By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the wide world of beer making, there are many different places where homebrewers can find inspiration. When traveling for vacation, it may at times be difficult to find tasty beer, depending on the location. However, sampling another culture’s traditional fermented beverage can be an enjoyable and unique experience. Even if there isn’t beer readily available, trying new drinks can help develop your palate and spur future hybrid experiments back at home.
Expanding Your Brewing Pantry
In some parts of the world, people drink fermented milk and even blood. Of course, those ingredients may not make their way into your homebrew, but it’s still important to be open minded about unique ingredients.
The addition of fruit is no stranger to many homebrewers these days, but incorporating grapes in your next doppelbock or even some chanterelle mushrooms with hints of nuttiness can be a fun adventure. Be sure to have a good balance with the flavors you add and the beer itself; so experimentation is key. Even humongous breweries have a research and development department. This allows them to come up with the next crazy idea like a Cascadian dark ale. Of course, these research teams would be nothing without seriously dedicated homebrewers who are always willing and wanting to push the envelope.
The whole reason for traveling the world is to experience another culture and what makes it unique. Sometimes that means skipping the generic, mass-produced lager and instead trying a local drink made with fresh lime juice, a little sugar and a clear liquor made by distilling fermented sugar cane. You can then use those new-to-you beverages to develop a homebrew. Lime is easy, but getting the flavor of a banana or even a coconut to work well with beer can be a challenge.
Beyond the beverages, don’t overlook the possibility to be influenced by all of that wonderful food you’ll no doubt be gorging on because, after all, calories don’t count on vacation! For instance, the pomegranate chicken you may order for dinner contains an array of spices that could spark ideas about a unique flavor profile for a spiced beer instead of one made with the same old cinnamon and clove. Just remember that at the end of the day, everything you eat and drink can be used to create your next award-winning homebrew.
Building the Future
Once you have a fully stocked pantry of unique brewing ingredients, it’s time to build recipes and begin experimenting. Start by selecting flavors that will go well together. For example, lime and roasted malts probably won’t work. However, lime would pair wonderfully with mole spices in a dry stout. Take meticulous notes, so if you knock the first one out of the park you can replicate that process. But if the brew bunted and got tagged out, use your written record to edit and proceed in a different direction.
Keeping notes on what went into the beer and when is important, but so is a tasting log. This will allow you to see how the beer developed over time. Collecting feedback from people who try the beer is also useful. Homebrewing is all about trial and error, and what better way to experiment than to incorporate international flavors.
Down for the Brown [AG]
Down for the Brown [Extract]
By Aaron Brussat
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the high elevations of the Peruvian Andes, civilizations of men and women transformed the harsh mountain landscape into livable, arable terrain. By brute force and, perhaps, extraterrestrial engineering skills, the Inca constructed architectural wonders, including Machu Picchu. Lookout towers, temples and an intricate aqueduct system built into the nearly vertical mountainside reflect the importance of quality workmanship; one loose stone and the whole thing falls apart.
In the Sacred Valley, on the way to Machu Picchu from the city of Cusco, Peruvian native Juan Mayorga, along with Oregonian Joe Giammatteo and his wife Louisa de Heer, built a brewery from the ground up. Its construction was arduous, and introducing Peruvians to craft beer — especially craft beer on draft — proved to be a challenge that might rival the construction of the Inca citadel.
Founded on years of day-dreamy conversation brought to life by Mayorga’s initiative, Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley Brewery) began as an empty swath of land in Pachar along the Urubamba River, which draws water from southeastern Peru and winds through the valley northward to a junction that connects with the Amazon River and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean. The nearby city of Ollantaytambo is a charming, stone-walled historic site — the only city to successfully fend off Spanish conquistadors — and is the last train stop before Machu Picchu. Incan ruins abound.
De Heer and Giammatteo developed a water treatment plan to keep runoff from the brewery out of the river. Using buried cisterns, pH management and a biodigester, the brewery’s wastewater is rendered neutral.
“We checked out plans from New Belgium and worked with an environmental engineer from Cusco,” said Giammatteo, who worked at Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing before moving south. “I looked at a couple Craft Brewers Conference talks related to wastewater treatment, and spoke with Ben [Tilley] at Agrarian Ales about their system. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. But we don’t have a lot of infrastructure.”
