Developing a Bolivian Style of Brewing

As I was perusing the newly released 2015 BJCP guidelines, I noticed at the very end two Argentine styles were recently added: the Dorada Pampeana and Argentine IPA. I cited Dorada Pampeana back in 2013 as an example when I was writing about the thought process of developing a local Bolivian style, so it’s good to see that Northern brewing groups are paying attention to happenings elsewhere. Here’s the newly minted and cemented (for better and for worse) entry for Dorada Pampeana in Spanish and English:

X1. Dorada Pampeana Suggested style placement: Category 18 (Pale American Beer)

En sus comienzos los cerveceros caseros argentinos estaban muy limitados: no existían los extractos, sólo malta pilsen y lúpulo Cascade. Sólo levaduras secas, comúnmente Nottingham, Windsor o Safale. Con estos ingredientes, los cerveceros argentinos desarrollaron una versión específica de la Blond Ale, llamda Dorada Pampeana.

Impresión general: Fácilmente bebible, accesible, con orientación a malta.

Aroma: aroma dulce maltoso ligero a moderado. Es aceptable el aroma frutal bajo a moderado. Debe tener aroma a lúpulo bajo a medio. Sin diacetilo.

Aspecto: color amarillo claro a dorado profundo. Claro a brillante. Espuma baja a medio con buena retención.

Sabor: Dulzor maltoso inicial suave. Típicamente ausentes los flavors a caramelo. Flavor a lúpulo ligero a moderado (usualmente Cascade), pero no debería ser agresivo. Amargor bajo a moderado, pero el balance tiende a la malta. Final medio-seco o algo dulce. Sin diacetilo.

Sensación en boca: Cuerpo mediano ligero a medio. Carbonatación media a alta. Sensación suave sin amargor áspero o astringencia.

Comentarios: es dificultoso lograr el balance.

Historia: los primeros cerveceros argentinos sólo accedían a malta pilsen y lúpulo cascade y con ellos desarrollaron esta variante de Blond Ale.

Ingredientes: usualmente solo malta pálida o pilsen, aunque puede incluir bajas proporciones de malta caramelizadas. Comúnmente lúpulo Cascade. Levaduras americanas limpias, británicas levemente frutadas o Kölsch, usualmente acondicionada en frío.

Estadísticas vitales: D.I.: 1.042 – 1.054 IBUs: 15 – 22 D.F.: 1.009 – 1.013 SRM: 3 – 5 G.A.: 4,3º – 5,5º

Pampas Golden Ale

Overall impression: easy drinkability, malt-oriented.

Aroma: light to moderate sweet malty aroma. Low to moderate fruity aroma is acceptable. May have a low to medium hop aroma. No diacetyl.

Appearance: light yellow to deep gold color. Clear to brilliant. Low to medium head with good retention.

Flavor: Initial soft malty sweetness. Caramel flavors typically are absent. Mild to moderate hop flavor (usually Cascade), but should not be aggressive. Low to moderate hop bitterness, the balance is normally towards the malt. Half-dry to something sweet finish. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Medium to high carbonation. Smooth without harsh bitterness or astringency.

Comments: it is difficult to achieve the balance.

History: At the beginning argentine homebrewers were very limited: there weren´t extract, they could use only pils malt, Cascade hops and dry yeast, commonly Nottingham, Windsor or Safale. With these ingredients, Argentine brewers developed a specific version of Blond Ale, named Dorada Pampeana.

Ingredients: usually only pale or pils malt, although may include low rates of caramelized malt. Commonly Cascade hops. Clean American yeast, slightly fruity British or Kölsch, usually packaged in cold.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.042 – 1.054 IBU: 15 – 22 FG: 1.009 – 1.013 SRM: 3 – 5 ABV: 4.3% – 5.5%


I sent the series on Developing a Bolivian Style of Brewing to a group of my fellow brewers here in Santa Cruz, and one of them–an anthropologist–weighed in with this feedback.

