Sunday, December 29, 2013

The last night in B.A., at Antares

  Cerveceria Antares started up in the late 90's in Buenos Aires, around the same time as Buller, so each is approaching its quinceanero (15th birthday) now.  Antares has opened outlets in other cities; I saw them in Bariloche and Mendoza, kind of like Rock Bottom here in the U.S.  Antares seems to favor a sleek corporate decor on the inside, without those quirky collections that adorn the walls of so many brewpubs in most countries.
Perhaps that's not fair--the back wall in this shot does contain posters of some breweries familiar to us: Sam Adams, Lagunitas, etc.  But the effect is still, as I said, corporate. No beer is brewed on the premises here, although the back bar does include some tall tanks, put there for show.
    Antares does present a good selection.  Here was the tap list on Dec. 14:
The Scotch I had tasted earlier, in another restaurant, and I knew it was excellent, much like Boundary Bay's entry here at home.  Caramel-y malts, toasty, great mouthfeel.  This evening, my last in the country, I went for some others on the list.
    Note the bitterness on the barleywine--50 IBUs.  Not a mistake: it was slightly hoppier than the IPA.  Lemony finish, certainly a different take on this style.  I liked it and with the high alcohol content, trust the brewer followed a barleywine recipe up to the bittering phase.  I had a short glass of the IPA afterwards, also tart, more of a lime flavor to finish.
    One more short glass, the Kolsch, knowing I'd be back in Bellingham and able to enjoy Chuckanut's great Kolsch again, soon.  Antares brewed this lager competently and it had that refreshing taste--just not quite able to put the same tingle on the palate.
     Check Antares on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate for more sophisticated tasters' opinions.  I know I was generally pleased with what I tasted.
(Visited 12/14/13)

Another country heard from: Barbot in Uruguay

   30-some miles across the River Plate estuary from Buenos Aires, about an hour by fast ferry, lies the picturesque town of Colonia, Uruguay.  Right in the middle of Colonia you will find an excellent brewpub called Barbot.  It is a true brewpub with the brewing equipment located upstairs.  When I stopped in, these were the beers on tap:  a golden ale (Marilyn), a pale ale (Thames), a bitter (Burton)., a porter (de Lobo), a stout (Dubliner), an IPA (Mumbai), a honey ale (no name), and a Belgian Blonde (Monsastere).  Of course, I had to work through a sampler tray and check them all.
   Barbot does not post IBUs or Amargors of its brews, so what follows is my subjective tongue.  Marilyn was rather more slender than the popular image, a very light golden, while the honey was very sweet and the alcohol cleverly hidden.   The pale was not bitter the way we know the style here on the west coast.  The bitter, on the other hand, was quite hoppy.  I double-checked to be sure I had not switched the glasses.  The porter was all malt and chocolate-y;  The stout was like the porter only more so and its aftertaste lingered longer.  The IPA was properly hoppy and had a citrus tang.  Finally, the Begian Blonde, balanced, fruity at the beginning, peaches or apricots was what I got.
   The dining space is several spaces:  a few tables out in front on the sidewalk, most of the tables inside, a bar area with barstools, and in the back, an open patio with a pretty tree and the back of the brick pizza oven to fill a corner.
I dined in this patio area, ordering the Uruguayan take on a Mexican burrito with a full pint of the very satisfactory Belgian Blonde.  The burrito was prepared well enough but I should have ordered steak again--the beef in Uruguay is even more tender than in Argentina, just sensational/
   Conversation with my server was all in my less-than-fluent Spanish, but I think she said Barbot opened less than a year ago, and has plans to expand brewing capacity to be able to bottle some product.  The most prevalent beer in the small country is called Patricia, made in the capital, Montevideo.  It seemed like an adequate lager but a craft brewer like Barbot, willing to try a nice variety of styles, is sure to be a hit here.
(Visited 12/13/13)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mendoza: Jerome, a great brewpub in a wine city

