Strange, perhaps, that the first proper post of the Brewcave should be about beer in Argentina. Given that we are a group of keen beer drinkers/makers/abusers from the inner north of Melbourne, the drinking habits of our good friends from across the big pond (who share with us a nasty habit of loosing to the Kiwis in Rugby) ought to be of little concern to us.
But we live in a globalised world. And Corks is studying over there. So we know a bit. And we do like to give our two cents.
The beer scene can be characterised by one world: Quilmes. If you think VB has a healthy market share, think again. Quilmes (recently bought out by AmBev, as of Oct 2011 the world’s largest brewing company) has about 75% of the market cornered, though change is in the works from below and outside. The flagship self-titled brew, if you were, is uninspiring, but a few years back the company expanded its stable to include a Red Lager, a Stout and a Bock, presumably due to the challenge from quality brewers (see below). None are particularly popular, but all three are better than the Quilmes orginal, which itself is marginally better than the standard Aussie fare. The Bock, in particular, is worth a try; indeed, it inspired this article.
Typically, Quilmes and its competition, which include Isenbeck, the Brazillian staple Brahma (find me somewhere in América Latina where this is not available, please!), local versions of Stella and Budweiser, and a cohort of provincial interpretations of the standard universal dirty lager, are best purchased in the 970ml size. This wonderful tamaño is the perfect size to share between three muchachos, as it were, though admittedly it presents a bit of a challenge to the solo drinker who’s after a quiet beer to round out a tough day at the ‘whatever’. Buying them can be confusing however; the concept of ‘envase‘ can throw even the most confident of castellano speakers. ‘Envase‘ basically means that the bottles are returnable, and in order to buy them one must pay what is essentially a deposit. Works fine, just remember to keen your bottles. I’ve even carried them home with me from parties.
Smaller sizes are also available. But the most important little tidbit of information is that there are a myriad of companies that DELIVER RIGHT TO YOUR DOOR! Imagine, the beer runs out and the guests are a little bored. Just grab ten pesos from everyone, call one of these mobs up, and boom, game on, and party continues!
These industrial brewers and their 1L bottles have a stranglehold on the beer culture of the country, and will remain so for the immediate future. Craft brewing is definitely on the rise, though. A small selection is normally on offer in the larger supermarkets in the more well-off areas, and a visit by yours trule to Oktoberfest just outside the city of Cordoba the other day revealed a solid base of smaller breweries brewing acceptable quality craft beer, or ‘cerveza artesanal‘ to use the local vernacular.
Of particular interest to the discerning drinker is the ‘Cervecería Artesanal’ Antares , who seem to have a beer hall in most bigger cities, with the Palermo establisment in Buenos Aires being a mere 10 ‘cuadras’ from my house. Quite the classy establishment, like a smaller but cheaper Little Creatures Beer Hall but with more imaginative offerings, such as a particularly nice Barley Wine in the North American style. This place is packed out every night, so get there early, or book a table.
In a country in which wine is indisputably king, beer still has a way to go yet. But things are slowly changing, and the people here have enough of an appreciation for quality that I imagine in years to come the country will recapture its rich brewing heritage (many a german, welshman and englishman settled here in days of yore), and produce beers of a quality to rival its superb wines.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish my Quilmes Bock.