Peru Craft Beer

Hey there, folks!  I’m back from a brief hiatus to bring you more perspectives on beer!  For the past two weeks, my wife and I traveled across Peru- spending lots of time in the Andes Mountains, hiking to Machu Picchu, and sampling the local cuisine.  But, of course, whenever/wherever I travel, I always want to check out the local beer scene to see what is being produced and what the locals like to drink.  So I want to share with you all that I experienced in Peru, provide some brief insights into the beers that I drank, and give you all my overall impression of the craft beer scene in Peru.

The first city that I visited was Arequipa- Peru’s second largest city located in the mountains in the southern part of the country.  The city was very picturesque, sitting in the shadow of a few snowcapped volcanos, and is the jumping-off point to a few landmarks including Colca Canyon.  That said, the city felt much less like a tourist trap compared to Cusco- the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu.  This fact is reflected in Arequipa’s craft beer scene- the breweries in the city are few in number and the craft beer bars are small yet charming.  The first bar that I visited was Chelawasi Public House- a craft beer bar owned by a brewery of the same name that also serves other local beers alongside their own.  Like I said, the space was small, but the walls were decorated with the bumper stickers of numerous American craft breweries (west coast breweries in particular).  Their beers (particularly their hoppy beers) seemed to possess that same American West Coast influence as having a noticeable amount of caramel character to them while having a particularly dry finish.  The bartenders were very friendly and were willing to nerd out on beer with anybody interested in doing so.

Chelawasi

One thing that really impressed me, and is something that I think I’ve taken for granted because of where I live, is the Peruvian beer scene’s inclusion and embracing of local ingredients.  I’ll discuss specific beers throughout this piece, but some notable ingredients that I found in the local beers included chocolate, coffee, papaya, mango, several varieties of chili peppers, and several varieties of corn.

It was at our second craft beer stop where this embrace for locally sourced ingredients in beer became apparent to me.  In a loft above a court yard overlooking a chocolatier (aimed at tourists) we found the Arequipa Beer Club.  I think the best way I can describe the atmosphere is if you combined a café, a bar, and chocolatier- somehow the concept fits!  I started by enjoying a collaboration Papaya Kölsch from Cumbres and Melkim.  In terms of overall fruit character, papayas tend to be pretty restrained- so a Kölsch was actually the perfect beer style to insert that flavor profile.  Neither the beer nor the fruit stole the spotlight from the other, which made for a very pleasant and easy drinking beer.  Next, finding myself at a place that specialized in chocolate, I thought it would be only appropriate that I try an “Experimental Brown Ale” that included mango and cacao.  The beer prominently featured notes of coffee and chocolate while leaving out any harsh roast character of a porter or stout, and had some interesting notes of orange citrus in the background.  It was quite pleasant and paired well with a sea salt chocolate chip cookie.  Cacao Brown

The beer bars that we visited in our next two cities were much more reminiscent of the ones I would find at home: bigger, busier, and more modern, often times with local musicians playing off to the side.  The next city we visited was Cusco: the jumping off point for Machu Picchu and by far the biggest tourist trap in the country.  After elbowing our way through hordes of solicitors offering us walking tours, knockoff alpaca clothes, and massages, we found our way to Cerveceria Nuevo Mundo.  Similar to Chelawasi Public House, the bar is affiliated with a brewery in Lima, but they also served other quality Peruvian brands alongside their own.  I feel that this fact emphasizes a point that Morgan from Buttonwoods Brewery told me: that a high tide raises all boats.  Nuevo Mundo, Chelawasi, and Barbarian (see below in Lima) could all just as easily have kept their tap lists exclusive to their own brands, but instead they choose to support their friends in the industry by showcasing their beers alongside their own.  That, in my opinion, epitomizes the craft beer movement, and I think we are starting to drift away from that in the United States.

The beer list at Nuevo Mundo was pretty impressive, primarily featuring local Peruvian brands.  I will say that it was actually really refreshing to look at a draft list, and see that less than 50% of their selections were IPAs.  Out of all of the beers that I had at Nuevo Mundo, the beer that I was most impressed with was their Panam’ Belgian Pale Ale.  Truthfully, there were no frills about this beer- nothing crazy or fancy done to it.  This Belgian Pale was probably one of the best that I’ve ever had of the style (and I’m a big fan of the style).  My tasting notes of this beer included hints of cracked black pepper, banana, and graham cracker.  Clocking in at 6.1%, the beer was very refreshing and very easy to drink.  Another beer (that ended up being one of my last before the hike to Machu Picchu) that stood out to me was Pantera Stout by Machay Cerveza Artesenal (from Arequipa).  According to the bartender, it was apparently ranked the best stout in South America (I didn’t ask him his source).  Again, there was nothing crazy done to this beer, and truthfully it drank more like an imperial schwarzbier (nothing wrong with that).

Nuevo Mundo Bar     Panam

Fast forward now to about 5 days later: I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and I’m both physically and mentally exhausted from waking up at 3am for a sprint hike to see the sunrise over the ruins before the tourists crowded it.  We had the poor luck of it being foggy that morning…still the ruins were amazing, as was the hike.  But now, I needed a drink.

