This is an exciting time to be interested in microbreweries and beer in Bolivia. It’s a time when new microbreweries seem to be sprouting up right and left, and the annual beer fests are tagged with “3rd annual” or less.
The first microbrewery in Santa Cruz (at this point, anyway–I’m woefully ignorant of whether or not anyone else has brewed in this city, and there seems be evidence of a defunct brewpub), Corsa was founded in 2010 and released their two flagship beers in late 2012, a Lager and a Dunkel, both in bottles, unfiltered, and unpasteurized. Corsa has the capacity to brew up to 400 HL (340 bbl) per month, or 480 HL (4080 bbl) per year. Bottling capacity is about 120,000 bottles (330 mL each), all done by hand on the manual bottling setup. The initial investment for the brewery has been reported in numerous outlets as US $2 million, which seems substantially high for a brewery in an economy with relatively low labor and material costs, and some others I’ve talked to suggest this might be an exaggeration.
Both clock in at 16 IBUs and 4.8% ABV, with malt from Chile and hops imported from the Czech Republic and Germany. The Lager is considered a Kellerbier (which is not necessarily a style connotation as it is a description of how it’s made–i.e., both of these could be considered Kellerbier since they’re unpasteurized) but probably would fit into the Vienna Lager category, made with 3% crystal malt and pilsner malt. The Dunkel is self-designating, and is a dark brown color in the glass, and yields better head retention than the Lager. Both beers lager for six weeks before they are bottled. An Altbier has already been pilot-brewed and is gearing up for release in 2014, and one of Corsa’s associates mentioned that they’re working on a lager aimed at the “feminine” market, with a slightly higher alcohol content and reddish hue.
In the brewery, Corsa (Cervecería del Oriente Sociedad Autonoma) has ten 2200 L conical fermenters, one mash tun and two boilers, and they reported brewing about two fermenters per week. They do not treat the water at all, which is largely why they located themselves 11 km outside of Santa Cruz proper, in the zone of Mapaiso. Santa Cruz water is extremely hard and alkaline (the tap water’s pH is around 8.0), but apparently the water they draw from their own well does not require treatment. There’s a tradeoff there because the directions to finding the brewery are something along the lines of, “around kilometer 11, take the first left after the Fridosa factory, go to the first bend in the road and it’s on the right (albeit unmarked)”. That said, Corsa has a bit of marketing and significant work to do before it builds a tasting room or flagship brewpub in which to highlight their beers. One of the partners mentioned that their long term plans include building a tasting room, but that’s years down the line (along with developing a line of 5 L party-size kegs).
The upside of not having to treat the water is that Corsa can market its beers as “all natural” and “unpasteurized,” which to foreign ears may seem a tad gimmicky, but not having artificial additives of any kind is something to differentiate it from the mass market lagers on offer.
Corsa generally sees itself as a brand in competition with imported premium lagers like Stella Artois, Heineken and Budweiser, although it’s worth pointing out that Corsa’s beers bring much more character and taste to table. This past year, the Lager won a Silver medal at the South Beer Cup in Argentina entered in the “Experimental” Category, primarily because Kellerbier did not have its own category. Feedback there noted that it had very little effervescence, similar to a cask ale.
Early on, the Lager especially lacked significant head retention, but Corsa recently made the switch from green to brown bottles with Corsa branded on them. In a side by side test, these were the results:
|Brown bottle||Green bottle|
|Drier, more bitter, malty aftertaste, better head, hops bring to mind peaches and mint||Lots of caramel, sweeter, almost has a Scottish character to it|
Granted, it’s not a scientific comparison given that factors like age and serving temperature weren’t controlled, but there was a notable difference when tasted next to each other, with positive or negative results primarily based on personal preferences.
Personally, it was great to see Santa Cruz have its own entry into a nascent microbrewery scene in Bolivia, and I’m glad to see it making inroads on the menus and supermarket shelves here and throughout the country. Hopefully they’ll be able to open up their offerings and selections, although given that the spirit of the brewery isn’t quite the go-for-broke creativity in the global microbrewery zeitgeist, perhaps we have what the Brewers Associations likes to call a “regional craft brewery” within the context of Bolivia. It certainly won’t hurt.