Last Updated :11/10/06
The PDF is here...
his momentous adventure began it’s lengthy gestation as a chance comment during the Sheffield scooper’s annual piss-up in 2005 by Herbal and, although it was primarily motivated by the old and particularly loud diesel locomotives still working in Argentina, the beer side sounded interesting too – both Mark Enderby and Steve Westby had visited the city and visited two brewpubs there, one which sounded an essential visit, and a quick search on the net revealed over a dozen breweries active in the city – maybe - as it proved difficult to distinguish between a brewery, a brewpub and someone who might be trying to pass himself off as a brewery but, at this early stage, the move seemed sound so we agreed to commit ourselves to the trip and the mammoth planning began!
Our idea was to fly from Manchester if possible, as Dave could get there easily from his new house in Sheffield and so could I from my parent’s house in Cheshire, and to reach Buenos Aries as quickly as possible whilst scooping any rare traction on offer in the plane department. The initial searches trawled up that the best routings seemed to be via Paris with Air France or Madrid with Iberia (no easyJet flights to South America yet, unfortunately) and a total journey time of around 15 hours and distance of approximately 7,000 miles! I remembered my 12-hour flight to Durban in South Africa and winced at the thought of the mind - and arse - numbing boredom involved in flying such long distances.
The first obstacle was getting my head around paying more than £45 for a flight; the average cost seemed to be in the region of £600-£700 return, which I suppose is what you get with flag carriers monopolising the routes. After a tortuous week-long search we’d managed to find a few deals for around £550 on our chosen dates at the end of May but there seemed to be nothing lower; I even resorted to checking air courier possibilities, which involve paying a much-reduced fare for the honour of carrying a package for some shady character (thinking about this now, maybe it wasn't such a good plan), but Buenos Aries didn’t seem to feature on their radar at all so that was that grand idea out of the window. I tried one online travel agency (who I won’t give the kudos of mentioning by name) that promised an all-in fare of £516, but when I’d dutifully filled the screen in the price suddenly shot up to £575 – bollocks to that, and the booking was duly cancelled.
Eventually, realising we weren’t going to crack the £500 band, we resigned ourselves to the price of £550 (which still hurt!) and I booked via Opodo for £553.10; Opodo are a travel agency owned by a multitude of flag-carriers, but somehow it hurt my principles less to pay them the money than to pay an extra few quid to Air France directly! We’d booked on the 19:35 out of Manchester to Paris CDG, diagrammed for an Airbus 319 according to Opodo, and then a rather tight 90-minute connection for the 23:45 to Buenos Aries, apparently one of the huge Boeing 777's. We then had nine days there before coming back at 17:25 on an overnight to Paris then a long wait of 4½ hours for the rare plane move; an Embraer RJ145 on the 16:05 to Manchester! I’d figured we might be late into Paris so this move made more sense, but Herbal knew I just wanted to score an Embraer…
The travel arrangements sorted I spent the next few weeks engaged in a gargantuan research project into Argentinean breweries, aided greatly by my shiny new connection to broadband internet, which turned out an astounding amount of prospective breweries in Buenos Aires – a minimum of ten and, amazingly, a possible upper ceiling of around fifty breweries might be contained within the sprawling boundaries of the city, including roughly seven brewpubs – although it was difficult to tell with some of the establishments whether they were brewpubs, micros or even just homebrewers with a homepage! What was encouraging was the large interest in “artesanal” beer in Argentina and, even better, a lot of brewers seemed to produce interesting beers such as strong stouts and IPA’s.
Time would tell what the beer scene would be like, but it seemed promising from this side of the screen! Herbal had completed a similar exercise on the train front, having compiled a complete wad of timetable, diagram and locomotive information; one prospective bonus was that we might be lucky enough to scoop some English Electric locomotives – well, Portuguese-built EE, but that was good enough for us! This unlikely event had been brought about by the shipping to Argentina of a quantity of locomotives and coaches from Portugal which were, reportedly, to be used on the San Martin line out of Buenos Aires, although the service hadn't yet begun.
