Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beer Night in Buenos Aires - Round III

Here is a rundown of the third beer dinner in Buenos Aires. Big thanks to Magdalena's Party for letting me use their venue, Bodega Cervecera for the beer, La Francisca for the cheese and Sugar and Spice for the Parmesan cookies we used. The biggest hand of all goes to those who attended. This was the biggest yet with 23 people.

Sixtofer IPA - This is the best IPA* I have had in Argentina so far. I was really impressed when I first tried it. It is a little more like a North American IPA, but isn't excessively hoppy. It has a solid malt flavour, bitter but not too bitter and a great resin/pine smell. The quality is extremely high.

We tried this with the awesome curry and sugar fries I have used in previous tastings.

Die Eisenbrucke Kolsch - This is a great example of a Kolsch. It is not very hoppy (you get a distinct hop note with some examples in Cologne) but has a nice bitter accent and a kind of buttery mango fruitiness to it. Die Eisenbrucke is becoming one of my go-to breweries. They just put out a Weizen and a 15% Imperial Stout. Both are great beers. I really liked the Weizen. There are not so many Argentine versions readily available and it is hot out right now. Great combo.

We had this with pizza. Beer and pizza isn't the most creative combination in the world, but it is something people understand and enjoy. Plus Magdalena's makes a good pizza.

Gulmen Smoked Lager - I thought this would get mixed results. It is a very good beer, but I thought the smokey taste might put some people off. I was wrong. This was easily the most loved beer of the night and we actually ran out because I was topping up everybody's glass. Next time I will bring more.

We had this with two cheeses (a queso criolla and a smoked cheese) and some Parmesan walnut crackers from Sugar and Spice.

The evening was sadly marred by a theft. My girlfriend's purse was snatched and we didn't realize what happened until it was too late. A guest of the beer tasting also had her purse taken from off of her chair. This kind of thing happens frequently in Buenos Aires. Live here long enough and it is just a matter of time before something gets stolen from you. Nobody is invincible and you need to keep your wits about you.

Not trying to scare anyone from coming to Buenos Aires (or to my next beer night!) just giving you a heads up. Things happen. Don't be afraid, just be aware. Go about your business and don't let anything stop you from enjoying life and getting things done.

*I'm only counting 'regular' IPAs here. Cork IPA makes a great Black IPA and other variations. Another straight-up IPA I like is El Buho.

