I like. I am the fan number of what we offer. If I wouldn’t work here, I would be a client of Vaso!
You’ve always taken good care of the beer. Why did you decide to start making your own?
Beer has always been our thing. We used to have a special one and we used to pour it very fresh. We also paid attention not to break the cold chain, the cleaning and the type of gas. When it was our anniversary, we had the idea of bottling a beer for our customers. We started with that project and ended up setting up a brewery in order to make beer the way we like. It’s a project that was born from the excitement.
What is the style of Fort beers?
We’ve achieved our own style, which is not easy. Our beers and full and creamy. We like the fruit from the hop more than the chlorophyll or what some people call the green humid taste. It is a complex and deep work. But I love craft beer because I really enjoy with creativity and the preciseness in processes. On the other hand, we love the culture of caña since it’s ideal for pairing tapas and it is the workman’s beer. For me a good caña should finish with some bread taste, should have some flowers and a little bit of honey. When you finish work, you don’t look for anything complex but for a simple and a good beer. That’s what we try with our pale ale.
How has the neighborhood changed since you started?
The neighborhood has experienced a strong and rapid change. Growing is positive but at the same time there is beauty in preserving the essence of things. I think we’ve somehow lost our own character. However, flavors do connect us. Many people come to Vaso and connect with experiences of 20 years ago. Some clients that are now married met here, others used to come when they were dating, etc.
“I believe a dream is the deepest driving force to reach your fullest capacity.”
Vaso de Oro is one of the few places in town where locals and tourist coexist in a friendly fashion. How did you achieve that?
Vaso de Oro has been very open and diverse since its beginnings. We’ve always had a wide variety of clients. Here fishermen, businessmen and all sorts of people gather. You can spend 7 euros or whatever you want. We come from this neighborhood and that’s important for us.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I enjoy the day-to-day persistence of doing things everyday and doing them the same way. Creativity and ideas are important, but tenacity is essential. We’ve experienced all kinds of situations but I am proud that we are here still doing the same things. We offer the same tapas that my father served the day he opened, such as the ensaladilla or the atún picante. We have changed some things and we have learned to adapt, but the core of the business is the same.
What have you learned with Fort and Vaso de Oro?
I’ve learned how powerful dreams are. I believe a dream is the deepest driving force to reach your fullest capacity. A dream is very powerful because it comes from your instinct and from your deepest unconscious thoughts.
What’s next for you?
My ultimate dream was to make beer. I am 53 years old and I have a full life. I don’t want to expand my beer business. For me, the current size of Fort is just perfect. In my opinion craft beer is about local beer and about a certain amount of liters. It is basically a fresh and local beer. I think this time of my life is for digesting everything and for enjoyment. I really enjoy that my son is working here with me. I also enjoy my relationships with friends and clients.
Where do you like to eat in town?
I am pretty classic. I love Carballeira and Botafumeiro bars. Amongst the most modern ones, I really like the restaurants of Carles Abellan. He is a close friend and we share many things. I also like going to Espinaler to have a vermut.
Besides a regular customer of Vaso de Oro, Edu was a homebrewer. One day he learned that Gabriel wanted to brew his own beer and Edu didn’t hesitate to bring some samples to him. He has been involved in the Fort project since the beginnings. We visited the brewery and spoke with Edu.
How did you discover craft beer and how did you get involved in Cervezas Fort?
Everything started when I discovered Ales on a trip to the United States. I was fascinated and I started to learn from a friend that was brewing at home. Some years later I learned that Gabriel was brewing his own craft beer in Tarragona and wanted to sell it in Barcelona. I brought him some samples of my beer. He liked it and asked that I help him. It worked out and we ended up setting up this brewery where we make Fort beers today.
What is beer for you? Do you have a favorite style?
I really like the elements of traditional German beers: balance, freshness, subtleness and gentle flavors. That is beer to me. I am very interested in the tradition of Bamberg: pilsners, lagers and smoked beers from small breweries like Schlenkerla. I empathize in how they understand beer. They care about the quality of the product and they make incredible beers.
You won the first beer tasting competition in Spain. What do you look for when you taste a beer?
Beer must have a logical structure. The body should be proportional to the bitterness. The bitterness should be equivalent to the volume. And the volume should be in accordance to the body. These three elements define the structure of a beer. When I taste a beer I look for a coherent structure and that it has no off-flavors.
It has always been said that certain places pour the beer better than others. How important is the role of the bartender for a beer to taste good?
How a beer is treated from the moment it gets to a bar directly influences the quality of the final product. The bartender has a key role, but it is just as important to pay attention to certain details. For instance, it is crucial not to break the cold chain. I often choose the bar to go to depending on how they treat the beers. In Barcelona, Bar Mingus cares for the beers they serve them very well.
What have you learned from brewing that you apply in your daily life?
Brewing teaches you many lessons. It has taught me a little bit of humility and patience. It has also shown me that it’s not necessary to carry a frantic pace of life. Fermentation takes its own time. If you try to run, you will not get a better beer but quite the opposite. Beer has taught me not to take shortcuts. I try to apply it in my daily life.
El Vaso de Oro
Calle Balboa 6, 08003 Barcelona