For many years, beer options in Madrid weren't great. The average bar would have one, maybe two, beers on tap—and if there were two, usually the second was alcohol-free. Mahou was the usual choice, and if you were unlucky, its uninspiring cousin San Miguel. In Spain, people didn’t drink beer to appreciate the taste—they drank it to cool off during Madrid’s notoriously hot summers. A few times per year, if you were a connoisseur, you could attend one of Spain's beer festivals, but that was about it.
However, as the craft beer scene spread over Europe, it was bound to hit Spain. In fact, countries with no great beer culture to speak of are often the easiest for a craft beer scene to develop in. Belgium, for example, simply has no room in its market of 180 breweries for a craft beer community to flourish in the first place. And so it became that, yes, you can indeed get good beer in Madrid. Rejoice!
Still, you need to know where to look. Go into most bars and ask for a "cerveza de craft" or "cerveza artesanal" and you’ll usually get a few scratched heads. And, though there are half a dozen bars with some kind of craft beer to speak of, at the time of writing (2014) there are really just three locations truly worth checking out:
Madrid’s Best Craft Beer Bar: Irreale (Calle Manuela Malasaña, 20, 28004, Madrid)
An excellent variety of Spanish and international craft beers in bottles and on draft. Excellently priced and with friendly staff. It’s also usually possible to find a seat (this will probably change as the bar becomes more popular). Recently moved from Calle Ballesta. Often stocks beer from Fabricas Maravillas (below).
Madrid’s Best Brewpub: Fabrica Maravillas (Calle Valverde, 29, 28004, Madrid)
One of the few places you can get beer brewed on site, Fabricas Maravillas makes a variety of American- and Belgian-inspired beers, including IPAs and saisons. There isn’t much seating, the place is painfully brightly lit at times and staff vary in friendliness, but it’s still the best place to get freshly-brewed beer brewed in Madrid. beer brewed in Madrid.
Madrid’s Best Craft Beer Terrace: El Pedal (Calle Argumosa 33, 28012 Madrid)
This bar has the only craft beer terrace in all of Madrid so it's perfect for summer drinking. Their garden is surrounded by Japanese acacia trees, so it's very scenic as well. If you've had a couple and are looking to explore the area, you should check out Lavapies, the bohemian neighborhood where El Pedal is located.
Is Madrid worth a trip especially for its beer scene? No, not necessarily, but one of these bars will make a good stop. The craft beer scene in Madrid is not yet as good as in, say, Barcelona, but who knows, the way these bars are popping up, in the next few years the city could have a thriving artisanal beer community all its own.