Friday 26th May 2006.
Here we go.
At long last, after countless hours of research, the big day had arrived. I took the train to Manchester and scooped a few last UK beers, just to give me some kind of benchmark, before I headed off to the airport on the amazingly un-British (i.e.; good) rail link. After walking literally miles along travelators and endless passages to the correct terminal I arrived at the check-in area about half and hour ahead of Herbal and decided that I would try and check us both in using a seemingly convenient computerised check-in machine. However, when I inserted my card, it only allowed me to check in – cheers then! Unimpressed to the extreme, I stomped up to the Air France desk in a huff and succeeded, after much patient explanation, to book Herbal into the seat next to me, although he needed to check in to receive his boarding pass.
Eventually Herbal arrived and we joined the shortest check-in queue. When we reached the front, however, we realised why it was the smallest – it was the business class desk! The Ada manning it looked decidedly unimpressed at two scruffy ruffians such as us gatecrashing the pompous Tory line but, using our wit, good looks and charm we talked her around and soon we were both in possession of our boarding passes. The important bit done we decided to go through security and see what was on the other side – which, as we’d expected, was little different than every other airport – so we chilled out at the gate until the plane boarded; as expected, it was an Airbus 320, which was better than yet another mundane Boeing 737 in the book! One amusing incident happened when we passed through security; we were welcomed by name through the control desk where the French woman got my name just about right but, as Herbal predicted, didn’t even attempt his – well, he would have a ridiculous one like Szwejkowski … no-one can pronounce that, can they?
I was secretly relieved that the plane was on time as, when I’d checked online during the preceding weeks, it had regularly been an hour late which would have severely blown our move to pieces; on questioning as to what would come about if this should happen, Air France informed me, rather vaguely, that we would be “looked after” – what this might comprise of hadn’t been elaborated on but I’d heard that we’d probably be routed via Madrid onto the Iberia flight which arrived later… it would have done, but I was glad the Air France plane had decided to leave on time…
We were meeting Redhill at Paris on the Buenos Aires plane and he had a shorter connection time than we did, so we sat back and munched on the cheap snack we’d been given which obviously allowed Air France to charge £100 more than the budget airlines without a smidgeon of embarrassment. As soon as we’d taken off, the curtain between business class and what’s called “traveller” class nowadays (it's still second class to me) had been drawn, presumably to allow the pompous bastards up front to beaver away on their laptops without having to clap eyes on the unkempt proles at the back but, suddenly, they were ripped apart and the drinks trolley trundled through, propelled by a jovial young French steward; after a quick inspection of the contents of the trolley we both opted for a fortifying orange juice as, for all we knew, it might be the last nutrients we’d consume for the next 10 days, although I secretly had high hopes for Argentine food!
A quality blag.
With the trip still young we were after anything we could blag and, amazingly, we struck gold at the first try; I’d noticed that a bottle of Taittinger champagne somehow hadn’t been emptied by the posh food-guzzling snobs behind the curtain and, before the trolley could vanish aft, we managed to persuade the steward to decant the remaining champagne into some cups for ourselevs and the French bloke next to us – result! Well, sort of; I don’t really like champagne to be brutally honest (although, at the risk of sounding like a right pompous tosser, I must confess a slight penchant for Dom Perignon and Billecart-Salmon), but it was just the getting something for nothing that we were after and so, with our blagged champers, we toasted the success of the trip and even got our French row-mate to take the first seminar of the trip!
The travel documents had assured us that the connection would be within terminal 2F, but when we arrived it quickly became obvious that we’d have to take the free bus to terminal 2C to connect with our flight –cheers then! Another confusing matter was that the flight was being tagged as the “Santiago” as that was it’s final destination (we hadn’t known this previously) which at first caused a slight frenzy of confusion as we couldn’t see anything to Buenos Aires on the departures board! The bus seemed to do a huge circuit of the entire airport before arriving at what looked like exactly the same place, whereupon it deposited it’s human cargo on the tarmac with no indication of where to go – and then stormed off! Whilst other passengers milled around in a confused state, a few of the more switched-on, Herbal and myself included, ascended some steps nearby and found ourselves in the right place – although more by luck than judgement! After getting ready for the mammoth 13-hour flight, we boarded the plane to be amazed at the sheer size of the thing; 9 seats across and four separate seating areas make the Boeing 777 a truly colossal machine and I felt myself wondering the same things I’d felt when travelling to South Africa – how could something this big get off the ground? I know they do every day, but when you see how big they are…
Just as we were getting settled into the reasonably-sized seats Redhill arrived as the final cache of passengers were boarded; he said that there had been a personal call out for him and a special car transfer to the plane! Looking around the cabin, it was obvious that the plane was only around two-thirds full so we quickly moved places, giving us all a window seat and – more importantly – lots of legroom to sleep during the flight! Just before we took off, the cabin crew suddenly marched along the aisles spraying cans of insecticide into the air; apparently this is a requirement of international travel, but I didn’t miss the opportunity to wind up the other two about being “insects” and telling them not to breathe!
We were soon thundering along the runway and I watched with some concern as the slender wings flexed and bent alarmingly when we left the ground, although I’d soon forgotten about them as the drinks trolley came around almost immediately; the champagne was flagged as it was the same as we’d scooped on the flight from Manchester so Vin de Pays red wine it was – well, it was that or Kronenbourg so you can see why I chose wine! The food menu then appeared and I was pleasantly surprised at the edibility of the food I received; I think it was beef of some description, but I fell asleep shortly afterwards, aided by another glass of wine, with my LCD screen in the headrest in front of me dimmed, displaying our course and flight data, as we ponderously climbed out over the Atlantic ocean and into the unknown.
Thanks to this screen, as I woke throughout the night I could follow our progress first over the Atlantic and then over South America and the Amazon rainforest; as I looked down 40,000 feet to the ground below there were no orange lights as in Europe, just a fascinating inky blackness and the lonely flashing of the wingtip marker which showed the wing – still flexing in a way which might have been concerning had I woken up and thought about it - back to sleep again then! Even though I’m a bit cautious about heights for some reason, looking down 40,000 feet from a plane has never (yet) made me very worried – maybe it should do, but I suppose it’s the old chestnut of “familiarity breeds contempt”?
Saturday 27th May 2006.
Another day, another continent.
I awoke, needing a piss, somewhere over Brazil so wandered off down the aisle towards the central bogs (there are three lots in a 777!) before having a quick drink and munch on the snacks left around for the insomniacs and toilet visitors during the night and then dossed out again for what must have been another hour or two. Suddenly the cabin lights came on, shattering my happy sleep and announcing breakfast being served, to the dismay of most of the passengers who had been totally unconscious and, as it was still dark outside, were about as happy as me at being woken up with 90 minutes still to go until arrival!
After rubbing my eyes vigorously for a minute or so I had awoken and was sufficiently alert to peer at my LCD screen. It informed me that we had 69 minutes to go and, after a complex piece of adding up at 06:10 local time, I calculated that the complete flight would be 6,900 miles; the other information was equally as impressive and, apparently, it was -50°C outside and we were travelling at 590mph whilst at 38,000 feet! Another of those things it’s probably best not to think about too much…
Breakfast was served by the improbably happy stewards before we began our long descent to Buenos Aires. We executed a large turn which saw us swoop high over Montevideo and then a long, gradual approach over the city – which was absolutely massive! We must have been descending for a good twenty minutes over the suburbs as the sun slowly rose above the horizon when, as if in welcome, the clear sky exploded into a myriad of reds and oranges around us which glinted off the wing outside my window, as we made our final turn over yet more grid-like suburbs before we finally touched down at Ezeiza airport which, itself, was a good 20km south of the centre; Buenos Aires was one big city!
I’d read that Ezeiza airport was a very civilised introduction to South America and, as we stood in the reasonably-sized queue for immigration, it certainly seemed that way; we were all sniggering in a schoolkid-like way at a sign which proclaimed that no semen was allowed into the country and we were still speculating how they were going to enforce that rule when we arrived at the security kiosks; I presented my passport to the friendly-looking geezer behind the desk who, after a perfunctory glance at both me and my passport photo (which actually does look reasonably like me, being a new passport), selected and empty page and thumped home the appropriate stamp and that was it – I was in!
We walked towards the customs section but, as we approached it, we noticed some passengers were casually wandering past the x-ray machine and bored-looking policemen showing the whole setup scant respect so, taking the view of anything to avoid potential hold-ups, we followed them – fully expecting to be called back at gunpoint any minute – but no-one in authority seemed to care and so, within ten seconds, we were in the arrivals concourse with a fully-valid passport and ready for some South American cultural experiences!
Outside we soon acquired a taxi tout who followed us around like a rash offering to take us into the centre of Buenos Aires; no matter how many times any of us tried to explain to him we wanted to take a taxi to Ezeiza rail station he was still convinced that, as we’d just arrived, we must be making a fundamental error of judgement and he knew where we really wanted to go to! We gave up trying to elucidate our request and, after obtaining some cash from a sociable cashpoint which greeted us by name when we inserted out cards (never seen that before!), we skilfully sidestepped the tout and headed for an official-looking taxi reservation office.
“I think it’s called local culture”
We’d soon organised a taxi to Ezeiza station for the surprisingly high price of ARG$25 (about £4.50) where we would get our first taste of Argentinean culture. At this point I should say that all three of us were there for different reasons although we all shared the same aspiration to have a good experience; I was mainly there for the burgeoning micro-brewer scene but also for some experience of the heritage diesel locomotives which populated the railways there, Herbal was there for the beer too but for a higher percentage of trains then me, whilst Redhill was there just for the trains!
After a very interesting taxi journey, which took a lot longer than I’d thought it would do and involved everything from potholed lanes to a multi-lane carriageway, we were eventually dropped off just up the road from the station at Ezeiza, where we stood and looked around at our surroundings. Ezeiza was hot, dusty and I suddenly felt a very long way from home as we walked the final metres to the station; buses passed every few seconds bound for destinations unknown and seemingly without silencers, whilst randomly sized and coloured dogs rushed past on their own private missions. I had a look in the various shops we passed in the hope of finding some beer, but it was soon looking as if my hopes of finding beer in shops was going to be dashed – all I could see were huge 1 litre bottles of Quilmes (Heineken) and other such shite; cheers then, maybe the artesanal brewing scene wasn't so widespread as I'd hoped!
We quickly acquired train tickets to the end of the line at Canuelas for around 15p each – I’d heard the train tickets were cheap, but I’d not thought we’d be able to travel for 45 minutes for basically nothing! I shan’t bore you with the details of our escapades on the railways that morning apart from to say that, as we waited to depart at Ezeiza, we got our first taste of the vendors who patrol the carriages selling random items such as biscuits, drinks or just about anything else you can imagine (99% of the time for 1 peso) and then, as the engine was coupled to the coaches, there was a sudden cacophony of hammering and shouting from underneath the front of the train; we risked a quick look and saw that the brake pipe had fallen off the engine and was in the process of being reattached by means of a large hammer and what looked suspiciously like wire… I chose to ignore the nagging doubt of what might happen should this makeshift repair not conform to European safety standards!
