So now having described the two approaches to the second criterion (brewing with unique, local ingredients), let me quickly summarize them one more time:
- Bolivian ingredients used to interpret existing styles
- Brew religiously to the style guidelines utilizing local ingredients
Which offers a more compelling argument for a Bolivian style of beer? I would say that neither of these approaches meets that criteria except as used to talk about beer brewed with local ingredients. This is equally applicable to most culinary pursuits, but it does not really fill the criteria for “uniquely Bolivian.” As it stands, I see these two approaches as mostly reinforcing the prior criterion for a Bolivian style of brewing, which was a tradition based in a historical narrative that is geographically distinct.
Really, trying to draw a conclusion here about what might constitute a Bolivian style of beer or brewing requires you to balance out all these factors that have been described here to make the best argument possible. Like almost everything in adult life, the best bet is probably to compromise and balance them. Granted, it probably then weakens your argument for a new or distinctly Bolivian style, but as I’ve said, taking the second/ingredient criteria route to this discussion is the weaker from the beginning.
Revisiting the Criteria
Backing up, let me revisit the two main criteria I’ve used to discuss isolating or defining a beer style.
- Tradition based in a historical narrative that is geographically distinct
- A fairly set ingredient bill reinforces the validity of the tradition
- Unique, local ingredient(s)
To recap, the first criterion requires a shared narrative that requires time, repetition and replication on a geographically distinct scale to establish what might be considered a beer style, and that is only reinforced by having a fairly set ingredient bill as part of the tradition. The example I used and highlighted as the strongest argument (at least that I know about here in the Southern Cone—and I know very little) was the Dorada Pampeana, an Argentine SMaSH beer utilizing Pilsner, Argentine Cascade hops, and a dry Nottingham yeast.
The second criterion tries to approach this process of defining a style from the bottom up—that is, from the point of entrance of the ingredient bill, and emphasizes a combination of using unique, local ingredients that significantly shift the character of the resulting beer so as not to fit well into an established category, or, an approach that utilizes local ingredients to somewhat rigidly interpret established styles. I argued that generally this second criterion is a very weak approach to defining a style because it relies too heavily on novelty factors like weird ingredients.
So, for Bolivia to develop a distinct beer style of its own, it’s going to need a multi-pronged approach and a fair amount of coordination among brewers to get on board with a proposal. In other words, it’s going to require a kind of brewing social movement—and this country sure does love a good social movement! I suppose if anyone were to really tackle this project, it would require a fair amount of discussion about the extant culinary traditions and flavor combinations, and the unique things that Bolivia does indeed offer to the brewing world, like the highly active spontaneous fermentation community of homebrewers (who don’t know we call them homebrewers) who brew their own boozy chicha year round. This is a country and time ripe for innovation and coordination, a good time to be a homebrewer in Bolivia.
In the meantime, I think there are some possibilities that highlight each approach and offer a starting point for exploring Bolivian, or at least regionally identifiable contributions to beer styles. Here some examples I covered in here, and please feel free to brew them and send me a sample!
- Andean Brown Ale with toasted quinoa and dry-hopped with coca leaves
- Chaqueño Pale Ale brewed with Chaqeño honey and dry-hopped with yerba mate
- Blonde Ale with malted quinoa, yucca starch, and aroma-hopped with Trimate tea
- Saison racked onto achachairu
- Golden Strong brewed with yucca starch and lightly toasted amaranth
- A light Bolivian table beer parti-gyled off the previous and boiled with the table picante sauce
- Bolivianer Weisse with cheese- or chicha-derived lacto cultures
- Chuquisaqeño Amber Ale racked onto aji chuquisaqueño
- Bolivian Pilsner brewed with a purple maize as an adjunct
Next (and final?) post, I’ll put together a discussion with an anthropologist friend discussing about how Bolivia’s decolonization movement offers a quite profound critique of the entire way we define beer and beer styles and the hegemony of groups like the BJCP, American Homebrewers Association, the Reheingetsbot (formerly, anyway), and so on.