There are currently over 40 artisanal beer brewers in Ecuador. More than half of these are based in Quito. The following is a narration of a recent mission featuring a group of international palates in search of the best artisanal beer of Tumbaco.
The Brewers: La Morena, Crossroads, Sabai, Páramo, Shaman.
The Drinkers: Fifteen in all; palates from England, United States, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Ecuador, and the Czech Republic. Beer tastes ranging from lager to whatever is available, passing through a couple of self-confessed wine drinkers, and finally at rock bottom, Corona fans.
The Mission: A slow crawl beginning at the bar where everybody knows your name, Bucán, then stepping into Sabai brewery, then tripping down onto Páramo brewery, and finally dragging ass back to Bucán.
The Mastermind: Steve Aguilar.
The Drunkmobile: Traditional Fiestas de Quito loud bus with no seats and dancing polls, known as chiva.
The Gatekeeper: Mr Chiva DJ (as in, the dude playing music in the chiva).
And so it was, with all the enthusiasm a group of sober adults can muster, that the first cheers was made with a small glass of La Morena’s Ají beer. A dark, porter style brew, this beer does not, in the opinion of the masses, taste at all like ají, but nonetheless it was well received by the group and drank way too quickly to draw any further conclusions. La Morena, a black beer brewer, has one other flavour, Roses, which also does not taste of either ají or roses, but was equally rated an average of three out five stars.
“Dark beer is not my beer,” said Matt, a Londoner, after downing both tastings. A few of his mates nodded in agreement, thanked the owner of the brewery, and headed for the next table.
The next beer, however, a Smoked Chipotle concoction made by Crossroads brewery, left the polite Brits speechless. It was rated one out of five stars by half of the group, the other half could not bring themselves to be openly disdainful of free beer. One person from the United States loved it.
Fortunately, the next tasting of a Crossroads brew was a straightforward IPA, which in a couple of sips restored everyone’s faith in Crossroads. The IPA is the best-selling beer of this brewery, and it was rated mostly with four and five stars. One person from the United States hated it.
A neat queue of civilized drinkers got into the chiva in due time, and everyone grabbed on for dear life as the wheels of the bus went round and round, eventually overtaking an imaginary turtle on the side of the road. The music was so loud there was hardly any need for small talk.
Then, Sabai happened. Get your tastings, people, and make yourselves comfortable, because this brewery is here to stay. Pacha Black Pale Ale, a solid 3.5. Golden Ale, four stars and many repeats. Chaquiñán Indian Pale Ale, 4.5. Tangan Double Red, a 4.5 and few bought for the road. And the Guayusa Pilsen Ale, all five stars, hands down the favourite beer of the afternoon, and probably responsible for much of what happened next.
The Drunkmobile boomed its music on the Ruta Viva, at full-on snail pace, under the rain. Bottles of red and green label Sabai beer were passed around, some cultural dancing was admired, and before anyone even noticed, the bus was pulling into Páramo Brauhaus.
It was a brave effort of the owner of this German-Ecuadorian brewery to try to give the Drinkers a tour and a lesson on how to make beer. A lot of quotes were provided during the tour for the writing of this piece, but unfortunately they were not from the beer expert, but from the Drinkers, who began most of their sentences with: “Lorena, you can quote me saying…”
Páramo makes a number of different beers, all of them were drunk. Eight people are sure they drank the Pale Ale, they seem to agree on it taking four stars. Five people know they tried the Oktoberfest, a solid four stars. Four people ordered Stouts, and half of them is two. And the Weissbier!! It tastes like banana! “Lorena, you can quote me saying, it’s like a dessert in your mouth,” said Tim, the Ausie, who gave it a five, which he then had to dispute with Stefan, the Czech, because who wants their beer to taste of banana? One banana, two biers, three Oktoberfests… to the Drunkmobile!
Pa-pa-pa-party all the way back to Bucán, where the tasting ended abruptly when everyone went to the bar and ordered Bielas. The end.