Small Beer

The Cervecería Nacional Boliviana (CBN)–an AB-InBev subsidiary–is the largest brewery in Bolivia, and perhaps surprisingly, it actually offers a pretty decent variety of beers to the mass market consumer, including two dark beers, Paceña Black and Bicervecina El Inca. The former is a fairly straightforward black version of the Paceña flagship line of beers, sweetened and darkened with artificial flavoring into a cloying, molasses and raisin juicey beer (that, bizarrely, won an International Taste & Quality Institute crystal star last year).

The latter is ubiquitous in the highlands of Bolivia, and you most often encounter it at fruit juice stands. See below:

batido bicervecina

Fruit juice stand in La Paz. You can just make out the Bicervecina El Inca beneath the oranges, to the right of the orange soft drink.

Yup, here in Bolivia you can get a healthy fruit smoothie, made with a fresh assortment of produce to your specifications, whipped up with a pint of dark beer as well. El Inca is a dark, sweet, very malty beer clocking in at a very light 3% ABV, and considered a beer of the campesino–the peasant’s drink. Unbalanced towards sweetness, the low grade of alcohol makes it socially acceptable to have one with lunch in polite company without raising eyebrows (whereas, say, ordering your standard 5% lager might have people thinking you’re a bit of a borracho). Obviously, it’s also perfectly acceptable to have one mixed in with your morning Jamba juice equivalent.

What exactly the “bicervecina” part is, I have no idea. Double-brewed? Back-sweetened? Implying it’s highly malty? I really have no idea.


It’s almost February, and since coming back from Chile (a few more reviews are yet to come!), I’ve already brewed three times. When I first started homebrewing, I referenced a bunch of beer blogs as sources for recipes, and while I’m grateful for the start those gave me, I’ve kind of decided that no one but myself really cares about the details of the recipes I’m brewing, so I’m not going to bother with the effort that is required in being terribly systematic about posting the recipe, review, and collating it all on a separate recipes page. Apologies if anyone actually was looking for that; but to be fair all my specialty malts are homemade and as such most of the recipes are un-replicable anyway. Mostly, I just prefer to read style profiles and reference books for inspiration.

But, it’s still nice to write about what I’ve been brewing in narrative form at least. A couple weeks ago I brewed a double mash (as always) that I split into a wild saison called Three Years’ End and my personal Sisyphean beer, Honey Sage Tripel. Three Years’ End is inspired because we’re here in Bolivia on a three year contract, which will end just under a year from now, so I wanted to brew something particularly special to celebrate when we leave, taking into account a triple theme. Gimmicky, yes, but I think it should turn out well. It has three malts (pilsner, vienna, crystal 15L), three sugar adjuncts (honey, homemade candy syrup, and turbinado/raw sugar), three starches added into the boil for the brett to eat up later (wheat starch, corn grits, and yucca starch), three hops (Cluster, Palisade, and Saaz), and three yeasts (T-58 for 3 days, Wyeast 3724 Saison for 3 weeks, and Brettanomyces Clausenii for 3 months). The Honey Sage Tripel is based on the Honey Sage Seasonal kit from Brooklyn Brewshop that was, I think, the second beer I brewed, and possibly my favorite. I’ve tried replicating with no success at least three times, but this one seems promising.

Last week was the Plurinational State holiday here in Bolivia, and I took the opportunity to try my first turbid mash and brew 8 L of lambic wort. I’ll do this again in May or so and then in August, and throughout the year I’ll blend it in a few ways to end up with an unblended Lambic, Gueuze, Faro, and fruited Lambic (obviously all young, but I’m working on a time limit). Today I racked the wort from the primary fermentation on S-33 to two 5L fermenters that have yeast cakes for Roesalare blend and Brett C. The Roesalare fermenter was recently vacated by a Dubbel that had been sitting on it for a couple months, and the Brett C fermenter housed a SMaSH beer made with pilsner and Columbus hops–it smells like pineapples and pine and I can’t wait to open a bottle of it.  As always, thanks to Jeff at Bikes Beer and Adventures for sending those to me!

Two lambics getting ready for the longer haul.

Two lambics getting ready for the longer haul.

This past Friday I brewed 5 gallons of wheat wine wort with a recent brewing friend, Pablo at his (stellar) setup. We used Brain Sparging on Brewing’s wheat wine recipe as our starting point, but with some chocolate malt thrown in for another dimension. We also bottled and mini-kegged 5 gallons of Gose (I suspect he has a legitimate claim to brewing the first Gose ever in Bolivia). Back in December, we’d tried to brew 10 gallons of a Duvel clone, but something went horribly awry with our conversion and extraction, and we ended up with a wort that was around 1.060 instead of 1.080. We cut some corners and didn’t bother to cool it quickly, came back the next day and it was obviously infected–but, we pitched the Wyeast 1344 yeast to see what happened anyway. Yesterday we bottled a couple gallons of it and put the rest in secondary, and it’s utterly delicious. I finally tried Duvel while I was in Chile, and while it was a great beer, I can’t say I understand the universal acclaim; tripels and golden strongs are some of my favorite styles, but I failed to see why Duvel gets that extra bit of love. Granted, Chile’s pretty far from Belgium, so I’ll say that freshness and storage are factors to consider. Nonetheless, when we sampled our “failed” brew yesterday, it smelled of an aromatic perry and was a real revelation in flavor. Intriguing.

