Coming from a town in England where there is a brewery that has been in operation since 1799, it is fair to say craft beer and real ale are firm favourites. The occasional fizzy lager will sometimes suffice, but nothing comes close to a local India Pale Ale (IPA) or even an Irish Stout from one of the numerous microbreweries that have appeared in recent years. Beer companies should go elsewhere to advertise their over-carbonated watered-down products, as what Britain really wants is a pint of something murky and brown.
While Mendoza’s wine reputation precedes it, the beer scene in Argentina was more of an unknown quantity upon arrival. There would inevitably be a few staple lagers drank by the masses available in every convenience store, but what about the real beer? Did it even exist? Can foreign breweries export here? Or is there anyone in Argentina creating their own special bitter or blonde ale? As it turns out, the craft beer scene is huge and its popularity continues to grow. Therefore, it was necessary to embark on a journey to search for the perfect pint.
In Mendoza, Av. Arístides Villanueva is the main street for going out and having a drink, so this seemed like a logical place to start. However, before reaching this bar-lined strip, a trip to expat favourite Believe Irish pub was necessary. With a huge selection of international beers, some traditional pub grub and a friendly welcoming atmosphere, this is certainly the place to get in the mood. But while the majority of beer drinkers are happy with Argentina’s very own Quilmes, easily the most popular lager in the country, more salvation for ale enthusiasts comes in the form of Antares pub (http://www.cervezaantares.com, Arístides Villanueva 153, Mendoza). Started by a few friends in the 1990s, Antares is now the nation’s biggest craft beer company, with pubs up and down Argentina. Behind the bar, you’ll find a range of beers to suit every individual, from a barley wine to a cream stout. But on this particular evening, in addition to numerous punters enjoying their brews with some food, there was a sight that every true beer lover enjoys seeing.
At the back of the pub, several men were huddled around a boiling pot, fermenter and all the other equipment required to brew beer. As it turns out, there was a competition taking place between all the Antares pubs across Argentina to brew the best IPA. Every couple of minutes or so, they would diligently take it in turns to check the brew’s sugar level and lift the boiling pot lid to make sure everything was all right. On one hand, this could be seen as taking the competition very seriously, but one hopes and suspects it was in order to create the best beer possible. In charge of the operation was Osvaldo Vülluz, a member of Argentina’s home brewing organisation. Along with the beer-brewing event, getting together and disc
But it isn’t just Antares that serves a range of craft beers in Mendoza, as further up on Arístides lies Jerome (http://www.cervezajerome.com, Aristides Villanueva 347, Mendoza), another shining beacon for ale aficionados. But rather than just sit in the pub and sample the selection on offer, visiting the Jerome brewery in El Salto seemed like a more appropriate location in this particular beer quest.ussing water, malt, yeast and hops with fellow like-minded individuals is a regular occurrence. Every month, those who brew their own beer at home meet up and exchange concoctions. According to Osvaldo, more and more people turn up each month and home brewing is growing in popularity. He even has optimism that one day, beer will be as popular as wine, which is an ambitious view in a region like Mendoza. However, in a packed out Antares pub, where patrons sip on their choice of beer alongside an evening meal, it might not be a ludicrous prophecy after all.
After discovering the wondrous beer of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, Jerome’s founder Eduardo Luis Maccari started to brew his own beer for personal consumption. However, when friends sampled his creations and demand started to increase, it was time to turn this home brewing hobby into a commercial operation. In 2001, the reins were passed down to son Eduardo Jr., who still runs the business from the same location almost 2,000 metres above sea level in Potrerillos. Last year, Jerome produced 44,000 litres of beer, but in 2013, that figure will almost double, indicating just how quickly Argentina’s love of beer is growing.
However, it hasn’t been an easy ride for Jerome in recent years. In 2008, Eduardo Sr. passed away and on the same day, the company sent its last shipment abroad to Australia, as since then Argentina’s economic situation has made exportation impossible. But for Eduardo Jr., there is still huge domestic potential with pubs in Mendoza and Cordoba as well as plans for one in Buenos Aires too, all within close proximity to Antares’ locations. Eduardo Jr. relishes the competition and enjoys this relationship, as it is great for the beer industry. With more options and a widening selection of brews on offer, Eduardo Jr. believes that beer can have huge success in Mendoza’s wine dominated landscape.