    After El Bolson, I flew up to Mendoza, as the Andean  peaks got higher. I really liked El B as a lively town, about the size of Helena or Mt. Vernon, and I really liked Mendoza, as a medium sized city, like Spokane or Tucson.  Especially Tucson: it's in a desert, the Andes having wrung every drop of moisture out of the soggy winds coming over from Chile.  The many vineyards, planted mostly to Malbec, depend on irrigation just as much as those in the Yakima Valley.
   The city has nice plazas and parks, and at first I thought I had finally found an Argentine city that maintained its sidewalks.  However, most streets have open irrigation ditches and the many sycamores sit in open wells on the sidewalks.  So it is still incumbent on the pedestrian to look down as he walks.
   A street called Aristede Villanueve runs from the edge of the downtown area to the splendid Parque San Martin, and it is lined with trendy shops and cool bars and restaurants. The prize here is the Jerome brewpub. There are some reviews on Beer Advocate and RateBeer; Mendoza is a popular tourist destination and Jerome is the leading craft brewer in the city.
Those reviews cover the everyday taps--but when I was here, in the warm December sunshine, there were some styles on tap I had not heretofore encountered in Argentina: a Trippel and a Barleywine.  Both done quite well.  I had a pint of each over a long leisurely dinner, and by gum, they nailed both styles very well.
The trippel was excellent, nice balance with banana and cinnamon flavors and a coppery color I wish I had taken a picture of.  The barleywine had good balance too, avoiding that oversweet taste some brewers give it.
    The brewery is in a small town west of the city, on the road to Aconcagua and Chile, and the story is worth retelling.  It is recounted on a wall inside the pub, at length in Spanish and somewhat abridged in English.  Here is the latter:
   Here is the story: the senior Eduardo Mascardi rescued a young Czech mountain climber from a bad spot in the Andes back in 1983, and in gratitude was invited to the climber's homeland where, by gosh, they make some really good beer.  Mascardi, Sr. learned the craft from Czech brewers and took his new skills back to Mendoza.  Started a brewery here over twenty years ago and named it after the family's faithful dog Jerome. Eduardo Sr. and Jerome have both since passed on, but Eduardo Jr. has taken up the torch  and what good beers he is making!
   I wish I had been able to sample more, but after a day in the vineyards, two pints was my limit this evening. The reviews referenced earlier indicate that Jerome is doing quite well on the more popular styles too.  I had a medium t-shirt from Hale's Ales in Seattle in my pack and traded it to my waitress for a nice mounted set of Jerome coasters.  I hope she gets some good use out of the shirt; I will remember her brewpub a long time.
(Visited 12/9/13)

El Bolson: strolling through the fair

   Three times a week (per Lonely Planet), but especially on Saturday, the central plaza in El Bolson fills with crafters selling stuff and shoppers buying it.  Weaving, wood carvings, musical instruments, foods, all sorts of stuff is out there.
   There were deals to be had.  I got a tasty empanada for five pesos (60 to 90 cents depending on where you change your dollars), the national finger food which usually sells for twice that in the restaurants.
   Now right behind the empanada stand is a brewer from Parapoto, serving those 330-ml (about 2/3 of a pint) drafts for fifteen pesos.  For me, he drew a Roja E.P.A. (English Pale Ale), 4.6% abv and properly bitter.  Parapoto is brewed in town, as is Piltri, served up a few stalls down.  I tried Piltri's rubia fuerte, the first rubia that tasted like a true Blonde Ale like American Brewing makes in Everett.  Alcohol content definitely on the higher end, nice balance and a rich, lingering finish.
   So that made seven breweries right in town.  The next town south, Lago Puelo, has a couple more.  One had a booth at the fair, Pilker, where the guys drew me another chopp of their rubia, more of a pilsner with that nice tang.  One of them even named the hops they used: Cascade and Nugget.  I'm guessing that our Northwest strains are grown down there.
   Another  neighbor town just a bit south, El Hoyo, has a brewer called  Chaura.  They were not at the fair, but they were the featured draft beer at Ristorante Tomatican across the street.  I had dinner there after shopping at the fair, a grilled trout from one of the mountain streams in the area, with Chaura's Pale Ale.
My notes say the pale was a bit light (4 % abv) but nicely bittered.  It was a good finish to my Patagonian tasting experiences as I would fly north to Mendoza the next day.
(Visted 12/7/13).