By Drew J-G

Like you shared, it is really impossible to make a “Bolivian” beer simply because of the huge geographic and ecological and cultural diversity inside these borders. A regional beer would be more appropriate. As far as marketability, doing a quinoa and coca beer would probably be considered as the most “Bolivian” but that is only because the world’s image of Bolivia is the Andes and Altiplano. For the rest of the country chafing under a government that wants to make Aymara and Quechua culture ubiquitous, it would seem neocolonial to call it “Bolivian.”

The truth is, going a little further in the aside about chicha, Beer itself is colonial. Rather than argue that chicha is the South American answer to Europe’s beer, we must also recognize that beer is not really from around here. It is the Coca-Cola of alcoholic beverages on this continent. The reason Argentina might have more tradition in microbrews is that they have a lot more migrants from Northern and Western Europe, they historically displaced(/killed) the indigenous population, and they have the climate to grow the ingredients. Even then, Argentina’s mass beer consumption is less diverse even than Bolivia’s (or it was when I was there eight years ago).

I guess I wonder, with the criteria that you gave in this series, if part of the historic and geographic roots needed to create a new type of beer would also mean that all the ingredients should be cultivated where the beer is brewed. Just like chicha is made of local products, beer is (was) too when it was invented and the tradition reflected in that list of types reflects the origin not just of the beer, but of its ingredients. So, would adding a Chaco honey or achachairu really make it a regional beer if the other ingredients had to be brought from somewhere else? Would that mean that the only fully Bolivian beer could come from the valleys and mountains where all the key ingredients to traditional beer can be and are produced? I am a little ignorant on this. I am really just thinking out loud.

I know that today you can get anything just about anywhere, which is the part that makes this discussion so interesting. At some point, though, I guess we have to recognize that a Bolivian beer will be a beer with influences and accents from all over the world, and that doesn’t make it any less Bolivian. Like you said, the end product is more what counts in the classification rather than how you got there.

This reminds me of an example: Early American anthropology at the turn of the 20th century was mostly concerned with recording and studying the few remaining Native American tribes that lived “traditionally.” Their concern was that with the rapidly changing world around them that these groups and their lifestyles and cultures would “disappear.” So they would go to these villages and instead of asking the people about their lives, they would ask about how their grandparents lived because they believed that the previous generations had lived “authentic” lives while the current generation, due to the influence of modern technology and global economic and dominant Euro-American cultural forces, no longer lived authentic lives.

Of course today, anthropologists recognize that you can’t go up to a Sioux family living in South Chicago and say “you aren’t authentic Sioux because you don’t live the way your ancestors did, you don’t hunt bison and you live in a huge city.” Cultures change constantly in reaction and in interaction with the many social, ecological, and cultural forces around them (and the differing levels of power in each of those relationships). So, those things have an effect on what “Bolivian” means as you explore in this series. I just say that to say you shouldn’t try to split hairs about Bolivian-ness when it is buried under so many layers, as is the history of beer and its global conquest.

This doesn’t end up sounding much like a conversation about beer, so much as anthropology. If I had to design a Bolivian style of beer, I’d say stick with the quinoa for sure. Try to spice it up with aji chuquisaqueño. It is the special spice they use is those delicious sausages and empanadas in Sucre. You can find it dried at the market, or sometimes in powder form, although most people from Sucre that I know swear buying it here in Santa Cruz just isn’t the same as bringing it from Chuquisaca. And also, the trimate blend might be a nice herbal touch with a little more something that just straight coca.

So now having described the two approaches to the second criterion (brewing with unique, local ingredients), let me quickly summarize them one more time:

  1. Bolivian ingredients used to interpret existing styles
  2. 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.

  1. Tradition based in a historical narrative that is geographically distinct
    1. A fairly set ingredient bill reinforces the validity of the tradition
  2. 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

Chaco honey

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.