The rest of the day followed in a similarly strange vein as we got to know this new culture; one thing I was immediately taken with were empanadas – these little pastry savouries, looking just like miniature Cornish pasties, were available just about anywhere we went! Our first encounter was on Temperley station where we acquired some Carne-filled examples for around 20p each. When I bit into my first one I was amazed – the meat was superbly flavoured and I think it lasted about two bites! My second one, however, seemed to be of lesser quality with lumps of fat embedded in the meat; I pulled them out in disgust and flicked them onto the platform until I realised that this wasn’t fat but bits of chopped egg… my empanada initiation was complete!
We then travelled along a line where we got our first experience of the less salubrious side of Buenos Aires with people living in makeshift huts alongside the tracks and a less welcoming air to the place as a whole – this wasn’t an area to get off and look for microbreweries, then! Soon, however, we were back into a better district where we experienced some extremely loud 50-year old diesel engines working trains which, to be kind, had seen better days! Our last move of the day was to an allegedly very dodgy area, Puente Alsina, which was decided on as the train there was another loud diesel – we’re so easily persuaded! It turned out to be just another slightly shabby area but a lot better than our visit of the afternoon although, by this time, I’d almost given up ever seeing any micro-brewed beer in bars as every one we’d looked in only served huge 970ml bottles of crud from Quilmes (Heineken) brewery! My target of 100 scoops for the week was looking very precarious indeed as we headed back into the centre of the city to find our hotel, but not before witnessing the surreal spectacle of a horse stood on the platform somewhere near Temperley…
The plug for giants.
We checked into our hotel, the Central Cordoba close to the Retiro stations, which had been booked for us by a friendly Argentinean rail enthusiast as multiple emails (in English and Spanish) from both myself and Herbal had failed to elicit a response! We’d chosen the hotel for it’s proximity to the stations we’d be visiting the most and for being about as cheap as is possible without being a fleapit – we’d heard various stories about some of the hotels around Retiro so, once our Argentinean friend had reassured us the Cordoba was fine, we’d booked a triple room for ARG$120 a night (around £26) and, just to make sure, it was the top-class one; we could afford it!
Our room seemed very decent indeed with a separate granny-annexe which we immediately allocated to Redhill (because, apparently, he snores!) and a very luxurious bathroom with a massive shower cubicle large enough to hold a party – not that we were planning one, but you never know – although one thing was missing, the one thing we really needed as we were laden with electrical gadgets : an electric socket! After an exhaustive search behind the beds, inside the cupboard and even in the bathroom, we’d managed to find two possibilities; the shaver socket in the bathroom and the plug the TV was connected to; this would have been ideal if it wasn't 8 feet above the ground! We needed a plan, a cunning plan… sorry, Blackadder was on TV last night…
With a quickly-constructed pile of bags we discovered that we could precariously balance our very expensive cameras and suchlike on top and still charge them – one at a time, but it was a start! By now it was gone 21:00 and, although none of us were suffering from the dreaded jetlag yet, we decided to restrict ourselves to just one pub close to the hotel for a few beers and some food, hopefully the famous Argentinean steak, although I was hoping for a few scoops into the bargain!
I studied the gen sheet but there were no brewpubs nearby which fitted our criteria so I resigned myself to a night without many – or any – scoops and immediately I began fretting about my “hit-rate” of 11 beers a night which I needed to hit in order to reach my 100-beer target by the following Monday! A quick walk along San Martin brought us to the Matias Irish pub which, I must admit, didn’t sound too promising but the other two were keen to sample the steaks advertised outside and, with it being the first night, I reluctantly agreed so in we went with no real hope of finding anything worth drinking.
