Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Argentine Beer Is More Than Just Quilmes

(La versión en castellano puede estar leída acá)

As you probably already know, this is a blog about Argentine wine. However, this morning I stumbled upon an Argentine beer gaining some attention here in the U.S. First of all, Argentina would never be mistaken for Germany or Belgium for its beer quality and variety. While supermarkets dedicate entire aisles to wine, you would be lucky to find more than four or five kinds of beer. Quilmes, Stella Artois, Brahma, Heineken, and Budweiser dominate the market. And, although I truly do love Quilmes for its memory-inducing qualities of life in Buenos Aires, I am the first to admit that it’s not exactly the best beer in the world.

It seems that Quilmes, contrary to what many Argentines think, isn’t even the best domestic beer in Argentina (side note: the Buller Brewing Company in Buenos Aires has some very tasty beers, albeit pricey if you make money in pesos). One domestic beer critics are raving about is the Jerome Handcrafted Beer from Potrerillos, Mendoza.

My first reaction was, “Potrerillos?!?!” I haven’t explored many places outside of the city of Mendoza, but Potrerillos is one place I feel like I know very well, having visited three different times to go mountain biking and rafting (The picture at the right is of me, in 2005, in the bustling metropolis of Potrerillos). The town only has a few hundred residents (a guide at Argentina Rafting told me this) and is situated in what they call the “pre-cordillera” which translates to the “pre-mountain range” of the Andes. It is very dry, but the glacier-fed river (pictured below in 2005) that runs alongside the town is spectacular. This pure water provides the brewery with natural, healthy water that is not contaminated by chlorine found in city water supplies.

Jerome is a relatively new brewery, having been started in 1999, and currently employs only four people. The fascinating story of how the brewery came to be is explained by brewer Eduardo Maccari:

"It all started in the eighties, when I met a couple of Czechs that would change the course of my destiny. One winter afternoon, I was told that one of my Czech friends had gone to climb "El Plata", one of the highest peaks in the Andes and he hadn't returned. Fearing that an accident had occurred, I rushed to get help at the Air Force Base. They kindly took me to the site, where we spotted our friend's tent. There he was lying, asleep, frozen. We thought he had died, in fact, he showed no vital signs. We took him to the city of Mendoza, where, after a long time, he miraculously recuperated. In recognition, I was later invited to travel to the Czech Republic, where an old brewer taught me the art of beer making with an old recipe. Now I reproduce that recipe for you. This is how our brewery started. I started making beer as a hobby, in silence. Then I shared it with my friends, and now I'm brewing beer for the rest of Argentina and a few states in the USA, hoping you will enjoy drinking it as much as I do when I make it."

There aren’t many better stories than Eduardo’s. The operation still remains small, with Jerome only making five barrels a day. Those kinds of numbers would make one think that this is a part-time operation in someone’s basement. Not so. The Southern Wine Group, which imports to the United States well-known wineries such as Enrique Foster, snatched up the importing rights and is now distributing Jerome to several states in the U.S.

Currently, Jerome offers four flavors: Rubia, a light ale, Roja, a red ale, Diablo, a strong ale and Negra, a dark ale. You can read their tasting notes in a PDF here. According to this article on a beer website, the famed BBC wine critic Oz Clark came to Mendoza with the idea of tasting many of the fine wines from the region. After trying Jerome at the Hyatt Hotel in Mendoza, Clark raved about the beer and returned to London with his accolades. Weeks afterwards, Jerome had an order request of a 1,000 bottles from the Gaucho Grill, an Argentine-style steakhouse chain in the U.K.

If you are reading from the U.S., you can email Info@SouthernWineGroup.com to find out if Jerome is sold in your area or buy Jerome directly online here. If you are reading in Argentina, you can consult Jerome's list of places it is sold here.


Images copied from the Jerome Brewery website and the Southern Wine Group website.

Article: “Cerveza with a sense of place.” By Gary Corbin. Guestontap.com. Accessed on June 26, 2007.

No comments: