I can see the glare from Kristen’s socks even before I get to the bottom of the stairs. His shorts make me wish I were colour blind.
“Dress in a hurry this morning, Kristen?”
He doesn’t seem to notice. Or care. One of the two. As every day I have scrambled egg, two slices of cheese and one of toast. There isn’t much else. Some spam-like meat. It’s not the most inspiring breakfast. But still better than some of the paper plate and plastic cutlery breakfasts I’ve had in the US. I felt lucky if there was one thing I wanted to eat.
It’s another slightly chilly, but bright morning. A bit like the one nice day in June we get in Amsterdam. Some of the locals are wearing overcoats. Really. I’m juts in a short-sleeved shirt.
It’s a pleasant walk. Flowers flame behind fences, children play in the small park, men sweep the pavements, cut the grass and water with hoses.
This morning my partners are Salvador Villacreces, brewer at the Cervecería Clandestina in Panamá, and Rodrigo Ramirez, from Chile.
The first two sets are Ordinary Bitter and Best Bitter. I fear the worst. Will the brewers have any idea of what Bitter should taste like? I’m pleasantly surprised. They all taste like Bitter and most are pretty good. I’d happily sink multiple pints of a couple of them. Which is the biggest compliment I can give a beer.
I realise that each time I’m paired with one Chilean and another foreigner, mostly Spanish speaking. Other than the Brazilians. It’s a good idea. A mix of nationalities is more likely to come to a balanced view.
I haven’t argued with my fellow judges much. Most have far much more experience of tasting beer than I do. They spotted faults I’d missed. Obvious enough when they pointed them out, but I still missed them. Occasionally, I’d caught one that had slipped past them.
Only on a handful of beers have we been miles apart. Then I bludgeoned them into submission with wit and aggression. Not really.
Jeff Stuffings, who’s sitting directly behind me tells me: “I’m surprised how diplomatic you are.” What do people think I am? Some sort of monster? I’m not here to make enemies or annoy.
I’m doing my best to do the beers justice. And take advantage of the rare chance to discuss beers in detail with people who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about. That’s fun to me, sad as it might sound.
Kristen has been judging Imperial Stouts. I’d have quite fancied that category, but he puts me right. “They’re all terrible. Like treacle mixed with syrup. Undrinkable.”
“But at least they’re full of alcohol.”
“One on another table tasted like balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.”
“Sounds like it would make a good dipping sauce.”
“Or a marinade.”
There are a few female judges. Eight of the forty-eight on duty today. I’m told one, Amanda Reitenbach, has been really important to the Brazilian beer scene.
Fernanda and Daiane walk past and call me Ronaldo. They find it very funny. They’ve noticed that on the screen that shows the judging panels for the current session that’s what I’m called.
I suppose it is funny. I had just told the organisers my name was Ron. Extrapolating that to Ronaldo isn’t so crazy. They invite me for cocktails this evening in the hotel. Caipirinhas. Never had one of those before.
On the way back from a comfort break, I bump into Daniel Trivelli, one of the organisers. I haven’t had chance to talk to him yet, so I stop for a chat.
The poor chap put his back out yesterday. He was in agonising pain and had to visit the hospital. Where they pumped him full of pain killers. “I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy.” He remarks.
The bogs are a bit grim. But I’ve seen worse in British pubs.
Lunch as at the Pez do Oro again. We’ve finished quite late and most of the others are already here. We squeeze in at the back of the restaurant. And start with ceviche. Worse could happen. This time I have a bright orange chicken and pumpkin main course. With rice.
For the afternoon session, I’m with Daniel Rocamora from Uruguay and Daniel Moscoso from Chile.
We don’t finish until 7 PM. By which time I’m totally knacked and never want to see a beer again. I have little time to rest before the evening event.
A few of us get an Uber to Mossto. It’s owned by Rodrigo Ramirez, with whom I judged this morning. When we arrive, there’s already a huddle of judges in the garden. We join them. I order a Black IPA when the waitress drops by.
I sit next to Carlo Lapolli, who tells me about the beer scene in Brazil. He’s the head of the Brazilian small brewers’ organisation, ABRACERVA. He says I should come to Brazil. You won’t have to ask me twice. I’ve really liked all the Brazilians I’ve met so far. And the food sounds amazing.
I wait an hour for my black IPA. The waitress has a different explanation each time she returns without it. I’m fairly sure she’s given it to someone else before she got to me a couple of times. Got to within two punters of me once. My fault for sitting in a distant corner, I suppose. Or thinking earlier: "I never want to see a beer again".
Eventually, I go to the bar to fetch my black IPA. The serving area is in the most inconvenient spot possible. Oh well, at least I have a beer now. The wait makes it taste all the sweeter. Or rather the bitterer, it being an IPA.
With a beer finally in my hand, I chat more with Carlo and Leonardo Sewald, another very friendly Brazilian.
They tell me about an ancient German brewer in Brazil who had a totally run-down brewery. They show me photos. It looks incredible: built in the early 20th century and never refurbished by the look of it.
“Unfortunately, the beers all tasted weird. Eventually the health authorities closed him down.”
Sadly, he’s since died. In the photos he looked well into his nineties.
A few of us get an Uber back to the hotel Not as crazy as yesterday’s, unfortunately.
Back at the hotel, the lobby is full of judges drinking cocktails. I’d wondered where the Brazilians were planning on having their party. Soon we have cocktails in our hands and our arses on seats. A wave of warmth and happiness flows over me. Though that could just be the cocktail kicking in.
Caipirinha is made with Cachaça, distilled from sugar cane juice. “So rum, then?” “No, it’s something different” Daiane and Fernanda insist. I’m pretty sure fermented sugar cane is the definition of rum. But they insist. I’m not going to force the point. They’re making the cocktails.
We discuss Michael Jackson. Someone says that they once had to collect Michael Jackson at the airport. And, as Michael didn’t know them, had a sign with “Michael Jackson” on it. You can guess the misunderstanding that occurred.
Kristen insults me, Gordon and Lew calling us "old bastards" I call him a twat. I think we come out of that even. Though he does have a point about the old bit.
I fetch my two bottles of Fullers 1905 Old London Ale, The only beer I brought. It goes down pretty well. Then again, they are quite well lubricated. Even Kristen is nice about it. And he’s likely to be mean in any state of sobriety.
When the rum, sorry, Cachaça runs out, we move onto the pisco someone has brought. It doesn’t last long. Though there aren’t that many of us left. Only the real pissheads. The Brazilians wisely retired to their beds when the rum, sorry Cachaça, expired.
Fucking ace day.
PanAmerica Corporate Center,
Edificio 9123 local 1 y 2,
Panamá Pacífico, Arraiján,
Rep. de Panamá
Av. Condell 1460,
Tel: +56 2 2791 8603
SAAN Q. 2,
lotes 420 a 440
Tel: (61) 3771-2400