Kristen is already in the breakfast in the breakfast room when I come down. What is he wearing? I wish I had my sunglasses with me. I can barely see my food for the glare.
It’s quite early, 7:45. We were warned by Felipe yesterday to be punctual. The tasting kicks off at nine.
A couple of young Brazilian women are on the next table. Fernanda Meybom and Daiane Colle. They’re from Florianopolis in the south of the country.
“We know that we smile too much,” Fernanda says. Is that a bad thing? Smiling too much? Rather that than be a miserable bastard. You can never smile too much, in my opinion. I just think that. Don’t actually say it. I’m English. We keep in too much.
They’re critical of the breakfast. “It’s much better in Brazil. Lots of fruit. And better bread.”
“What sort of bread?” I stupidly ask. “Lots of different types of bread.” Is the reply. I realise it was like asking what sort of beer they brew in Germany. I’m an idiot sometimes.
I should probably tell you why I’m here. It’s to judge in the Copa Cervezas de América the first half of the week, then talk at the Latin American Brewers Conference the second half. Kristen has done it for several years and got me the invitation. I didn’t need to be asked twice.
It’s bright but chilly morning as we walk to the university, where the tasting will take place. Kristen is as hyperactive as ever. Someone should lace his morning coffee with Ritalin. Might make him more bearable.
The verges are well kempt and the streets are clean. A good bit cleaner than Amsterdam. There’s a mix of old, mini palaces and mid-rise flats. The gardens are illuminated by bright flowers. All very well-healed. Only the high fences around each property – sometimes topped with barbed wire - betray a darker side to the city.
The bundles of mains electricity cables sagging from telegraph poles are a bit scary. Especially when odd bits of wire are hanging off. And workmen do seem to be fiddling with them quite often..
Kristen has a weird cheese-shaped hat, in the colours of the US flag. “The slowest judge on my table will have to wear it. Chileans won’t like it. Cheesehead is the term for someone who is a bit slow mentally.” Great way to make friends and influence people, Kristen.
The tasting is in a hall of the Universidad de Las Americas. The building is a little bit rundown. Like Leeds Poly in the 1970’s. No, not that bad. Probably much like Leeds University.
There are tables of three, headed by a captain. One of which is me. My job is to achieve consensus when our scores are too far apart. We each have a laptop on which to enter our scores and comments.
The morning tasting kicks off with American Light Lagers followed by Cream Ales. Mikel Rius, who organises the Barcelona Beer Festival, and Gabriel Lara from Chile are my tasting companions for this session. It’s fun meeting different nationalities. Especially South Americans, few of whom I’ve met before.
The people are great. While the beers are mostly pretty bland. Except for a couple of real stinkers.
Looking around the room I notice something. I’m about the only male – other than the organisers and Stan – who isn’t wearing some sort of beer-branded shirt. In the case of industry people, one from the business they work for. Civilians presumably favour their favourite brewery.
The wild beers are mostly dead good. There’s a good fruited Brett beer that could pass for Belgian. Then a Stout/Double Brown based beer that has a wonderful combination of coconut and coffee. It’s a really outstanding beer. Wish I knew what it is.
For lunch we trail off to Pez de Oro, a Peruvian restaurant just around the corner. I’m accompanied by my tasting partners. It’s nice as we have more time to chat than during the judging.
We start with ceviche, I dish I’ve heard of but never tried. Gingery, spicy, sour and delicious. It’s a dead good mix of Asian and South American flavours. It’s followed by a lamb shank with rice. It’s pretty nice, but I get a small piece of bone stuck between my teeth. It takes me the next hour to remove it.
Dorthea Wächtler, a pleasant young woman who works for Weyermann malt comes and sits at our table.
“Do you live in Bamberg?” I ask.
“You lucky devil.”
She speaks excellent English and Spanish. Way better than my German. I’m really jealous of her Spanish. Would come in dead handy here, where lots of people speak zero English.
I pass on the cheesecake pud.
In the afternoon I’m paired with Hernando Hernandez from Chile and Ricardo Aftyka from Argentina. The latter has a tiny brewery in Buenos Aires, Juguetes Perdidos, which produces 1,200 annually. He and his partners all have other jobs.