Adobe bricks, concrete, corrugated metal, plaster, stainless steel and a bit of wood comprise the brewery building. From a “combi,” which is kind of like a van-sized taxi for long-distance destinations, one sees the brewery as a pale beige structure with the logo (which has a distinct Oregon quality) and hops painted on the side. Once inside, you feel at home.
The taproom is modestly sized, colorful and (most importantly) has beer. Customers are greeted warmly and given a little dish of “choclo,” the national bar snack of giant corn kernels, fried and salted to a starchy crisp. The beer selection is not far from home — our home. While the regional fermented beverage is “chicha,” a partially malted corn brew, there is none of that here. It can be found through mysterious doorways along the narrow cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo, signified by a stick with a red handkerchief tied on the end that means “Chicha is ready.” IPA, red, witbier, saison and other familiar delights are a sight for certain sore eyes and a delight to all tongues, and with pint in hand, a wander around the property reveals a small garden with familiar vegetables, courtesy of de Heer’s green thumb. A sizable grass lawn and picnic table may host mountain bikers, local families with lively children, folks grabbing a beer after work or tourists, and affords a view down the valley to the northwest as well as of the cliffs that rise a thousand feet directly across the road.
Life in Peru is, obviously, different from our comfortable ways. The atmosphere is raw; the sun burns pale gringo skin in minutes. The infrastructure of the larger cities is not set up to support the current population. Floods trigger water outages; political maneuvers trigger road-blocking protests. These things are part of life; craft beer is a new thing. Craft beer is becoming increasingly visible in Peru, which has nearly 20 breweries to its landmass (larger than Texas). Most of them are in coastal Lima, though a few have cropped up in Cusco and Arequipa.
Exposing an unaware populace to an artisan food product is as challenging as it sounds. The concepts of beer freshness and refrigeration, let alone serving it on draft, are nearly nonexistent. In order to open new accounts, Giammatteo had to install kegerators, draft lines and faucets before putting anything on tap. They reached out to pubs and recently opened bars.
“We said, ‘We’re going to offer a new product. It’s draft beer. It’s high quality. The beer you’re bringing in from England is oxidized and not particularly interesting.’ Most of the owners weren’t beer drinkers, so they were like ‘Eh, OK.’ Some people were hesitant about the draft but got over it. We gave our first accounts a significant amount of infrastructure; they knew it would be a good investment.”
A little more than two years in operation, Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado has earned numerous medals in national and international competitions, and has won favor with locals and tourists alike.
“Peru is unique in that food is so crucial to how the culture works,” said Giammatteo. “As a result, if a food writer gets excited about a beer, all of a sudden you have followers.” He added that they were fortunate to get attention early on. “We had a beer event in Lima. A lot of food writers were there and wrote us up, and we won best in show. From the press we got from that it was easy to get momentum going.”
Giammatteo has collaborated with other Peruvian breweries, and took quickly to using local vegetation, such as “ayrampo” (the pink, peppery seeds of a local cactus), wild cherries and locally grown peaches.
Giammatteo and de Heer returned to their home in Eugene this April, bringing along their 3-month-old son and an adopted dog named Rabbit. After three years, it was time. Giammatteo handed over the brewhouse to Ben Kent, who came from Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery to a production brewery called Sierra Andina in the central part of the country. Soon, he’ll be joined at Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado by another brewer with experience at Uinta Brewing Co. Giammatteo plans to visit occasionally to keep tabs on things and help with his envisioned “brewer exchange” program.
Getting to the brewery takes some time, some haggling with taxi drivers and several pisco sours. At 9,000 feet elevation, the buzz sets in quick and can exacerbate altitude sickness, so staying a few days to get acclimated is recommended.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
In a city in the Southern Hemisphere some 7,000 miles away from Portland, Argentinians are learning how to pronounce “Willamette.”
“It was a hard word for people to learn,” said Casey Rakoczy, who explained it would often come out as “Wee-sha-mett-eh.”
One of Oregon’s major waterways isn’t the only attraction locals in Argentina have gotten to know — at least by name. On the hardscrabble outskirts of Buenos Aires — miles from the cosmopolitan restaurants, high-rise apartment buildings and bustling traffic that helped the city become known as “the Paris of South America” — you’ll hear people ask for “Saturday Market,” “Forest Park” and “Mount Hood.” These are actually beers at Portlander Fermentation Lab, a brewery co-founded by Rakoczy after he upended his life in Portland three years ago to fulfill an urge he just couldn’t shake. Sure, it’s the dream of many a homebrewer to turn pro. But most try to make a go of it in their hometown — or at least in the same continent they’d been living. But Rakoczy had a bigger goal in mind. He wanted to shape the craft beer culture in another country.