El Bolson: Hops Valley South

  About eighty miles south of Bariloche, deeper into the Patagonian Andes, a pretty town of some 20,000 lies in a valley between two mountain ranges.  El Bolson began to prosper a hundred years ago when a German immigrant named Otto Tipp (no relation)  found the valley ideal for growing hops.  Today, like an austral mirror of the Yakima Valley, El Bolson produces the bulk of the hops used in its country's breweries.
  While most of that sweet bittering is trucked out of town, enough stays here to keep a number of craft breweries going.  The first one I wanted to call on is named for that visionary German, Cerveceria Otto Tipp.
This is a true brewpub, with the small brewing works off to one side and a restaurant with a fairly extensive menu in the bulk of the space.
The brewery side looked rather small and, while they do some bottling, sales appeared to be on-premise for bottles as well as draft in the restaurant. When I ate there that evening, I had the rubia fuerte (strong golden).

I walked a couple of blocks down an unpaved street to get to the Tipp brewery, and passed another on the way, Cerveceria Araucana.  This establishment was not open for a visit; however, its pub downtown, Los Lupulos, was. (The Araucana are a native American people, not to be confused with the araucaria or monkey puzzle tree which grows around here.  Lupulos are hops, of course/)
   The signs on the pub spell out the selections--like many craft brewers in Patagonia, they tend to use color for style.  Thus a "rubia" may be a blonde ale. the literal translation, or it may be a kolsch, or a pilsner.  A roja may be a red ale, or an IPA, or a pale.  A negra is most typically a stout or porter but may be a dark bock or anything else that comes out dark brown.  This was also the naming pattern at Otto Tipp and at the town's largest craft brewery, the eponymous El Bolson.  I saw their brew works, their fabbrica, on the outskirts of the town coming in on the bus; like Araucana, they run a pub in the downtown area.
These guys run a quality website, and it shows the true styles behind the rubia, roja, and negra titles on the labels.  Here, I went with the Negra Extra, a dark bock, in the modern bar.
   Strolling back to my hotel, I passed a pub called Rowan which was presenting two local craft brewers:
Rupestre and El Dragon Verde.  The green dragon is, of course, the favorite pub of Frodo and his pals in Hobbiton.  I had a small glass of Rupestre's roja, an IPA that made good use of the local hops.
   A couple of aficionados of the brews named Mark and Saskia passed through El Bolson a few months before I did, and they posted some good reviews on their Flight of the Condor blog I will link here.  They also got some good chopps (Argentine for a draft in a 330-ml mug) at the Saturday artisan market, which I touted the next day and will cover in the next post.
(Visited 12/6/13)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Downtown Bariloche: Five more that I could count

  San Carlos de Bariloche, the largest town in Argentina's Patagonian Andes at about 120,000, is famous for its skiing in the austral winter (July-August peak months), its chocolates, its you-name-it outdoor recreation in the summer...and its beer!  Along a stretch of three or four blocks on one street in the downtown, I was able to visit or note five pubs associated with breweries in the city.
    Start with Bachmann, a pub that had just recently moved out of its brewery to anchor one end of Calle Cerveza.  OK, the real name of the street is Elflein, or Neumeyer; Bachmann is at 90 Elflein.
My stop on Dec. 1 was the fourth day the pub had been open at this location.  The choices on tap were still limited.  I noted a pilsner, a Scotch, labeled as an amber, a dark bock, and an IPA (usually pronounced as Eepa here).  I had a pint of the Scotch (4.8% abv, 20 IBU) and enjoyed the maltiness.  The bock my notes indicate was so-so.  The interior will no doubt acquire more character as Bachmann settles in to the new quarters.  Bachman was founded in 2001 and looks to have a good local following.
  Down the block at 35 Elflein, the Buenos Aires craft brewery Antares has opened up a pub.  I passed on the branch, knowing I would check out the main location when I got back to the big city.  Next door to Antares at #29 was a cerveceria called Nativo, which was not open either time I walked past.  A cross street and Elflein becomes Neumeyer, and the corner, 1 Neumeyer, is anchored by the Manush brewery's taproom.
   Manush, founded in 2005, had folks eating outside on a patio, enjoying the warm December evening, and also inside, everyone having a good time.  They were pouring nine brews on Dec. 5, including three types of stout, a pilsner, a kolsch, and other ales.
I ordered a pollo mediterraneo with a brown porter, each tasty on its own and delicious together.
After dinner, I headed on up Neumeyer, and the joint next door had some old Roy Orbison standards on the sound system.  This was der Tiroler, a pub with Warsteiner from Germany on the awnings.  But they also had a locally brewed beer, Lowther, on tap.  So, with a pint of Lowther's dark bock I watched Roy and his band belt out Pretty Woman on an old black & white video (there's a great 4-minute riff before the last verse).  Nice stained glass back bar.

