South American Beer Adventures

The Great South Beer Cup, Buenos Aires, May 10-15, 2011

A few months ago, I was invited by Martin Boan, owner of a malting facility and also a company which conducts classes for aspiring brewers, to judge and speak at the inaugural South Beer Cup, the first South America wide craft beer conference and competition. There were 3 other North Americans participating. They were Jay Brooks, a beer writer, Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete’s Wicked Ale, and Stephen Beaumont, a beer writer from Canada.

On Tuesday night, there was a beer, food, and chocolate tasting for about 50 people at a bar with a good selection of Argentinean craft beer. On Wednesday and Thursday, about 20 judges judged about 300 beers from 80 breweries in 20 categories. The beers were from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Columbia. All in all, the quality was some good, and some not so good. Frequent problems were phenols, bacteria, lack of hop flavor and aroma in hoppy styles, and astringency. Surprisingly, oxidation was quite rare.

On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, there were receptions at brewpubs for brewers, judges, and other hangers on. The conference was on Friday and Saturday. There were about 200 attendees. I only went to the opening remarks and a presentation of the history and status of craft brewing in Argentina because the whole day was in Spanish. The first craft brewery in Argentina opened in 1991, and now there are 82 in a country of 39 million people. Combined, they produce about 50,000 barrels per year, or 0.26% of total beer sales. In many ways, they are about 15-20 years behind the US craft beer industry.

Friday night there was a reception at an old beer hall built by Quilmes (a large light lager brewer) in the 1920s. The place is no longer a beer hall and has been bought by the city of Buenos Aires to be made into a brewing museum. It is a very ornate structure, both inside and out and was perfect for a number of Argentinean breweries to serve their beers. It was open to the public and had about 400 people in attendance.

On Saturday morning, Pete spoke about how he and his partner started Pete’s. They were always a marketing company first and that is how they went about planning their business. Jay spoke of the importance of marketing and specific things craft brewers should do to promote their beer and themselves. Stephen spoke about craft brewing industries in about 8 up and coming craft beer markets around the world. I gave a modified version of our sustainability presentation and tried to stress that any level of attempt of sustainability is better than none. A lot of these breweries are short on capital and trying to make their breweries work. In our beginning, we didn’t think much about our environmental impact because we were concentrating on establishing our business and being profitable. A surprising number of people came up to me afterward to ask questions or to tell me some of the things they are doing, and would like to do in the future.

I also gave a short bit about the past, present, and possible future of US craft brewing All 4 of us emphasized that way more can be accomplished if craft brewers work together to promote the industry, rather than going at it alone.

Saturday night was the awards ceremony. It was open to the public and featured many beers to taste, and great food. There were probably 300 people there. I took down a case of Friek, a case of Myrcenary, and 4 bottles of Avant Peche. People loved them, especially the Myrcenary. The ceremony itself was great. Not only were brewers really excited to win awards, they were truly excited for each other as well.

Throughout the week, brewers came up to me and told me how important it was to have the 4 of us from North America there. They thought our presence helped to legitimize South American craft brewing, and that we brought knowledge and experience they really need and appreciate. It really is a good feeling to help passionate and dedicated beer lovers establish themselves and their craft brewing industry in South America.

Sunday was a free day and a number of us went to an asado for a late lunch. An asado is a restaurant specializing in grilled and roasted meat. I have never been to a place like it. It probable seated about 600 people with 100 or so people waiting at any given time. They had 2 fire pits, 3 very large grills, and one wood fired oven. If you like grilled and roasted beef ribs, filet mignon, pork, tripe, lamb, goat, chicken, sausages, or rabbit, this is the place for you.

On Monday May 16th I flew to Montevideo Uruguay because it was the same price to stop there for a day as it was to continue to Sao Paulo Brazil where I did more beer related things. I just wanted to see the city but while at the conference I met a Uruguayan brewer who invited me to visit his brewery. As it turns out, it was only 4 blocks from my hotel. Cerveceria Davok is a very small, shoestring budget brewery. All the people have other jobs, and brew only 5, 2 barrel batches every Friday. The equipment is even more basic than a good homebrew set up, but their beers were surprisingly good. They won 3 medals at the South Beer Cup.

All in all, this was a wonderful event. It was great to get to know some South American craft brewers and learn they are as passionate about brewing as any craft brewer out there. It was fun to taste their beer, and see the sights of Buenos Aires.

You can learn more about the Great South Beer cup at

Until next time,