What is “Bolivian”? (pt. III)

Back to the point

The rest of Mosher’s general overview of global craft/homebrewing tends to focus on the availability and usage of unique ingredients in each location. But an ingredient-centric approach is going to require a rethinking of beer categorization, because any and all location innovation will end up being generally categorized within the generic and lamely unspecific or undefined categories of #20 Fruit Beer or #21 Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer. Honestly, at that point, it’s kind of lame, or, so open as to be essentially meaningless as a category.

So now, let’s turn to Bolivia and talk about each of those three elements and think about how you might develop something distinct from them.

Wait, What Does “Bolivian” Actually Mean?

And actually, now I have hit my first major snag with this: I am trying to define a “Bolivian” style. Look, if tiny Belgium is distinct enough to make geographic distinctions, I’m pretty screwed when it comes to defining something “Bolivian.” For goodness sakes, I open my mouth to speak Spanish in other parts of this country and people have a hard time understanding me because of the variations from place to place. My point is that Bolivia is absurdly diverse. We have 36 distinct indigenous groups and languages here (that’s not even counting dialects), not to mention the myriad European-descended folks (those from Spain, Germany, Balkans) and then the really unexpected groups (Japanese, Menonitas, Palestinians, Old Russians, etc.).

…and these are just the “originary” groups.

However, while Bolivia is diverse as anything else, you can draw in some pretty broad strokes regarding gastronomy without offending decolonization sensibilities. Take for example, chicha (which I’ll come back to later in more depth). Widely known as an Andean corn-based alcoholic beverage, it has many variations in the highlands (heck, spontaneous fermentation means that literally everyone has “their own version”), and the lowlands have their own dry version, somó. Or take pique macho, which is a massive plate piled high with a variety of meats, French fries, cooked vegetables, and usually covered in ketchup, mayo, or whatever condiment you prefer. Here in Santa Cruz they claim it as their own, as does Cochabamba and Potosí and, well, pretty much everyone else. So let’s just be appeasers and say it’s a Bolivian prepared to local sensibilities. Besides, it bears a sneaking resemblance to Peru’s lomo saltado, so it’s probably best not to probe too far.

So, that said, where it makes sense, I think you certainly can denote regional specifications, but depending on what we’re considering for inspiration, it can also be acceptable to expand it to encompass a national sensibility.

Next post I’ll look at the coyuntura (literally, “the current juncture”—it’s a great word) of beer in Bolivia, macro and otherwise.

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