Albert Castellón is the director general of Moritz, the classic Barcelona beer company that since its re-launch in 2004 (after several dormant decades) has assertively established itself as an iconic brand associated with the city of Barcelona through its marketing strategies that prioritise cultural activities and online initiatives. Within the congested world of communication Moritz has endeavoured to consolidate its brand by investing in a cutting edge foundation La Fábrica Moritz (B-Guided #50 Winter 2011/12) that brings together avante-garde architecture, world class gastronomy, cultural activities as well as local history in other words the ingredients that define Barcelona itself. With a new wine bar and another restaurant opening shortly we had the chance to meet Albert Castellón recently in order to find out more about the brand and the philosophy behind it.
Associating a beverage with a physical location and its culture has become an increasingly beneficial marketing strategy, Guinness at St. James Gate in Dublin where an Arthur Guinness day is being promoted as a national holiday, Heineken in Amsterdam, or Carlsberg in Copenhagen. Why do you think that beer has become a legitimate medium for cultural expression over the last decade or so?
A cultural brand is one that goes beyond mere advertising and getting across its values, it’s as much rational as it is emotional, the embodiment of a lifestyle, of a way of being which is what we generally perceive as culture. Therefore on the one hand I think that beer brands are cultural brands and given that they are have also generally got strong links with the actual places where they began I don’t think it’s surprising that they sponsor cultural events. This in turn creates values of belonging between the consumer and the brand which are different to other kinds of products. In this sense I think that Moritz as well as having created this cultural brand has managed to do so in a different way through the unremitting promotion of activities that speak for themselves and which in many instances have a cultural aspect.
Although there is a micro brewery accommodated within the newly refurbished Fábrica Moritz in Barcelona the commercial brewery is located in Saragossa, is there a dichotomy between the beer being associated with the city and yet being manufactured elsewhere?
I don’t think there is a dichotomy, when you pick up an I-phone for example and on the back it says designed in California by Apple but not where it was manufactured, which is almost certainly China nobody is left in any doubt that the I-phone is an American product and specifically a Californian product. In the case of Barcelona La Fabrica Moritz the refurbishment of the old factory being as it is in the centre of the city, or five minutes from the historical city its clear that the micro-brewery produces a replica of the industrial beer on a smaller scale and can be enjoyed here with a small variation to the recipe that we make here in the city, it’s a beer that is not pasteurised so its fresher made on the premises without being held in stock, and consumed on the premises unlike all other commercial beers.
The great advantage of having a microbrewery is that the process of making beer can be explained in situ, beer culture beer is not particularly common in Spain or Catalonia so explaining how it’s made, how water is a fundamental ingredient, the yeast, what roles malt plays in the basic process ….
Deciding to locate the Fabrica Mortiz on Ronda Sant Antoni on the boundary with the Raval neighbourhood could be described as a risky strategy, although the area is changing it still retains an edge and is more residential than touristy. In the long term will the activities and the restaurants be directed more at locals or visitors to the city?
Moritz is here because this is where the factory is, funnily enough when La Fábrica was built originally in 1860 this was the outskirts of Barcelona. Number 41 was one of the first constructions within the Eixample. Nowadays Ronda Sant Antoni could be described as the boundary between a more conventional Barcelona like the Eixample and a more multicultural and younger Barcelona, the Raval. Although the Ronda is not strictly speaking on the classic tourist track they will end up coming here given that FAD, Macba and other cultural attractions are two minutes walk from here. We are interested in the local, Spanish and foreign tourist, especially the urban visitor looking for a more cosmopolitan experience which is a growing sector in Barcelona.
One of the underlying ambitions behind the Fábrica Moritz is that of democratising culinary excellence through providing two gastronomic restaurants, a wine bar with over 400 references and an in-house bakery. The inspiration is provided by Catalan/Alsatian food (in homage to the roots of the Moritz family) and overseen by Michelin star chef Jordi Vilà. What are the main characteristics of the menu when combining food with beer?
With the Mortiz brewery we have made an effort to bring together all the gastronomic recipes from around the world that can be combined with beer. In that sense Catalonia and Spain already have some interesting indigenous culinary offerings, for instance the Andalusian fried foods that are featured prominently here which as it happens are the perfect accompaniment for beer. That’s also why we have chosen Alsatian dishes and dishes that include beer as an ingredient. Together with Jordi Vila we have tried to amalgamate these recipes without resorting to fusion, which in my opinion by definition obliterates the identity of the two contributory elements. The uniqueness of each gastronomy must be respected, beer has been used as a common tread but from the perspective of Catalan and Mediterranean cuisine and traditions.
When can we expect the last piece of the collection to be put into place, the basement restaurant?
We have given it a name already the Brasserie de Moritz, it will be opening very shortly within 2012. The idea is to differentiate it from the tapas and fried foods offering of the brewery, it’s going to be a more formal restaurant but at the same time more playful and sociable than the typical elitist bourgeois restaurant, more dynamic and urban.
Increasingly the presence of ‘lateros’ has become more common on Barcelona’s thoroughfares and night life areas, aggravated perhaps by the economic reality of high unemployment for a lot of young Catalans. The Moritz brand however has been conspicuously absent, is this phenomenon another marketing strategy by rival beer companies?
Moritz is not involved with the world of ‘lateros’ because we don’t want to be, beer brands decide one way or another. We are very careful about our sales teams, as well as the health hazards it’s a betrayal of the hostelry sector which provides a lot of employment and one which has already reduced prices significantly.
The Barcelona brand has been exceptionally successful on the world stage cultivating an image of a city predicated on liberal values, diversity, creativity and appreciation of design and architecture. Do you think that the current push for Catalan independence could be counterproductive or do you consider it a logical next step?
As a representative of commercial brand it’s difficult for me to take a political position but what I can say is that one of the aims of Moritz is to make our Catalan customers happy because the happier they are the more they will go out and the more they’ll drink. I think that the uniqueness of Barcelona is independent from political affiliations, in one way or another it doesn’t affect the dynamism of the city which is almost like a city state.