My first Argentinean beer…
I was first to the bar with the vain hope of seeing a shedload of scoops lined up along the beer taps – no joy was forthcoming in the draught department, but a line of bottles caught my eye and I suddenly felt a stab of excitement; there were some winners available, and they were micro beers too! Beaming like a village idiot I joined the others at a large table where I prepared to ingest my first beer from South America; although the choice was fairly limited, at least micro beers was available and I was off the mark! We ordered our steaks (tenderloin of beef, called lomo locally) and then our scoops – Antares Porter (5.5%) from La Plata, a short distance to the east of Buenos Aires, was soon in our glasses and, after a chorus of “cheers!” and much clinking of glasses, I raised the beer to my lips and took a long pull.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Argentinean beer; by all accounts most beer I’ve had from wine-producing countries has been boring, mundane pale lager-like fluid with very little to recommend it, but my research into this country had unearthed around 200 breweries which produced a bewildering array of beers in styles culled from all over the world – I’d found breweries making stout, porter, strong stout, dunkel, helles, blonde, amber, brune, wheat, scotch and a myriad of others which, along with the excellent reviews I’d read about many of the beers, had convinced me to break the shackles of my usual European trips and do some real ground-breaking exploration in a continent not on many beer scoopers’ itineraries – yet!
I knew that Antares beers weren’t the best I was likely to scoop during the following nine days, but I was happy to get off the mark and anyway, I thought, how bad could a Porter be? Well, it wasn’t bad at all – not tremendously exciting, but it was mid-brown with a mainly caramel, toffee and sweet malt flavour then a fairly average yet satisfying sweet malt finish. It wasn’t a very porter-like beer to my tastes, more of a brown ale, but I’ve had a lot worse in a lot better brewpubs and it was a good start to my Argentine scooping adventure!
Happy with life, I sipped my beer until the steaks arrived. The huge lean hunk of cow on my plate managed to attain the two pinnacles of steakness – it was very tasty and also exceptionally tender – and it certainly lived up to the praise heaped upon Argentine beef by almost every report and guide book I’d read thus far; this was turning into a superb voyage of discovery and I grinned with delight in the knowledge I’d come to a country with the three essentials – good beer (although I didn’t yet know just how good it could be), great food (likewise!) and characterful old diesel trains!
I finished off with Antares Scotch (6%) which, in common with the other beer, was smooth, sociable and sweetish without having too much character but was very drinkable. I also tasted the downside of Argentine beer when Herbal had a bottle of San Carlos Otro Mondo – it ended up as the lowest score of all the 78 beers I had with zero points; sweet, sickly, syrupy and unpleasant, this orangey-brown solution was going to be my last beer but, after that quick taste, it was declined – although my desperation got the better of me the following week and I did buy a bottle, only to have my opinion confirmed and the whole bottle was jettisoned down the drain, but more of that later...
As we relaxed after consuming the excellent steaks and average beers, we suddenly discovered that we had pulled! A woman of middle age (yet still of fine build, it must be said) came across to our table and began chatting with us in English as, so she said, she was amazed to see Englishmen in Buenos Aires! As we quickly ran out of topics of conversation, she began to compare our hairstyles and ask why we had our hair so; Herbal had recently shaved his head, which contrasted well with my poorly-executed comb-over and pony tail and Redhill’s “ironic post-modern mullet” as Herbal had described it! After some amusing banter regarding our choice of hairstyles she decided to leave us in peace and headed back to the depths of the bar, leaving us amused by the antics of the locals – and it was only our first night in town!
We paid up and thanked the cheerful staff before wandering the short distance back to our hotel and crashing out almost immediately into the very comfortable beds; despite it being winter in Argentina the weather was still very clement and we had to turn on the roof-fans and open the window which, fortuitously, faced a courtyard rather than the noisy road out the front. With the predicted snores already coming from the Redhill annexe, I sank into a deep sleep feeling extremely happy with my lot – I was off the mark on the beer front, my first beers had been a taste of what was to come and the food was already shaping up to be more than adequate; put it this way, I thought to myself, I won’t starve or die of dehydration!
Sunday 28th May 2006.
Start as you mean to go on.
I’d already decided that the last fragment of Buenos Aires’ once enormous tramway system had to be scooped in (the city once had over 850km of tracks, one of the largest networks in the world, which was closed in 1962 by the military government at the time) although, as is usually the case with public transport aficionados, you can’t keep a good thing down for long and a group of enthusiasts have resurrected a number of trams – both indigenous and not – which run from the Subte depot at Polvorín around a 1km street-running loop, much to the bemusement of the car drivers who encounter them en-route!