Good Times at the Buena Birra Social Club

The Puerta Cerrada (a closed door reservation-only restaurant) is not a new concept in Buenos Aires anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Ariel ‘Toti’ Golia from doing something new with the idea. His Buena Birra Social Club has, if you let your imagination embellish a little, the same spy thriller fun and secrecy as other Puerta Cerradas, but no other establishment pays homage to good beer like this.
The club is unlike anything else in Argentina. It certainly stood out to international beer expert Stephen Beaumont, who recently named the club as hisfavourite beer locale of 2011. Pretty impressive when you consider that he logged over 50,000 miles of air travel last year, visiting the world’s top bars and breweries. When I asked Toti about it he confessed that he wasn’t aware that Beaumont has visited until his article was later published. To Toti, Beaumont was just another customer and he wasn’t afforded any more special treatment than you or I would get. Promising news if you were left disgruntled by the service you got the last time you ate out.
The Buena Birra Social Club is the logical culmination of 10 years of brewing by Ariel. After a decade of tinkering with recipes and sharing brews with friends it was time to expand the circle that could enjoy his beer. The club provides the platform desired by every brewer: pleasing paying customers with the fruits of their labour. It is a family affair, with sister Maria Eugenia having a hand in everything except the brewing. She is seemingly everywhere at once: tending to the kitchen, welcoming guests, pouring drinks at the bar, and smiling the entire time.
The club is in a residential house modified for the purpose of brewing, cooking and providing an informal environment for relaxation and conversation. Past the front door you enter immediately into the bar and dining area, where there are less than a dozen tables in the interior, making for a cozy atmosphere. Despite the size, high ceilings make the area feel airy and expansive.
A patio, with hop vines overhanging it, awaits in the back yard. There are two more tables in the open air garden if you prefer fresh air with your pint or if you need a place to smoke. Trees from the neighbouring yards stretch high over the walls of the club and you feel very secluded, almost as though you are outside of the city.
The back yard is also home to the brewhouse, a compact setup featuring two 180-litre fermentation vessels with digital controls. It is an enviable operation that any neophyte homebrewer would aspire to own. When I was there a batch of Golden Ale and Indian Pale Ale were in the midst of fermentation, soon to be kegged.
On tap during my visit was a Dry Stout, a Blonde and an English Mild.  The Dry Stout was my favourite of the three. It was a roasty looking black with a hint of ruby light peeking through. The cap of head was thick and aromatic. The Mild was also a winner. Give this a try, but don’t expect a light beer despite the name. Mild comes from a time when beer in England was sold aged or young and fresh from the brewer.  The word Mild used to apply to the young tasting fresh beer regardless of style. Nowadays, it refers to a brown ale, notably bitter but much less so than a Pale Ale. It has a malty backbone and often a touch of sweetness, and this club has an admirable version. I must confess one regret—I did not sample the evidently popular Blonde. There seemed to be a Blonde lurking at every table.
The lineup is constantly changing and the new beer on offer is already a great reason (excuse?) to go back. The food, meanwhile, is a welcome bonus. I enjoyed a personal-size pizza, made to order. Tacos, nachos and picada plates (cheese and cured meats) are also available. Prices are reasonable for the beer, especially when compared to other craft beer bars (especially those in the city centre). Consider that you get a whole pint for a competitive price and you are definitely winning. Where the kitchen is concerned, the portions could be bigger, but the food was a hit. At least this leaves plenty of room for more beer.
I sat out the back, nibbling on pizza, enjoying my Dry Stout and looking inside as couples on dates and small groups of friends began to trickle in around 9.30pm. When pressed, Maria Eugenia told me the ‘typical’ customer was at first someone from their circle of friends in the brewing industry and homebrewing community, but that the word-of-mouth nature of the club has brought in an increasingly diverse crowd of people since they opened just over one year ago. Now, people who “probably have never had artisanal beer before” are the ones calling.
Public interest in artisanal beer is slowly but steadily increasing with media exposure (Toti was recently brewing on Live TV) and the promotional efforts of brewers and homebrewers. “When drinking wine, no one accuses you of drunkenness. Beer still needs to gain respect” says Maria Eugenia of their work to secure a place for beer in the Argentine heart and mind. The group of three girlfriends drinking beer in the back yard and the couples in the dining room look convinced.
The day to day operation of the club is straightforward: beers and a simple menu are available. Buena Birra Social Club also hosts regular prix fixe beer dinners featuring more exotic fare and specially brewed beers to match every course (including dessert). I recommend simply looking at the photos on their Facebook page if you are undecided about attending. The plates look like works of art.
To conclude, I must touch on the question that you are surely wondering about. Where is it? If I told you, it would ruin the fun. Half of the enjoyment is not knowing where you are going and having to call for a reservation. Who am I to deny you that pleasure? I will reveal that is in Colegiales. Take collectivo 59 or Linea D to Estaction José Hernández and you won’t be far away on foot.
You can contact the club via their website or by calling 15-6428-3457. They are normally open in the evening on Thursday through Saturday, but are currently on summer hours and will be closed Saturdays.
*This article originally appeared in the Argentina Independent 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Money and why I can't afford to drink (but do anyway)

Warning: If you live in BC this will piss you off!

Endorsement: If you do not live in BC you will take great pleasure in the fact that you don't live here!

