Barley Mowat 

Beer in Bolivia

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So, you’re in Bolivia; after quickly confirming that you haven’t (yet) been kidnapped and held for ransom, you decide that, since you’re here, you might as well check out the local craft brewing scene. First, you take a few minutes to review the myriad poor decisions in your life that led you to conclude that a beer tour of South America was a grand idea. Once you’re done, though, you can take some solace in the fact that it really isn’t as bad as you might think.

And that’s my summary. Honestly, “not as bad as you’d think” is a perfectly valid take-away for this whole post. If you’re in a hurry, just stop reading here and you’ll have about the same knowledge as the poor bored schmuck who just kept on readin’ to the end.

This attitude works for things other than beer. Seriously, did anyone actually watch this movie?

Before going into detail about Bolivian beer, some background is in order. The South American palate is a thing of wonder. In particular, these people love their foodstuffs sweet, perhaps even more so than Americans. Virtually everything that can be stuffed in your food hole is spiked with sugar to broaden its appeal. Here are some examples of things I actually encountered in South America to drive home this point:

  • A 6oz cappoccino, which already had sugar in it and whipped cream on top, was served with not one, not two, but three large sugar packets
  • Major brands of pop (Coke, etc) are sweeter than their sickly sweet North American counter-parts
  • Said major brands of pop are sold in 3 litre bottles, which themselves are bundled together into triplets, making for 9 litres of diabetes sauce in one convenient package. One of the three bottles is always Orange Crush
  • The most popular local beer style is known to us as “Caribbean Lager”; these insipid pale lagers have extra sugar added after fermentation to eliminate any lingering hops bitterness
  • The local soda makers, though, cater even further to the mighty gods of tooth decay, producing a drink that is so viscous with sugar that it pours noticeably slower (eg Inca Cola)
  • Bread, of all things, is sweetened. I mean, why?
  • Normal mustard is sweetened to the point of being indistinguishable from honey mustard
  • Many grocery store items contained both sugar AND artificial sweetener on the ingredients labels
  • A stout was described as “incredibly bitter–almost undrinkable–like all true stouts.” It was the maltiest, sweetest stout I have ever consumed

Wait… a stout? In South America? Sure it was effectively molasses in a glass, but damned if it wasn’t an actual stout brewed with actual ale yeast, pouring black with a tan head. I almost forgot where I was.

But then I saw the quality craftmanship of the building’s electrical wiring outside, and it all came back to me.

That’s the thing about Bolivia. Unlike most latin countries on this side of the Atlantic, cerveza doesn’t just come in one flavour produced by one brewery. Bolivians are fiercely loyal to their towns, to the point that each individual city has its own regional brewery. Locals proudly tell you that their local brewery produces the best beer in Bolivia and that all the others are crap. The fact that all these beers are nearly indistinguishable macro shit somehow has escaped everyone’s attention (and often they’re produced by AB-InBev anyway, so the jokes’ on the locals).

Even so, there are a few gems scattered throughout. Here is my Big List of Bolivian Beers. Each of these breweries typically produces a couple lagers, a bock, and a black version. Don’t let the names fool you, the Bocks are really just lagers with a shit tonne of sugar dumped in. The “Blacks” are the same, only with some kind of chemically-derived molasses-substitute crammed into the bottle.

Regionally produced Macros (aka skip)

Huari – AB-InBev, La Paz
Paceña – AB-InBev, La Paz
Taquiña AB-InBev, Cochabamba
Sureña – Semi-independent, Sucre
Potosina – Semi-independent, Potosi

Interesting or curious beers (doesn’t mean good)

Saya – Brewed by an American hostel near La Paz, these beers solidly rank as “significantly better than the local dreck, but still awful”; it’s hard to find, but if you see it jump on it
Judas – An imperial pilsener with shocking (for Bolivia) balance. Drinkable, but only decent by comparison to the other offerings. Brewed in La Paz, it loses some of its appeal (and carbonation) when consumed at lower altitudes.
Reineke Fuchs – A quasi german brew pub with two La Paz locations. A few options are available, but all are much sweeter than their German progenitors, even if less so than typical Bolivian beer (resulting in the above warning about stout on the menu)
El Inca – Produces a few variants, but one of which is Authentica. It’s a deliberately under-attenuated malty ale, so sickly sweet that I doubt I could finish it even on a dare
Lipeña – Here we go. This beer qualifies as “good” and I don’t just mean “good for Bolivia.” Brewed entirely with quinoa instead of barley, the result is reminiscent of a cloudy witbier with a unique grain flavour. Oh, did I mention it’s freaking bottle conditioned? Hands down the best beer in Bolivia.
Ted’s Cervezaria – I only saw the briefest mentions of this beer, as anyone that had it on their menu was curiously out. Rumour has it they make a decent red ale (Roja)

So there you have it: the official Barley Mowat guide to yet another Latin American country’s beer. I think I should start a write-in campaign to convince Sharon to go to Belgium next year…

Written by chuck

April 12th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Beer and You

One Response to 'Beer in Bolivia'

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  1. Chuck,

    As a native Argentinian I enjoyed reading this post about beer in Bolivia. I’ve never been to Bolivia myself but can attest to generally light fizzy beers in the region. Argentina’s national beer, Quilmes (which you can find in some LRS here) is very much bland, like the PaceƱa, but has that nostalgia factor for expats here, especially around WorldCup time!

    Big changes though are happening in the craft beer scene in Brazil (and also in Chile and Argentina).

    Perhaps you should plan a trip to the WorldCup next year in Brazil and see for yourself!



    19 Apr 13 at 15:45

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