“My mind was on the brewery in Argentina more than it was on work in the U.S.,” he said. “And that weight became heavier than what I was doing here [in Portland]. But I needed to, like, do it. I needed to leap and go.”
Before making that hemispheric jump, Rakoczy had been introduced to Argentina by two friends, Manu Lopez and his wife Inez, who had come to Portland for graduate school. He joined the couple on vacation a handful of times — exploring Patagonia’s vistas and glaciers on one trip; the surging Iguazu Falls on another, which Rakoczy describes as “Niagara times 10.” When back in Portland, the trio enjoyed what was then a burgeoning craft brewing scene. Rakoczy couldn’t help but compare the quality and variety with what he thought was lacking in Argentina.
“I kept seeing the beer here is not that great, but the country has a lot of natural resources,” he said.
With that in mind, Lopez and Rakoczy decided it was time to launch a brewery in Buenos Aires … well, after Lopez established one important factor.
“And he asks, ‘Can you brew?’” Rakoczy recounted. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, of course I can brew!’”
As a hobby fermenter who polished his skills with distance-learning classes in Oregon State University’s Fermentation Science program, followed by a week of hands-on instruction, Rakoczy felt confident in the skills he’d acquired to advance to the commercial level. With Lopez, he found a 200-liter system (approximately 1.7 barrels) for sale online in Argentina and they split the cost. Meanwhile, Lopez developed the distributing and pub side of the business. After becoming established, the brewery began hosting students who wanted to make their own special batches for parties. Rakoczy led them through the process — from recipe building to yeast pitching — and customers would return several weeks later for their finished keg.
“The idea of it was not necessarily just a brewery, but it was also a place where people could come and learn about how to brew,” he said. “We’ll make our money off of the beer, but we’ll also hold courses where people can come and I’d teach them and supervise.”
Aside from leaving his job as a footwear developer and a home in Portland for several years to embark on this passion project, Rakoczy said another challenge he encountered once in Buenos Aires was encouraging drinkers to order something other than Quilmes, which is the region’s version of Budweiser. And even adventurous palates didn’t have much to choose from as many smaller producers tended to stick to the same three styles.
“Everybody that was doing craft beer was doing like rubia, roja, negra, which is blond, red or black. And that was usually the only selection you had,” Rakoczy explained. “So when we started brewing, I said ‘I’m not doing any of those. We’re going to make IPA. We’re going to make amber. We’re going to make brown.’”
And that variety got him handles. Bar owners would buy Rakoczy’s beer in order to offer patrons something besides rubia, roja and negra. The names, of course, also helped his product stand out — titles familiar to anyone from the Rose City, foreign to someone who’s perhaps never even heard of Portland.
“The idea with the branding side of things was for us to deliver notoriety to what we felt was the authority in American craft brewing. And that was Portland, Oregon,” said Rakoczy, the self-described Yankee brewing in an area primarily dominated by German- and Belgian-inspired beer producers. Putting a Northwest stamp on style and atmosphere might be one way to get people on the opposite end of the globe to pay attention to a new beer mecca. And if “Burnside Amber Ale” or “Willamette River Brown” don’t spark the interest of the “portenos” (residents of Buenos Aires, a port), the hulking mural of bigfoot on the brewery’s new Palermo-area bar provides a colorful summation of the Pacific Northwest.
“Sasquatch is wearing a flannel shirt, a [beanie] hat and he’s holding a beer,” laughed Rakoczy. “It’s so hipster Portland. They couldn’t have got it more perfect.”
Rakoczy never planned to permanently relocate to Buenos Aires — at least not at this point in his life. He trained the next head brewer, a native Argentinian, before returning home last year. As the Portland partner of the business, he visits periodically and is excited by the changes he’s witnessed to the culture of craft beer. Rakoczy compared it to Portland 15 years ago. New breweries are taking root, quality beer appears on a growing number of menus and the IPA craze has just begun. Rakoczy finds fulfillment in the way he’s nudged the industry’s development, whether through training future brewers, assisting established beer makers with quality and consistency or by simply exposing a drinking population to new flavors.
“It’s kind of like I’m a beer missionary that went out and spread the good word,” Rakoczy concludes.
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