The loop is still used by the hellfire wooden-bodied underground trains (EE, 1912!) on Subte line A to get from the terminal station of Primera Junta to the surreally-located depot which is plonked in the middle of a residential area, so the panic-stricken avoidance techniques of the car drivers must simply be part of the national driving technique as surely the drivers around there would have encountered the trains previously! I’d found the gen about the trams whilst searching for train gen on the net and, amazingly, the trams ran most evenings and Sunday afternoons around the loop for free – yes, nothing! In such a relatively poor country I’d have gladly subbed them a few quid just to travel on some of their superb-looking beasties and was feeling a little uncomfortable about taking advantage of this offer when I saw that merchandise was for sale during the trip, although quite what this comprised of I’d have to wait to discover…
I’d allowed myself a lie-in to celebrate scooping my first Argentine beer the previous night – although I knew that I’d have to severely pick up my act to get back on target of 11 a day – so hardly woke from my comatose state as the other two got ready for a full day’s diesel cranking and slipped out at some unearthly hour of the morning. We’d arranged to meet up on some particularly outrageous diesels later on in the afternoon which gave me plenty of time to have a spin on the preserved trams, have a wander around the cow parade at the docks (Sue was gutted at missing out on this one, I can tell you) before the rendezvous later on.
I eventually crawled out of bed and tried out the superb shower, which was as fantastically reviving as it looked, before striking off into the city towards the nearby metro station. The morning was sunny and warm and I wore a huge smile as I wandered along the slightly shabby pavements towards my target, admiring the colonial architecture and green parks along the way. I’d bought three 10-trip Subte tickets the previous evening so simply inserted my ticket into the barrier which, after a second of consideration, returned it to me and informed me I had 8 rides remaining – a “ride” is one trip on public transport until you emerge from the turnstiles at the other end so, if you were really desperate, you could bash Subte trains all day for 12p! Not that I am, obviously…
Half an hour later I’d alighted at Emilio Mitre and walked the short distance to the train depot where I simply stared in amazement for a while as trains shunted back and forth into the road – I couldn’t believe this busy industrial installation was housed on what was basically a residential street! There seemed to be quite a lot of rearranging of the trains inside as every few minutes a convoy of the rickety old units creaked out into the road, totally blocking it, before reversing back into the shed again! They obviously didn’t abide by any considerate neighbours scheme, I mused, as yet another consist of elderly trains clanked out into the road with barely a look to see what was coming!
“Dick Kerr, England”
I found a poster on the wall confirming the tram times so, with ten minutes to go, I propped myself against a wall to see what would emerge from the depot; the list of trams was salivating to a sad tram-lover such as myself and, although any of them would be acceptable, I was secretly hoping for the recently-restored “Fabricado Militaire” vehicle, built in Buenos Aires, the body of which had been serving as a classroom for the last 40 years before being rescued and united with a chassis from a place unknown. I was joined at the tramstop by an Argentine family who seemed to be as excited at the prospect of riding around the streets on a heritage vehicle scattering cars and pedestrians on all sides as I was.
10:00 passed and nothing happened – well, no trams appeared from the murky depths of the depot, although the constant shunting of Subte trains continued unabated until I was sure that every single coach in the shed must have been out and back in again at least once! Half an hour later and I was growing slightly concerned at the non-appearance of any trams, a feeling echoed by the family who asked a member of the Subte staff as yet another train clanked out onto the road; he nodded and held up five fingers, although I wasn't sure if this meant the tram would be five minutes or there were five more tube trains to re-organise first!