The example I gave previously for this approach was a Belgian Golden Strong brewed with yucca starch as the sugar used to boost original gravity. This approach is basically driven by locavore sympathies, and to some extent economic ones. In a food-producing country like Bolivia, it actually makes a lot of sense to use local ingredients simply because it’s cheaper. Taking the example, you would usually brew this with a fairly simple ingredient bill: Pilsner malt, perhaps some Vienna, and a sugar addition. With all the sugarcane grown here in Santa Cruz, there are lots of options for using sugar in its various stages of processing. Or, you could go with ground yucca starch in the mash for a potentially cheaper option. Same thing with chicha flour, potatoes, or any other starch that can be mashed.

The key to this approach, though, is not creativity in design, but creativity in substitution. Granted, all beer styles do not have especially fixed ingredient bills, but certain ones do. Unfortunately, the example of sugar above is a bit too easy because there are plenty of other starches here that add very little flavor-wise. Try this with, say, and Hefeweizen, and the distinction of something being “Bolivian” is exclusively in the geographic sourcing of the ingredients. In other words, you brew a Hefeweizen with Bolivian-sourced pilsner and wheat. The problem is that represents a certifiably “local” beer, but not a uniquely Bolivian beer. So, inevitably, you’re going to have to push those ingredient boundaries a little.


Let’s apply this to the Scottish 60/-70/-80/ ale style. The BJCP guidelines state that, “Traditional Scottish session beers reflecting the indigenous ingredients (water, malt), with less hops than their English counterparts (due to the need to import them). Long, cool fermentations are traditionally used in Scottish brewing.” Ingredient-wise, it calls for a Scottish or English base malt, a small amount of roasted barley for color, and un-attenuative yeast, and potentially small amounts of an adjunct. Noting that these beers reflect indigenous ingredients sets you up to easily create a Bolivian interpretation of the style. Bolivia has a decent-sized barley industry and besides brewing, Sureña is also a maltster providing Pilsner malt. That’s your base. Roasted barley could be locally sourced, or, a traditional grain that has been roasted could provide your color hue. Let’s suggest roasted quinoa for that role. Hops will still have to be imported, and a cool fermentation means this really ought to be brewed in a cooler part of Bolivia, but the final addition of a “crystal, amber, or wheat malts, and adjuncts such as sugar” leaves room for another point of interpretation. Perhaps a toasted quinoa to keep with the theme, or an amber amaranth. This is where creativity is acceptable.

Ironically, it’s the more rigid styles (in the sense that they have more specific ingredients) where this is an easier interpretation to apply. One more example, but let’s use, say, Blonde Ale (BJCP #6B). This is a kind of introductory craft beer, a counterpart to mass-produced lagers that doesn’t go too crazy with the possibilities (like a Saison might), but still has a set of guidelines: “Generally all malt, but can include up to 25% wheat malt and some sugar adjuncts. Any hop variety can be used. Clean American, lightly fruity English, or Kölsch yeast. May also be made with lager yeast, or cold-conditioned. Some versions may have honey, spices and/or fruit added, although if any of these ingredients are stronger than a background flavor they should be entered in specialty [categories].” Each of those guidelines suggest Bolivian possibilities, especially the final note of spices and/or fruit. Without analyzing each, here’s a potential example: Pilsner base with 10% malted quinoa, and 5% yucca starch, and a Trimate tea blend added at 15 minutes and knockout for aroma. Those combinations would give you a beer brewed with identifiably Bolivian ingredients within the guidelines of the style.

Trimate: with chamomile, anis, and coca leaves.

While this second ingredient approach is really useful and applicable, I still think it offers a weaker argument for a “Bolivian style,” because it really is not a style in and of itself—it quite obviously is only an interpretation of an established style. Indeed, this really is more of a beer that can be marketed for its locally-sourced qualities, if not necessarily it’s locally identifiable qualities. So it still has value as part of this extended discussion even as I would say it’s not an adequate answer.