Tasting five Stier beers

Stier is owned and run by three expats from Chile, France, and Germany, who all married Cochabambinas and stayed. Splitting the difference between La Paz and Santa Cruz, Cochabamba is a dominant city for trade and agriculture in the valleys region. Sometimes referred to as a “city of eternal spring,” it hosts many headquarters of various foreign organizations for the same reason. And as such, there’s a small critical mass of beer interest to provide a market.

I exchanged a few emails with Rodrigo Cadiz, the Chilean brewer in researching a magazine article and came out with a few tidbits that didn’t fit. Cadiz said, “We’re influenced by all schools–we try to take the styles that can be adapted to have the most impact in the Bolivian market. We estimate that half of our market is Bolivian and the other half foreign tourists in Bolivia.”

Currently producing 1500-2000 liters (13-17 bbl) a month (which comes out to around 200 bbl annually), they don’t modify their water. Their honey and strawberry beers have particularly eye-catching labels that are innovative for the Bolivian context: “We have two label designers; one who focuses on traditional styles that are more rigid, and on the other hand, we have another designer who works with the more novel beers without a defined style. For example, on our latest honey beer we worked with some Cochabambino artists associated with the Arte Urquidi Cultural Center.” The IPA label also was drawn up in collaboration with Arte Urquidi.

I picked up the first four of these bottles of Stier at the Spitting Llama in Cochabamba. They all spent some time on an overnight bus through the Chapare, so their clarity may have been somewhat affected. I’d previously tried the strong ale, honey beer and weizen, the latter two of which I’d probably say are Stier’s best offerings, especially the latter. I went through these in a few sessions. 

Session I:

Frutilla: This bottle wasn’t properly capped, so it leaked a bit in transit and probably screwed around with the final product. Apparently brewed with strawberry, it’s a turbid color of ruby red grapefruit flesh. Definitely a “girl beer.” Strong strawberry flavor, but feels like a Mineragua–i.e. a seltzer that evokes soda pop beer–and has a background of raw green beans. To be fair, that’s kind of what strawberries often taste like here. So, not great, and disturbingly pink. My wife loves the label, which oddly features no ingredient list. 6% ABV.

Pilsener: Yellow, pale, a bit opaque (probably the fault of the transportation again), 5.8%, and is carbonated like the priming sugar didn’t get mixed in all that well. While the label says it has citric notes from the German hops, I get more herbal and a bit of tartness and again with the unexpected seltzer feeling. More interesting than your run-of-the-mill industrial pilsener, but I’m not sure I’d be able to differentiate this from a blonde ale.

Session II:

This was taken back in 2012 or so, but the impression remains consistent a few year later.

This was taken back in 2012 or so, but the impression remains consistent a few year later.

Strong Ale: Between dark copper and light brown, translucent, with a nice white head that lingers on a bit around the edges. Aroma is fruity, sweet and just a bit of malt. Sweet on the finish, some malt–not overbearing–is there a hint of meat in there? Better than the first time I tried this. A light body; I think I’ll let this warm a bit. Oomph, at 7.2% ABV, perhaps I should have had something to eat before, and it’s a hot afternoon. I feel like this Strong Ale illustrates a prime challenge for Bolivian brewers: the only malt commercially available here is pilsner malt from Sureña, and it lacks the character demanded by malty ales; crystal malts can contribute some character in there, but without a good base malt, you lose a layer of potential. I did find out from Ted’s Cerveceria recently that Potosina has their own internal malting operations, but that lack of a maltster is currently either a huge gap and/or opportunity in the growing artisanal beer market for Bolivia. Take heed, someone.

Warming helps. The malt comes out a bit more. That meatiness I thought I detected declines and is replaced by malt. The body is still light.

Wow, this is way better warmer. Still not a world-beater, but a nice entrant.

Session III:

Stout: 8.2% ABV means this is one of, if not the strongest beer brewed commercially in Bolivia at the moment. And at that strength, it seems fair think it might impose itself onto “Imperial” territory. I’ll just be honest that before I start this, my points of reference are memories of sipping Old Rasputin next to a big juicy hamburger. So, the framework of expectations calling for bitter and thick might color this a little bit. At the pour, Stier’s Stout smells of roast, coffee, and chocolate. Jet black, just the slightest bit translucent on the sides and a tan head. That’s a good start. I start drinking and It’s sweet and the body is medium. There’s some little bit of cherry and malt, and it’s more thin than I’d hoped. Ugh, my previous expectations aren’t helping this. I know that I was hoping for the perpection of about 40 more IBUs and a milkshake texture, but I should know better. Nobody’s going to buy or drink that profile here (just yet). But Bolivians will understand this, even appreciate it.

The IPA wasn’t ready when I happened to be in Cochabamba, but I was able to buy a few bottles from Stier once it was ready. Again, overnight bus delivery down the Andes = inevitable sloshing. 

Session IV:

IPA: Well, in the interest of keeping it constructive, I’ll say this is much more of an English golden ale or something like a cream ale. Pale, lightly carbonated, fruity, with a slight whiff of hops; I’m keeping in mind that a bitter IPA is not going get much traction at the moment in Bolivia. Still, it’s disappointing to crack it open and not even have much of a nose to greet you. I’d say this has some refining to go. To be honest, it’s a bit less hoppy (in terms of aroma, taste, etc.) than Kushaav’s Aleksandra golden ale.

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