Charlie O’Malley hails the Great Beer Revolution.
“Would you mind dropping us off at a bar?”
Every Mendoza wine tour guide is familiar with this request. After a day touring wineries, sampling the nest Malbecs, even the hardiest wine lovers crave something different. The exhausted palate demands a refreshing, cold beer to nish the day nicely. All those tannins coating the inner jowls like old wallpaper and those purple painted teeth need a thorough rinsing with a decidedly un-tannic lager or ale. Observe any winemaker you know – they all love beer.
Five years ago the quality of beer in Mendoza was poor. Walk into any bottle store or sidewalk bar and the choice was bewildering – Quilmes, Andes, Brahma, Warsteiner, Schneider, Heineken, Stella Artois, Budweiser and Carlsberg. But such huge choice is deceptive. They all taste pretty much the same – bland and insipid; a gut corroding pee water. In fact one could argue the case that they all come from the same tank, not just because of their uniform mediocrity but also the fact that the majority are owned by the same company AB InBev.
Back then, one sadly just had to get on with it. As awful as the beer was, it slaked your thirst like a chilled, Russian astronaut ́s piss might in an outer space emergency. And most importantly – it still got you drunk.
And then things began to change. An unusual bottle of Mendoza brewed beer would pop up at a party and cause a mini-sensation.
“Wow! This beer actually tastes of something. Look! It ́s even cloudy.”
It seems dissatisfaction with mass produced, industrial beer is universal. Only a teetotaller, or indeed a Russian pee drinking astronaut for that matter, would have missed the global shift towards small, independent brewers. The craft beer boom has arrived in Mendoza. First it was quirky little labels made by home brewers from such diverse places as Palmira in the desert and El Salto in the mountains.
Then the tap rooms appeared – Antares, Hangar 52 and Jerome for example. The locals had a whole new set of vocabulary to miss-pronounce – ipa, weisse, stout and red ale. Now Mendoza boasts some 165 micro-breweries. There is 200% growth year on year and market share is 2.7% of what is a 17 billion litre beer industry. Such phenomenal growth still has some way to go. In the USA the booming craft beer market is currently 12% of the market and is projected to reach 20% in the next five years.
Like giants waking up from a drunken slumber, the multi- nationals have realised they are losing out. Action is required before their shareholders start voting with their feet. Rather than actually try and improve the quality of their existing products, the corporate solution is to move in with money and hoover up the more successful independents. This is especially attractive as craft beer is up to double the price of the Duff stuff from the corner store.
The corporate ght back is well under way in the USA and Europe. AB InBev. bought the Camden Town Brewery for 80 million dollars, prompting howls of protests from the real beer enthusiast and the the actual banning of Camden beer from some independent tap rooms. In business Big brother take overs of small but plucky out ts is a well established ploy by the multi- nationals. Think L’Oreals buy out of Bodyshop and Unilever’s move on Ben & Jerry Ice cream. Expect much the same in the craft beer industry. Quilmes has already rolled out its own “artesanal” brand Patagonia, a de nite improvement on the original stuff. Kuntsman is another multi-national owned label with craft beer aspirations.
Beware the subterfuge however. Strictly speaking a craft beer is a beverage produced traditionally by an independent entity with no outside ownership and a small production output. The marketing managers paint a corporate take-over of a small label as just a friendly boost in the arm and the small producer will continue in the same vein with no head of ce interference. In the long term this is pure hogwash and the reason why many craft beer enthusiasts are up in arms.
Meanwhile, the craft beer locomotive rolls on here in Mendoza. The tap rooms of Aristides are proving wildly popular, especially amongst wine tourists with agging palates. They are foot soldiers in the Great Beer Revolution.
Local Craft Beers———-
Pirca Lager –Fresh and round with complex aromas. Your glass empties quickly. Fresca.
La sombra del FutreKolsh de montaña. Light and refreshing. One for a bon re beside the river.
Jagger Irish Red Ale. Sweet and easy to drink with taste of caramel. Goes down too easy. Dangerous.
La Palmira Cream Stout– ahumada. Soft, creamy, smokey bitter. Goes well with friends.
Frangus oat meal stout. Intense avour. Lots of bite. A hit with a dish of cured ham.
Where to Buy Your Bottle————–
Hopfen Beer Market
A bottle store specialising in Mendocino craft beer. Thursday night tastings with brewers. Labels include Del Barrio, Damero, Birra, Menduka, Aldea Gala, Artis Home Brewers, Mëlz, Pirca, Old Krum y Paradise, amongst others. Montevideo 794, Mendoza City
Locaated in the 5th Section towartds the park and on Sarmiento 635 this bar has at least 14 varieties – Nuevo Origen, La Palmira, Fulana, Maleva y Portal, amongst others. You can ll your own bottle and they have a gluten free option. Paso de los Andes 756 / Sarmiento 635, Mendoza City
Justo Al Paso
A bar and bottle store on Juan B Justo with beers from such diverse place as San Luis and Bariloche, many of them award winning brews. “Happy Hour from 7 to 10pm” Juan B. Justo 513, Mendoza City.
Casa Vigil Palmares
One of Mendoza’s most famous winemakers Alejandro Vigil, is also a brewer. You can buy Chachingo Craft Beer at his wine store Casa Vigil Palmares in Palmares Mall. Palmares Open Mall, Godoy Cruz.