Bolivia and Beer: at the Moment
Before getting into the deep specifics of a stylistic discussion, it might be worth it to examine where Bolivia is at the moment in terms of beer. Every major city has its own macro-brewery that puts out a standard tropical lager or pilsner: La Paz has Paceña, Cochabamba has Taquiña, Santa Cruz has Cruceña, Sucre has Sureña, Potosi has Potosina, Oruro has Huari, and so on. (Notably, I don’t think that Tarija has a macro, although that could be because they’re the center of the rapidly burgeoning Bolivian wine industry). InBev owns at least three of those, and I can’t vouch for the ownership of the others, but I suspect there’s at least one other major player that’s involved. Of those, Sureña seems to be the most “adventurous” macro, brewing at least four other styles. Paceña, Huari, and I think Taquiña are produced by the Cerveceria Boliviana Nacional (InBev) and they produce a variety of other beers, such as El Inca (some kind of thin dark lager), Paceña Black/Ice/Pico de Oro/Pico de Plata, Bock, and—comically—Budweiser. There are also a few breweries that produce non-regionally named lagers that have wide distribution, such as Real, Judas, Cordillera, Autentica, and Imperial.
Beyond those major players, there are also a few scattered microbreweries (and this is by no means a comprehensive list—I’d love to find out about more). In La Paz, you find Saya (the brand of Adventure Brew Hostel’s line of beers that come in Blonde, Amber and Dark) and Lipeña (a blonde 3.5% ABV quinoa beer). Sucre hosts Ted’s Cerveceria (with Chala witbier and Ambar, a Belgian Pale Ale), while Potosí has a brewpub at Hostal Carlos V (stayed there, but alas, it was closed for that week), and Cochabamba has Stier (with a strong ale, stout, pilsner, strawberry beer, and weisse) and perhaps another brewpub or two I’ve heard rumors of, if not yet found. Finally, Santa Cruz just opened Corsa, a micro brewing a hoppy amber lager and a dunkel, and I believe there was once a now-defunct brewpub here as rumored in old guidebooks sitting on my office’s library shelves.
As for homebrewers, I’ve heard rumors, seen one on HBT, and I’m collaborating a couple others fairly new homebrewers here in Santa Cruz. I’ve heard that the Corsa brewers also do their own stuff, but only in media interviews. Not a lot beyond that, though I’m sure they exist out there. Perhaps time to start a homebrew club? (Keep on dreaming…) The best source of imported bottled beers I’ve found thus far are the larger Hipermaxi stores, which even carried Chimay sampler sets back in October, but for Bs 220, that’s really treating yourself! But this isn’t about imports!
Generally speaking, there’s a huge need for beer education. Even at the beer-centric bars in Sucre that cater to tourists, the waitresses knew little of beer styles beyond rubia (blonde) and negra (black). Amber isn’t really even part of the general beer vocabulary at the time. Indeed, if you go to the standard pension or even a nicer Bolivian restaurant, the menu is likely to just list “cerveza” with the only different options being size, not style or brand. But, I get the impression that there is a demand for beer education as well, or it can be easily created. To be honest, there’s quite a bit of “new wealth” floating around in this country and a growing middle class that could be tapped into. So, for those entrepreneurs looking to start their dream low-budget brewpub, learn Spanish and move to Bolivia!
Applying the Criteria to Bolivia
Okay, I’ve gotten a bit off track. But, in reviewing what is brewed in Bolivia, you see that there is little significant creativity or self-reflection beyond Lipeña, the quinoa beer. You could make a decent argument that this is close to being uniquely (or at least originally) Bolivian, given quinoa’s Andean origins and role as a traditional Bolivian source of food. Careful, though, as it’s very much a part of Peru as well, and there’s the added twist that as a gluten-free grain, people are getting super-excited over its potential to meet that demand. Anyway, now I’ll try to be more constructive, work from the bottom up and think about what might go into exploring a Bolivian style of brewing.
So let me first revisit those two elements that I’ve pondered might go into defining a style:
- Tradition based in a historical narrative that is geographically distinct
- A fairly set ingredient bill
- Unique, local ingredient(s)