Finally, I’ve gone through most of the wheat beers I brewed early on in summer, and the results of the sour mash have received nearly universal acclaim. The Motoyoe Berliner Weisse has gotten lots of rave reviews: fresh it was a bit smoother and the fruit really came out, with a month in the bottle there was some tartness to round out the flavor. It’s counterpart, the Honeyed Chamomile Wit tastes like pure vanilla cookies. The Sour Saison Blanche tasted a lot like the clean Saison Blanche, but again, one month and it suddenly brightens up with some tartness to round out the flavor. So, a 10 hour sour mash gives you just enough acidity to brighten the flavor. Good to keep in mind.

I almost forgot to mention this, but in December I brewed a batch of Belgian pale ale wort boiled with lavender and thyme that was first fermented on T-58, and then half was bottled along with an infusion made from dried coffee berry skins (you can buy it in all the markets here and people make a tea out of it–when infused at less than 80 C, it tastes like slightly overaged Chardonnay), and the other half had saison yeast added to it to yield a Saison de Provence. I’ve found that when I run my saison yeast nice and hot (i.e. up to 34+ C), it tends towards lemon pepper, so those ought to pair with thyme and lavender. We’ll see.

Looking ahead, in the next few weeks I hope to brew a few things. First, I’m craving something chocolatey, so I think I’ll try something porter-like (although it’s still smack in the middle of summer), and then I need to clear out some hops, so I think I’ll try a pale ale that loads on the late boil additions, with most bittering hops around 30 minutes. And then, some friends’ grape vines have finally yielded, so I have an idea in mind for that I’ll get to soon as well.

The "drink soonest" box in my aging room. Mgo = mango cider, D6 = dubbel 6, BPA = Belgian pale ale, MBW = motoyoe Berliner weisse, BPAC = Belgian pale ale with lavender, thyme, and coffee berry skins, Na = gose, Wild = brett + lacto pale ale, T5 = tripel 5, DR = dubbel with roeselare blend, BW = Berliner weisse with banana passionfruit.

The “drink soonest” box in my aging room. Mgo = mango cider, D6 = dubbel 6, BPA = Belgian pale ale, MBW = motoyoe Berliner weisse, BPAC = Belgian pale ale with lavender, thyme, and coffee berry skins, Na = gose, Wild = brett + lacto pale ale, T5 = tripel 5, DR = dubbel with roeselare blend, BW = Berliner weisse with banana passionfruit.

I’ve been doing a lot of Berliner Weisse lately. First was the wild BW that I aged for a good two months on tumbo (banana passionfruit) and just recently bottled a few weeks ago. It’s mouth-puckeringly sour and smells like overripe farmers cheese, but the one bottle I opened last weekend was probably one of the most complex tasting beers I’ve made. If I could tone it down and make it a bit more refreshing than overpowering, it’ll be a gem.

Then there was the sour mash that got split into two batches, one of which is meant as a BW racked onto motoyoé–I bottled and opened one of these fresh this past weekend, at it was smooth, creamy, sweet, and utterly delicious. It doesn’t yield any noticeable tartness (I think that three days might be the sweet spot for sour mashes), but the idea is going into my own personal canon.

And then finally, I was cleaning up a camera and came across the pictures of my first sour mashed BW, complete with some raspberry syrup for the tasting. Enjoy!

Preparing a raspberry syrup with some artificial flavoring, which is the best you can do here. I've never seen fresh raspberries in the two years I've been here. Elderberries, yes.

Preparing a raspberry syrup with some artificial flavoring, which is the best you can do here. I’ve never seen fresh raspberries in the two years I’ve been here. Elderberries, yes.

Berliner Weisse no. I in the glass with a shot of raspberry syrup to cut the sourness.

Berliner Weisse no. I in the glass with a shot of raspberry syrup to cut the sourness.

Today I bottled 3140 mL of mango cider with 20g of table sugar for priming. It’s mildly tart, tastes generally like a fruity white wine with a lot of body. It was a very unscientific/farmhouse brew: just a bunch of mango pulp brought to a boil, strained, with a couple cups of table sugar mixed in and dumped on a Safale T-58 yeast cake. This actually has the potential of being a decent experiment, rather than something you regret as it goes in the bottle. It’s just now hitting peak mango season, so if this works, I’ll try it again and maybe use a mix of mango varieties as well.

Tonight I hope to bottle the chamomile honey witbier and Berliner weisse from the previous post. I neglected to mention it then, but after the boil, I put the Berliner weisse wort onto about 600g of motoyoé, which is another fruit currently in season here that’s like vaguely a lychee with lime skin, and tastes like Wrigley’s bubblegum. I’d only seen it on the grounds of an orphanage I work with here before it showed up in the market the day I was brewing, and since it’s a real pain to just eat, I figured it might compliment the sour-mashed Berliner weisse well. We shall see how that turns out.

Motoyoé: like many native fruits here, it’s purported to cure all manner of ailments; among other things, nicotine addiction.