Tasting three distinctively Bolivian beers

A couple weeks ago I went on vacation in the altiplano and had the chance to try out a couple new, fairly distinctive Bolivian beers.

First up was Cerveceria Kushaav‘s “El Salar” at Sol y Luna in La Paz (check out their new, finally-launched website). Kushaav’s beers are quickly gaining stock in my book for best commercially available beer currently available in Bolivia. I’ve already had their Coqueta porter and Aleksandra Pale Ale and both were excellent. El Salar is a beer brewed with quinoa, 5% ABV and pale. And it did not disappoint. Pale straw colored, a tad opaque and with a frothy head, it was quite dry on the tongue, with an almost rough mouthfeel and a hint of pear/light fruitiness that might come with an English ale yeast, this evoked a very farmhouse feel to it. Some grassy hops present as well to reinforce the impression. Very much worth your while and expense. (Apparently I forgot to take a picture. Oops.)

A few days later I happened upon a Cerveceria Vico’s “Ch’ama” from Sucre, this being an ale brewed with coca leaves. Coca is the obvious go-to for making a beer “Bolivian,” but in my experiments boiling, blanching, or “dry-hopping” it, it yields neither a favorable flavor nor much character. A 5% ABV ale, Ch’ama does nothing to change my impressions. It came off as a blonde, bland homebrew with only a hint of malt with just a vague hint of coca in the after taste–and even then, I feel like I have to search it out. So I am truly tasting it? or just imagining I taste it? I struggled to finish it.

Drinking Cerveceria Vico's (from Sucre) Ch'ama ale brewed with coca leaves  while in La Paz. Not particularly exciting.

Drinking Cerveceria Vico’s (from Sucre) Ch’ama ale brewed with coca leaves while in La Paz. Not particularly exciting.

Finally, I saw ads for the Potosí-based “Lipeña” quinoa beer while on a Salar de Uyuni four-day tour, so I figured I’d track some down. It proved harder than expected, but I was able to find it in a tourist boutique in Uyuni that specialized in chocolate, quinoa, amaranth and other “specialty” products you’ll find marketed to tourists here. At 3.5% ABV, it’s very, very light in all ways, including character. Quinoa is the primary ingredient, and based on recent spikes in the quinoa price, I’m guessing it starts with a low OG and the “adjunto cervecero” listed on the label is probably rice. Easy to drink, but not much to the experience beyond that. In the end, Kushaav’s “El Salar” is a much, much better way to experience quinoa, even if it’s brewed with malt as the base (or, especially because of that). I brought back a small bottle of this, so perhaps I’ll get a picture up once I drink it.

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