I’m sure many of you would agree that job hunting sucks. I recently left my job in search of greener pastures and while the hunt has just begun I am already dreading the work that will be involved. It’s not that I don’t like doing work, I love to work, I just don’t particularly like sifting through all the crap. If only searching for a job was as much fun as searching for a delicious beverage! I’ve become well adept at finding great beer, wine, and booze I’m significantly less well adept at finding a great job. I know the going rate for a good bottle of Borolo, or a well-crafted I.P.A. and most unfortunately I know the going rate for work in a bust economy.

“$19 that’s an OUTRAGEOUS price for a 6 pack” yes it is dear customer but that’s the price we charge here in BC. “$12 an hour that’s an OUTRAGEOUS wage for the job you want me to do” yes it is dear Josh but that’s what we can get away with paying you… try and find better! While I have very little sway over the price of beer in BC, none to be exact, I hope that I have a little more sway over the wage I can command… this is probably a lofty dream of mine.

The Government of BC has decided that it is fair to charge 123% tax on wine that’s imported to the province, to be fair high-end wine is ONLY charged 55% tax. These taxes are factored in POST shipping. A wine might leave Italy at $2 a bottle, factor in shipping, consulting fee and all the other fees that are involved the bottle may end up in the port of Vancouver for lets say $4.55. This is the point at which the government marks up the price by 123% and takes some of it’s share, I say some because they have yet to include the 12% charged as HST (another tax, this time added at point of sale). Our Italian wine goes from $2 to $4.55 + 123% = $10.15. Of course stores need to make a profit so now the wine may get marked up by 20% = $12.17 and then we apply the point of sales tax totaling $13.63 which effectively means the wine has been marked up by 681.5% seems pretty reasonable eh? This is the same government that feels around $10 is a fair minimum wage. I ask you how is a man to drink?

Finding a good wine for a good price is like finding a good job that offers a good wage it’s not easy but it’s worth it. To those of you in Canada searching for a good bottle of booze for a good price I wish you luck as many province treat alcohol the same as BC, though BC is definitely the worst offender. To those of you in the rest of the world: you are lucky bastards, but stock up now cause your country may be following in BC’s footsteps as that seems to be the global trend. And to myself: good luck find a good job that will continue to allow me to drink and get paid for it! 

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Tap in Buenos Aires - Cork IPA

Cork IPA is an interesting brewery, one whose concept I have not seen elsewhere. They brew only versions of India Pale Ale. Their beer are quite varied and interesting. I first had it at a launch party they were having for their Black Elephant IPA, the first Black IPA in Argentina. They also have a Belgian and American take on the IPA style as well. Their newest beer will be Honey Mustang, brewed with honey sourced from an abbey in Entre Rios, Argentina.

I returned recently to that first place I had their beer (Danilas Resto Bar in Palermo - J.A. Cabrera 4802) for  an event they were throwing with Somos Cerveceros (Argentina's Homebrewing club) - a coccion en vivo or live brewing demo. Right there on the corner of J.A. Cabrera and Armenia was a full homebrewing rig and a crew of homebrewers sharing the workload to make a batch of IPA. Smiling and sweating away, they took turns hand milling the malt that was being added to the mash as I arrived.

There was plenty of beer on hand from Cork and the event turned a lot of heads in a trendy area with lots of shoppers, diners and foot traffic. Great promotion for Cork, Danilas, Somos Cerveceros and beer in general. At one point, a homebrewer named Buba showed up with a keg of his own beer (a bananna-licious Weizen) and shared around glasses right there on the sidewalk. There is something you will never see in Canada. I also saw something I had never seen before: a modified bike pump that pressurized his keg by hand pumping. Not ideal, but it worked.

The beer brewing brewed was an IPA, of course. A very cool addition was some sugar syrup with added Indian spices. I don't know where this beer will be served but I want to try some.

Enjoy some photos from the event and keep reading further for an interview with Alan Sullivan, one of the masterminds behind the Cork IPA operation. May I suggest you enjoy an IPA while browsing?