“Wine is prestigious and brings tourists, but beer is drunk by the masses and much more regularly,” he says. “As with wine, there are now lots of types available.” Jerome’s own assortment consists of blonde, red and dark varieties, but perhaps the most formidable and potent is “Diablo”. This 7.5% beer is very smooth and light to drink, but as Eduardo Jr, concedes, after only a couple it brings out the devil inside.
The final leg of this ale expedition was to the winemaking region of Maipu, just outside the city centre. While no trip to Mendoza is complete without visiting a few bodegas, the purpose of this mission was beer and beer alone. As with other small breweries, Pirca (http://www.cervezapirca.com) started off innocently enough. While working at Aconcagua as a guide, Marcelo Benegas came across a beer recipe and decided to give it ago along with friend Ignacio Cinelli. Before long, the business was born. Although this boutique bohemian brewery only produces a small quantity of blonde, red and black beers, a visit to the
ir garden in Maipu (Mitre y Urquiza, Coquimbito, Maipu) is well worth it. Tucked away near the Trapiche winery, this secluded spot is perfect on a balmy spring or summers day. While sampling each beer in the sun, it became apparent that Pirca was also on the agenda for several people taking a tour of Maipu. After hours of visiting different bodegas, ending the day at this endearing beer garden is the perfect finish to a Maipu wine tour.
Therefore, anyone wanting to sample the delights of Argentinian beer is rather spoilt for choice. The country’s biggest breweries are undoubtedly set to enjoy continued success and their extensive footprint is likely to remain the same, but those who seek an alternative will be pleasantly surprised. Initially, brewing craft beer was a simple a pastime for individual’s with the time and inclination to create something special, but now it is much more than that. Their passion is shared by a new wave of beer drinkers that show an active interest in tasting something new, refreshing and unique. This once naïve Brit soon realised that while weak gassy lager still dominates certain social drinking circles, there is a craft beer storm brewing.
Argentinian hopspots for beer
Mendoza – Take a break from wine and sample some real ale by starting on Av. Colón at Believe then follow the road up Av. Arístides for a mini pub crawl to Antares, William Brown and finally Jerome. If you are venturing out to Chacras a new beer garden has just opened up with proper pub grub and decent pints making it perfect for enjoying a boozy afternoon in the sun: Barijho, Viamonte 4961, Chacras de Coria.
El Bolsón– This bohemian mountain town near the border of Chile is home to around a dozen beer breweries, mainly due to the ideal climate and conditions for cultivating hops. Aside from the beer, let your inner hippy run wild with other treats from the local harvest including jams, honey and plenty of natural food.
Bariloche– Although San Carlos de Bariloche is perhaps best known for the Cerro Catedral ski resort nearby, its Blest brewery has also gained recognition in the beer-drinking world. However, other brews can be found at Cerveceria Berlina, The Map Room and the ever-present Antares.
Córdoba– It isn’t just Germany that drinks a whole lot of beer in the autumn, as Córdoba also hosts its very own Oktoberfest. Although this event in the small mountain town of Villa General Belgrano is a distinctly Germany affair, with leberwurst and lederhosen never too far away, breweries from across Argentina and other nations contribute with their own specifically made craft beer and real ale.
Buenos Aires – You’ll even find some brew pubs of note in the capital too, serving up their own beer alongside some additional local, national and international treats. Be sure to check out Cossab in Boedo, Breoghan in San Telmo, Buller in Recoleta and Cruzat in San Nicolas.
Jagger Kolsch – Pale gold in colour with green hues, there is a distinctly fruity aroma. The taste is much drier than you anticipate, but the malty aftertaste leaves you wanting more.
Patagonia Amber – Dark orange colour with a creamy off-white head. Fairly moderate aroma of caramel, malt and hay. Delivers a long and sweet finish that would be perfect with some spicy food.
Jerome Roja – Deep amber in appearance with lightly tinged foam and quite a mild aroma. Very rich and smooth to taste with hints of toffee and caramel.
Pirca Mamba Negra – Pick of the bunch. Dark beer with a creamy brown head. Great aroma of vanilla, coffee and chocolate, which is reflected in the taste. Full of flavour but very easy to drink.