Neumeyer then ends in a little plaza, and the street that snakes out the other side, Juramento, has yet another local brewer's taproom, Konna, in the next block.
Started in 2009, Konna had three taps working last Nov. 30: a kolsch, a porter, and an IPA.  The IPA was not hopped hard--the amargor rating (same as IBUs, I'm presuming) was just 40 and the kolsch, quite drinkable, was just 20.  Konna's pub was a friendly spot, if not that full around eight o'clock. That is a very early part of the evening by Argentine standards--things don't really get going until after ten.
  In sum, then, I saw five taprooms of local craft brewers in about four blocks in downtown Bariloche, three more in the outskirts, and saw evidence of two or three more.  That's quite a beer footprint for a city best known for skiing and chocolates.
(Visits 11/30, 12/1, 12/5/13)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Now, Berlina, & Gilbert

Practically next door to Blest is Berlina Brewing's pub.  In this case the production brewery is in a different location, but I did pass that way on a mountain bike the next day and get a pic. The pub is pleasant and had six styles on tap this day: Golden, Weizen, IPA, PIPA, Stout, and Ale de Comarca (loosely translates as hereabouts or region).  Stats are listed, abv, IBUs, and that color-chart number, SRM.  The stout, which I tried, scoped out at 6%, 38 IBUs, and a dark 48 SRM.  Main thing is a nice rich malty taste.
Berlina opened in 2005 and the brewmaster trained in Germany. Bartender poured small samples of the rest of the lineup and I found good quality.  The PIPA (1st P is not for Patagonia, but I've forgotten what it is) was more in the range of what we think of as IPA: 6%, 75 IBUs. The regular IPA, at 5% and 53 IBUs, would be a tad mild for the Pacific Northwest.
Pictures of the brewing works, a few miles away, are on display in the pub, but as mentioned, I saw the building the next day huffing and puffing up a dirt road on a mountain bike in the village of Colonia Suizo (Swiss Colony).
But no one was brewing on this fine Sunday afternoon, so I pedaled on, slaking my thirst with my water bottle, when all of a sudden a sign heralded another cerveceria-fabbrica.  This was Gilbert, a nano-sized operation on a hill overlooking a lake.  The parking lot had more mountain bikes than cars!

The three styles on tap were described as rubia (blonde), roja (red), and negra (black).  They were hoppy and in fact were a Pale Ale, an IPA, and a Stout.  Brewing terminology was not always precise down here in Patagonia.  Gilbert was started in 2003 but a new brewer had taken over recently.  His craft was adequate but not outstanding.
(Visited 11/30 & 12/1/13)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bariloche in Patagonia: Blest and Berlina for starters

OK, Bariloche does not mean "South Bend" in Spanish, but for brewpub density it's right up there with Bend, Oregon.  I rolled in on the Patagonian Train Nov. 30 and looked around at a stunning bit of scenery.  A city of about 100,00 on the end of a long lake, Nahuel Huapi, that knifes way far into the Andes.  Most of the shore is roadless and wilderness, so you can't compare it to European lakes like Como or Geneva. But it does have this city and fashionable ski resort, so it isn't like Chelan or Alaskan lakes.  Maybe the Canadian lakes in the Okanagon are most like.  But I digress, there is beer out there to taste.
A city bus about seven miles out along the lake delivered me to the Blest Brewery in a pretty setting with the mountains right in back.  As the website will tell you (making allowances for how Google translates Spanish to English), Blest opened as a production brewery in 1992 and became the first genuine brewpub in the country in 1997.  Brewpub=food on same premises where beer is produced.
Inside, the small brewing system is quite visible in the back, and they offer lots of eating and drinking space.  I tried the bock, which was a good deal darker and hoppier than what I normally find in this style.
(Visited 11/30/13)