South of the Beer Door
Throughout South America, a craft brewing industry is developing in virtually every country. Inspired by the U.S. craft beer scene, and fueled by homebrewing, most South American countries are awash in newly opened small breweries, or cervecerías. As we speak, they’re now the same challenges and going through the same growing pains that American brewers did 15-20 years ago.
In May of this year, the South Beer Cup was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was the first attempt at a continent-wide beer competition, and was organized by the Centro de Cata de Cerveza, or “Beer Tasting Center” in Buenos Aires, with support from the local homebrew club in Argentina, Somos Cerveceros. It was, in effect, their own version of the Great American Beer Festival and Craft Brewers Conference (which is a trade conference where brewers can continue to learn their craft) combined.
For the competition, there were 280 beers from 72 breweries entered in 20 categories representing four countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Along with the local judges, made up of brewers and BJCP certified judges, several experienced North American judges were on hand for the inaugural event. Over forty medals, and a number of honorable mentions were awarded to much fanfare during a gala event held the last night of the conference in Buenos Aires.
The passion that made American craft beer the envy of the world is very much in evidence everywhere one looks. That, and a willingness to help one’s fellow brewers is creating all the right conditions for pocket microbrewery revolutions throughout the continent. During the South Beer Cup, Argentina brewers, led by Leonardo Ferrari from Antares Brewery (one of Argentina’s most successful craft breweries), announced the formation of the Asociación de Cervecerías Artesanales (ACAA), whose mission is exactly that: to help grow all craft breweries in Argentina.
And in most of the other nations in the region that’s a common tale. In Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, for example, brewers have all begun informally working together to promote what they’re doing, to raise awareness of just what craft beer has to offer.
In early September, a second beer competition will be held in South America, known as Copa Cervezas de America. This one will take place in Chile and will include judging of both Chilean beer (with around three dozen breweries) and all South American beer, too.
While not technically part of South America, the Latin American country of Mexico is experiencing a similar brewing renaissance. Though only around a dozen small brewers exist in the country, they’ve already banded together to form the Association of Mexico Beer, or Acermex. Despite being only about 1 percent of Mexico’s beer market, which is utterly dominated by two ginormous beer companies, breweries like Cervecería Calavera, Cucapa and Primus are already making waves, finding loyal fans, and getting attention from both the local and international media.