Why you should care
Because now you don’t have to go to Hooters for boobies and beer.
Cloud forest hiking trails and luxurious chocolate are mainstays of Mindo, a village just two hours from Quito (it was the latter, not the former, that had me beelining for the place). But the town’s dusty roads and a $2 glass of rich chocolate stout sipped on the patio of a chocolate shop led me down an altogether distinct culinary path — straight to the heart of the country’s so-called “craft beer revolution.” Not the well-publicized, Quito-dominated boom, but rather one that’s been brewing in second cities and outlying towns for at least a half decade now.
Quito may have been the first beer-producing South American city, but craft brewers are now scattered the length and breadth of Ecuador, from La Loja to the Valley of Longevity’s Vilcabamba. It’s in Latacunga, a town traversed mainly by hikers heading for the Cotopaxi volcano and Quilotoa Loop, where a row of rainbow-bottled brews in an unassuming cafe introduced me to perhaps the most commercialized artisanal ale in Ecuador: Cuenca’s Latitud Cero. I first plumped for the yellow-labeled Apachita wheat beer, which proved hazy, light and well-suited to summer days, while a later dabble with Latitud Cero’s black-bottled Sierra Negra proved the Apachita wasn’t the brewery’s one-hit wonder.
Ensconced alongside blue-footed boobies and cruise ship daytrippers, the Galápagos Islands also have their own native artisanal ale.
Even Guayaquil, the coastal city with a bad rap but better beer, is gradually getting in on the act with its stocky bottles of Bajamar, which mesh together craft techniques with commercial sensibilities.
Yet perhaps most surprising of all? Ensconced alongside blue-footed boobies and cruise ship daytrippers, the Galápagos Islands also has its own native artisanal ales, each with competing “We did it first!” claims. In 2016, Spanish-Ecuadorian couple Danny Farga and Jenny Quijozaca founded the aptly named Endémica nanobrewery on San Cristóbal Island, while Santa Cruz Brewery opened the Galápagos’ first brewpub in Puerto Ayora the following year. Rivalry remains fierce between the two, despite both taking very different approaches. While Endémica has just two brews — a highly drinkable blond ale and a coffee stout made with local beans — alongside a dedication to sustainability, Santa Cruz’s Galapagueña label prides itself on variety, producing “10 different types” of craft ales, notes owner Marcelo Herrera via email.
While Ecuador’s craft beer industry is driven mostly by locals, there are plenty of North American interlopers. Take the U.S.-born owners of The Pub in Cuenca, Shawn Rathjen and Gregory Allen, who readily admit that Quito’s brewing scene outranks anywhere else in Ecuador right now. (I’d argue that their made-on-site grapefruit IPA and Irish Pale Ale prove that quality lurks beyond the confines of the capital though.)
Even so, the North American taste for hoppy home brew IPAs has thus far failed to eradicate the popularity of Belgian and German brewing methods, both in and out of the capital. However, German expat Florian Stollowsky’s Quito-based Cherusker brand still remains the best example of a European brew in Ecuador, and his Bávara beer-with-a-hint-of-banana is a fresh and fizzy delight.
Brewing methods aside, Ecuador’s burgeoning non-Quito beer boom is finally proving there’s more to the country than the capital when it comes to innovation, as well as putting Ecuador on par with its South American neighbors, where artisanal ales have been on trend since the early aughts.
The moral of the story then? Ditch the Club and Pilsener and get yourself to the Galápagos (or, you know, basically anywhere else) for some far better craft beer.