If beer really is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then, at least to Colombian Berny Silberwasser, God must have forgotten Colombia.
Back in the 1990s, Silberwasser’s Colombia was awash in tired, Bud-Light-like swill. So Silberwasser set off on a pilgrimage in 1997 to taste his way through the craft beers of Europe and the U.S. And there was enlightenment. When the beer enthusiast and culinary arts graduate came back, he decided to come to the rescue for Colombia’s next generation of drinkers. In 2002, Bogotá Beer Company came alive.
Ding, ding, ding.
“There was no craft scene before then,” says Andrea, an assistant bartender at a pub near downtown Bogotá, where a craft scene is starting to bloom.
The way Bogotá Beer Company grew its business is not unlike the craft model rocking the U.S. right now: It built a series of English pubs to distribute the beer.
What makes Bogotá Beer Company’s brew so kick-ass is how it took on the country’s beer monopoly and won. Bavaria, the goliath of the nation’s beer and a subsidiary of the multinational beverage giant SAB Miller, soaks up 99% of the country’s beer market — much like Standard Oil did with oil and gas in its heyday. Silberwasser knew he couldn’t take Bavaria head-on, so he went at the open sliver in the market, and opened an artisanal brewery in the country’s capital.
Since then, Bogotá Beer Company’s beers have won numerous awards and the company has grown like mad, taking in more than $17 million in profits last year. It’s now the second-largest brewery in Colombia.
The way Bogotá Beer Company did it is not unlike the craft model rocking the U.S. right now: It built a series of English pubs to distribute the beer.
“I used to live in the U.K. and went out to lots of pubs,” says Maria Paula Pulido, a 29-year-old resident of a neighborhood where a BBC pub is just down the street from her place. Her favorite? ”The Cajica brew … I mean, can you find that anywhere else in Colombia?”
It’s hard to, especially when Bavaria’s lineup is a row of watered-down lagers without much character. Bogotá Beer Company uses 100% malted barley and avoids additives such as colorants.
As much as a monopoly takedown is might make your mouth water, nothing whets the appetite like a look at the drinks themselves. But you can’t find them outside of Colombia — and that’s all the more reason to book a ticket for a taste.
Light, straw-colored German Kolsch lager. Drinks like a football game in a glass, except with everything in perfect balance. BBC’s high-alcohol answer to what most Colombians drank before the craft scene blew up.
Red pale ale. British recipe. It’s pretty, and definitely not shy. Light fruits like strawberry and melon intrigue but don’t overwhelm the senses. The bitterness that you usually pick up in pale ale is tempered a bit by the sweetness.
An award winner, this is good, dark stuff with a mad, bitter attack on the palate. Mouthfuls of chocolate and cocoa, but since it’s a porter, it’s not as thick as, say, a Guinness.
Cajica Honey Ale:
Light-colored ale dressed up with organic honey. Like touching a perfumed silk blouse. It’s floral, soft and sweet. The Candelaria Clasica’s more proper sister.
BBC does a lineup of seasonal brews in small batches as well. The Don Rufino is named after the guy who opened the first brewery in downtown Bogotá. A witbier called Bacata Blanca, a pale ale by the name of Septimazo IPA, and two Belgian recipes, Zipaquira Abadia and Policarpa La Fuerte, round out the list. But all in all, the BBC makes 13 or so styles of craft beer.
Why you should care
Because Colombia’s drink scene is booming in a big, surprising way.