We’ve a whole session of Belgian Blonde Ales. The first is pretty good, with all the characteristics I’d expect: sweet, clovey and a touch of bitterness in the finish. It’s all downhill from there. The rest are mostly shit. Some are far too dark, others have no clove flavour, quite a few have a horrible cabbage water taste. I have to eat loads of crackers to get rid of the nastiness.
Kristen comes up to me and says: “How did you ever manage to write books typing with two fingers?” Cheeky bastard.
“It’s three, actually. And a thumb.”
As I’m not sure of the route back to the hotel. I ask Averie Swanson, head brewer at Jester King, if I can walk with her. I was too busy talking on the way over to pay attention. We talk beer, obviously enough. I’m amazed to find out that she knows who I am. The name Andrea Stanley pops up. She’s another fan.
We’ve a little time before the evening event, a beer launch at Kross Bar. I use it to rest a little, watching some incomprehensible, but reassuring crap local TV. It’s all a bit Channel Nine.
Cervceria Zigurat is launching four new experimental beers. Experimental. There’s a word that makes me nervous when it’s stuck in front of beer. Isn’t that how breweries get rid of shit that’s gone wrong? By calling it “experimental”.
There’s minibus to take us to KrossBar. We’re waiting for Lew and Gordon Strong, who have disappeared into one of their rooms. “What are they doing?”, I ask. Someone replies: “They're probably kissing.”
"Thank you for putting that image in my head. I can't unsee it now."
We eventually realise they aren’t coming and drive off. They'll be locked in embrace all evening.
KrossBar is packed. We squeeze into the beer garden. I order a Maibock, which is pretty nice. Especially after all those terrible Belgian Blonde Ales.
Felipe squats on the bar and gives a little talk. I wish I could still do things like that. I'd never get up again. They joys of becoming an old twat.
Then we get to drink the beer, a NEIPA. Which isn’t really murky enough for the style. Thankfully. It's free, so I sink a pint or five. As you do.
"Mike* warned me: don't try to keep up with Ron."
"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me."
I chat with Brazilian Leonardo Sewald about parti-gyling. Well, shout, really. It's a subject that gets me aggressive. And it’s really loud in the pub. That's my excuse. Leonardo brews at Cervejaria Seasons in Porto Alegre, at the very southern extreme of Brazil.
A journalist comes up and chats. A photographer snaps.
Me and Uwe Kalms chat about something. I'm probably way too intense. Thank god it wasn't captured on video.
As we leave, we walk past a wall of beer drinker portraits.
“That’s not right” I say “George Best was a total and utter pisshead – he got through two livers - but he wasn’t a beer drinker. White wine was his drink of choice. And Churchill, he usually went for champagne or whisky, the posh bastard.”
Everyone else is already outside before I can tell them about Carlsberg Special Brew being brewed for Churchill.
We wait ages for an Uber. A dozen taxis cruise up while we’re hanging around, but we send them on their way.
I’m slightly worried that we’re five in number. Too many for one car. A tiny car arrives. Large enough for four small passengers. I’m just a slip of a thing, but some of our party are more substantially built.
Somehow, we all cram in. The driver doesn’t seem to mind. I’m on the outside. But I can't reach the door to close it. My arm is jammed, Leonardo has to do it. The ride is, er, intimate. And bumpy. And filled with laughter.
The driver asks something in Spanish after a couple of hundred metres. “Can I stop off for petrol?”
Yeah fine. It’s dead comfortable back here. Take your time, mate.
We swap Douglas Adams jokes to pass the time. Squinting under my armpit, I can see the pump. He’s bought 200 pesos worth of petrol. That’s about a litre and a half.
Back at the hotel, we spill out when the doors are opened. And climb contently to our beds.
Though I do have a quick Lagavullin, purely for medicinal purposes. My doctor recommended it. I think. Could have been just a very vivid dream.
Great evening. I love Chile.
* Karnowski, of Zebulon Brewing in Weaverville, North Carolina.
Universidad de Las Americas
Av. Antonio Varas 880,
Restaurant Pez de Oro
Av. Manuel Montt 1060,
Tel: +56 2 2205 5861
Juguetes Perdidos Cerveza
Tel: +56 2 2759 5434
90200-200 Porto Alegre,
Tel: +55 51 4102-0583
My trip was paid for by Copa Cervezas de América
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