Machu Picchu Fog

Going into this trip, I had been endlessly curious about trying Chicha: essentially corn beer.  I don’t know if this practice is still employed (I doubt it at the commercial scale), but traditionally the Chicha maker would convert the starches in the corn to sugar by using the enzymes found in the human mouth to convert the starches: essentially they chewed and spit out the corn into the mash.  Before you go vomiting on your keyboard, just know that I’m sure they boiled the wort like a brewer traditionally did (this drinker is certainly hoping they did…).  Anyway, Chicha de Jora is certainly a different beer than I’ve ever had.  The drink had a milkshake-like consistency to it, and tasted very sweet and corny with a light sourness in the finish.  Furthermore, the drink is served at room temperature- not cold like the Rockies (or Andes as would be the case).  On a hot day after a 4 day hike, I think I would have preferred something colder and less sweet, but I can cross this one off my bucket list at least.

Chicha

The last city on our trip to Peru was the capital city of Lima.  We only had about 2 ½ days to spend in the city, so our bar hopping was more limited.  The first bar that we went to was Cerveceria Barbarian.  The spot had a similar feel to Nuevo Mundo in Cusco- a busy and modern bar that certainly appeals to the city-dwelling tourist (me).  Perhaps the most eye grabbing sight in the bar was the great wall of bottles in the back of the bar.  I saw a lot of foreign bottles on said wall, including KBS, Pliny the Elder, and Cantillon: Classic Gueuze.  Clearly this was a bar after my heart.  One of the most notable beers that I had at Barbarian was their Mañanero Café Pale Ale: a coffee infused pale ale.  The beer impressed me because it was appropriately bitter with neither the hops nor the coffee overwhelming the other.  Furthermore, the coffee flavor seemed to coexist well with the hop flavor, which can be a tricky thing to do in that style of beer.

Great Wall of Beer

I would be lying if I said that there were no negative experiences during my beer travels.  I had a handful of beers from some seemingly well known regional brands that, to put it bluntly, tasted like a bad batch of homebrew riddled with off flavors (most notably acetaldehyde and diacetyl).  That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the Peruvian craft beer culture is still maturing- I would guess that the craft beer scene is maybe 20 years behind that of the United States.  They are well on their way to having a culture filled with some quality craft beers, and many of their big producers already produce quality that rivals many American producers.  Over time, the lesser-quality beers will become less numerous due to brewers getting better at their craft, as well as the beer consumer becoming more educated.  In other words: either the brewers will improve or the market will weed out the bad ones.  As a point, I’m not going to mention the names of the beers or brewers who produced the lower quality beers because it won’t accomplish anything- those problems will fix themselves as the Peruvian craft beer culture matures.  Overall, I would say I had a positive beer exploration experience during my travels in Peru.  I saw a lot of positive things in their craft beer culture (which is why I wrote this piece).  Many of the breweries are being inspired by and taking their cues from some of the best American breweries- making for some very tasty beer.  Furthermore upon landing in Arequipa, I learned that the country was about two weeks away from having their first national craft beer festival (my luck be damned, I would have maybe convinced my wife to wait a week to travel had I known ahead of time).  If you are traveling to Peru, check out the local craft beer scene- there’s a lot of good happening there.  Wherever you travel, I encourage you all to taste what the locals are drinking- it really opens your eyes to a new culture.  ¡Salud!

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Buttonwoods Brewery

Buttonwoods Brewery is among the handful of Rhode Island breweries slotted to open its doors to the public in 2017.  Named for the neighborhood in Warwick, RI where his parents live, Buttonwoods is the brainchild of Morgan Clark Snyder Jr. who, after five years of homebrewing, as well as working for both a distributor and small brewery in New York City, saw an opportunity to open a brewery in Rhode Island where the craft beer movement is still very much on the rise.  Teaming up with his father, who moved to the state three years earlier and is the business side of the brewery, Morgan plans to brew a wide array of beers to satisfy any beer drinker who walks into his brewery.  As a homebrewer and all around beer nerd, I was very excited to talk to Morgan about his beer, brewing, and craft beer perspective.

I visited Morgan at his still-under-construction brewery to find out more about his plans.

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Rich: What types of beer do you plan to have on tap?

Morgan: Everything.  Part of this whole project is that it’s literally a science experiment for me.  I’m coming in with two years of experience as a professional brewer, and I want to do all those things that I wanted to do (but couldn’t do) at the Bronx Brewery.  I always wanted to be more creative, but they already had set expectations for what their beers should be.  So coming out of the gate, I hope to always have four different styles on tap: Saison (because that’s my favorite beer), IPA, Kölsch, and some kind of mixed fermentation.  We are going to have berliner weisses and goses.  We are going to have some barrel aged sours (though obviously it’s going to take a lot of time to get to those).  I plan to brew some of those barrel aged sours now so that I can put them straight into barrels.

R:Will you have any “flagship” beers that you will build your brand around?  Or are you planning more towards a model of all “one-off” beers?

M: That’s all part of the experiment right there.  Truth be told, with the exception of working at the Bronx Brewery, there has only been one recipe that I have ever rebrewed a second time in five years of homebrewing.  Everything else has been a one-off. Year one I am planning on doing all one-offs.  Year two I will repeat some recipes that did exceptionally well from year one and mix in some new recipes as well.  As we grow, we will refine the core beers that we keep around as often as possible, and also do a bunch of crazy one-offs.  I was reading this morning that 36% of the beers consumed on the market (not manufactured) are IPAs.  So we are going to brew a lot of IPAs, while the saisons, kölsches, berliner weisses, and goses are what will make us unique.

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Our conversation then turned to New England-style IPAs, how Morgan brews them, and the consumer buzz surrounding them.  He poured me a pilot batch that was his take on the New England IPA and told me that he brewed it with 75% Maris Otter malt , 25% Flaked Oats, and a homebrewer yeast that is called “The Juice”.  He used 100% Chinook hops, and the beer didn’t receive its first hop addition until there were 15 minutes left in the boil- lending itself to a profile that focuses more on hop flavor than hop bitterness.  The beer was a very pale straw color (he says he has an obsession with making the palest beers ever), had very distinguished fruity and piny flavors from the hops, and a very dry finish.  It was quite tasty!  Buttonwoods plans to satisfy the part of the craft beer market that seeks New England IPAs.  But not every person will be happy with that.

R: There are some who argue that brewing an IPA with this type of turbidity is flawed brewing, that the yeast shouldn’t be present.  It sounds like you disagree with that when it comes to the New England IPA?

M: Just look at Belgian witbier and German hefeweizens- it’s the same thing.  It tastes great.  Or a zwickelbier- they’re fantastic.  [Zwickelbier is] an unfiltered lager with a yeast that has very poor flocculation.  The yeast adds its own lemony character- not quite tart, but like the sweeter side of a lemon, like the lemon head.  The yeast can add some good things to beer… some bad things too, but as far as the New England IPA is concerned there is nothing bad going on here- if you’re doing it right.

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Our conversation then turned to the local community and the Rhode Island craft beer scene at large.

R: A lot has changed in the Rhode Island beer scene in the past few years. You are one of a few new breweries that are slotted to open their doors this year.  How does it feel to be part of that growth?

M: It’s great.  When I first came up with the idea to do it here, there wasn’t anything here.  So it’s great to see other things happening here.  Last year Long Live opened…that’s it.  The year before that I don’t think anything opened.  Everywhere I’ve lived since college has had a new brewery opening up every couple of months.  It’s exploded, it’s great.  But here there hasn’t been as much.

R: So you think that there’s still lots more room to grow?  More room for more breweries?

M: There’s so much more room to grow.  It’s a very friendly environment among the local breweries.  I hang out with the guys at Proclamation pretty often, I talk to Armando at Long Live about once a month, and Matt down at Tilted Barn has let me pick his brain a few times.  It seems like everybody wants the local craft beer scene in Rhode Island to grow.

R: So it sounds like there’s a common interest amongst breweries in this state to both improve and grow the local beer scene?

M: We kind of get tied in together.  So if someone has a bad beer from Rhode Island, then all of Rhode Island beer hurts as a result.  So it helps to work together.  A high tide raises all boats.  I want this to be a very open and welcoming community.

R: Have many locals taken notice to you working on the brewery?  Have people been welcoming?

M: It’s been great! People have been so receptive and so kind.  People stop by all the time and ask how are you doing and when are you going to be open?  It’s great, people are excited.  For me to be adopted into a community- it’s worked out way better than I expected.

R: Do you plan to collaborate/cooperate with local businesses?

M: My big things is that I want to work with as many local people as possible.  Whether it’s my electrician or the guy who makes my tap handles, I want to work with as many locals as I possibly can. I talked with a guy who is growing his own hops in his back yard, and we are talking about potentially using some of his stuff.

R: One thing that I don’t think I’ve seen in Rhode Island that much (if at all) is collaboration beers between breweries within the state.  Do you see yourself doing commercial collaborations ?

M: I knew you were going to ask that question! In my head, I will have done a collaboration with every single brewery here.  Realistically, I don’t know if I’ll get to every brewery, but I’ll try.

R: Do you have an idea about when you might be ready to open your doors and start selling beer to the public?

M: I’m still waiting on some licensing from the Federal Government.  But we should be open before the end of April.  I have a strong feeling it’ll be April 4th– a lot of people in my life were born on April 4th and a lot of things have happened in my life on April 4th, so I have a strong feeling…

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Morgan has designed his business with the probability for growth in mind.  He has a large space with more space in units adjacent to his that he would love to move into in the future.  At the start, the vast majority of Buttonwoods’ offerings will only be available in the tap room, but he hinted that he was in the process of working with distributors to get his beer out to local bars.  Morgan told me that the quality of the beer should speak for itself, and if Morgan comes out swinging like he plans to, it sounds like his beer will sell itself (though him being a good salesman helps too).  Keep an eye out for Buttonwoods, Rhode Island!  The beer tastes good and it’s something to get excited about!

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