An increasing number of small privately owned microbreweries are giving credence to the idea that Argentina is capable of creating distinctive, well crafted ales as opposed to the industrially produced beers that currently dominate the market. Last weekend witnessed Buenos Aires’ inaugural Beer Day Festival with over 20 brewers invited from all over the country to wet the whistles of parched porteños, many of whom are beginning to acquire a taste for artisanal beers.
The Auditorio Buenos Aires on 2501 Pueyrredón hosted the event, the two huge floors decked out with brewer’s stalls, bars, and a stage. Throngs of Argentines, mostly in their mid-twenties – which bodes well for the future of craft ales in the country – poured in and immediately went about writing off the five100ml tasting samples courtesy of their entry ticket. After that it was $20 for just over half a pint.
Entries from as far afield as Patagonia opened their taps with Barioloche’s La Cruz brewery pouring Pale Ale and Extra Stout and the Owe brewery in Neuquén serving Double Ipa and Beligian Coriander Ale. There are currently over 200 enterprises brewing craft ales throughout Argentina.
Behind each stand were three or four representatives of the respective breweries who were eager to talk and explain the process behind their creations and the importance of Beer Day. Alexis Bracco of Buenos Aires based brewery Old Mule explained how many micro-breweries often don’t have the resources to promote their brand, therefore these types of events are particularly important in terms of exposure. “Having several events throughout the year is important for small producers because it gives them the opportunity to present their products and gets them noticed by the public,” he said.
Bracco also pointed out that even though the artisan movement in Argentina is relatively new it is gathering momentum and brewing techniques are improving as the interest escalates, resulting in a better overall product. “It is not only the distinct taste that attracts people to our beers but the fact that we are using pure ingredients to create a 100% natural ale without preservatives,” he added. Old Mule’s offering, a heady Porter, was dark, fruity, and full of flavour and proved a hit with festivalgoers.
Craft beers are taking off all over the world, especially the US and Europe. Sales of micro-brewed beer in the US rose 12% in the first half of last year according to the American based Brewers Association. Dozens of successful breweries are also springing up in the UK with pubs and bars eager to supply the evolving pallets of punters. “I think it part of a wider societal change. People are becoming much more aware of flavors,” says Stuart Howe, head brewer at Sharp’s Brewery in the U.K, best known for its Cornish cask ale Doom Bar. Only 0.2% of beer consumed in Argentina comes from independent microbreweries, as opposed to 7% in the US, which indicates huge potential for growth in the industry, especially given that the average Argentine drinks 45 liters of beer every year, according to figures from the Cámara Argentina de Industriales Cerveceros, with 18.6 million hectoliters (one hectoliter equals 100 liters) of beer produced in the country annually.
Head brewer at Rosario’s Fenicia Brewing Company, Daniel van der Veen said, “Beer is one of the most important historical drinks so it definitely deserves its own day. For us the festival is an opportunity to get close to other brewers, to taste beers, to discover new ideas, and of course to let people try our beer. It’s about promoting our passion for what we love doing: brewing.” Fenicia’s were promoting their Honey Blonde Ale and Brown Ale.
The movement is starting to make ripples in Argentina, especially with the young, who are eager to try new recipes. “Quilmes and Brahma become boring after a while so it is good to see other options. I would definitely pay more for a beer that has been brewed using natural ingredients, craft beers also tend to have a more interesting taste,” said 24-year-ol Lourdes Celis from Mendoza.
Martín Boan, owner of restaurant and brewery, The Beer House Experience, gave a talk on the benefits of cooking with beer and his role in organising the South Beer Cup, a prize awarded to the best beers in South America. “Until a few years ago, concepts such as sommeliers and pairing drink with food were exclusively tied to beverages like wine. Beer is gradually gaining ground in this sense due to its intrinsic qualities,” Boan explained. Visitors were also able to line their stomachs with pizza, the dough of course was made with beer, birramissu, and chocolate malted brownies.
Greenfolk belted out medieval inspired ballads from the stage early doors, their mix of flutes, lutes, guitars, and drums appeared to confuse much of the crowd at first but with inhibitions slowly drowned in a sea of beer people let loose on the dance floor as the evening wore on. The Blues Brothers followed before a couple of DJ sets rounded off events in the early hours.