Finally, around 45 minutes late, a silver bathtub-shaped vehicle slowly nosed it’s way out of the depot to my intense relief; I had been thinking that maybe the trams weren’t running and had considered giving up but now it had all been worthwhile and - as an added bonus - the tram was the one I’d been hoping for all along! The family and I climbed aboard and made ourselves comfortable whilst the crew made the final preparations for departure which seemed to comprise of tying the trolley pole securely to the rear cab and arranging the merchandise in a tantalising position, and then – with a healthy grind of gears and drone of motors - we were off!
The driver, a rather jovial fat bloke, opened the controller a few notches which, unfortunately, resulted in a loud thump as the breaker tripped and we ground to a halt not twenty metres from where we’d started – this journey might take some time, I thought to myself, as the same thing happened again about the same distance further along the line! After a few minutes of fumbling with the breaker the driver appeared satisfied with his running repairs and so off we went again – and it was third time lucky as we trundled around the loop with no further power outages!
After inching past a slightly unstable metal fence protecting some roadworks, which the secondman had to push away from the tram through every window, we stopped for the driver to give us a short presentation about the tramways and trams of Argentina and, after he’d ascertained that I was English, he interspersed his commentary in Spanish with some random phrases in English! With my basic knowledge of Spanish I grasped the gist of the driver’s rantings although I still had a few questions of my own to ask about the tram so, as the family perused the souvenir tray, I stepped forwards to examine the control gear!
I noticed, with little surprise, that the control handle’s notches and directions were written in Portuguese; with the decline of their tramways it seems as if every tramcar restorer is after a chassis from Lisbon or Oporto these days! The driver confirmed that this particular one was a Porto chassis and then added, with an expansive gesture, “Dick Kerr controls from England!” which – as all cranks will know – became the godlike English Electric company. I thought I’d better invest in some merchandise seeing as the whole experience had been a very rewarding one and so, clutching a cardboard tram kit and a list of the trams in preservation, I returned to my seat as we completed the loop and returned to the depot.
My fellow passengers, now they knew I was English, were eager to speak to me and we clumsily exchanged sentences in a mixture of Spanish and English. Strangely, the oldest member of the family spoke the best English and she informed me that that very tram body had been her classroom at school when she was young and it was the first time she’d seen it in 30 years! As we arrived back at the depot we said our goodbyes and I had to resist the driver’s insistence I took another trip around the loop aboard his pride and joy of a silver bathtub; as much as I’d have liked to I had other things to do and, I reasoned, I could always come back another evening and see which tram was working… aaah, the naivety of the man with seven nights left!
Cow parade in a land of cows.
I quickly returned to the Subte station and headed for the centre of the city where I had a quick look at the central square of Plaze de Mayo before walking down to the dock area. Here everything was new and gleaming, and it looked as if lots of money had been invested in the area to make it a kind of honeypot for the tourists who are now starting to explore this long neglected part of the world, and cow parade was just such an event which showed how the city is trying to enter the circuit of capitals which are considered an essential visit. In contrast with other cities where the bovines were scattered throughout the whole area, however, here in Buenos Aires they were all clustered around the docks as if the organisers didn’t quite understand that finding the cows in dodgy suburbs was half the fun!
I wandered around the docks for a good hour, peering at all the usual accompaniments of a dockyard such as massive cranes, fancy paving, industrial remnants and even huge cast-iron-things-they-tied-ships-to which were made in Cardiff! The docks area has been transformed from, presumably, a seedy run-down area to a modern tourist attraction with the old warehouses having been converted into flats or restaurants which looked rather non-traditional and expensive so, leaving them to the steady stream of sightseers, I headed back to the Subte for my arranged meeting with the other two out in the west of Buenos Aires.
I took the underground to the strangely-named station called Once for a very tedious ride on an electric unit out to Moreno where I changed for one of the old smoky, noisy diesels which were one of the primary reasons for our visit to Argentina. I shan’t bore you with the details of the rest of the afternoon save to say that the clag from No.657 would put many a steam engine to shame! I was intending to return to Buenos Aires early but the superb engine was just too good to resist and, accompanied by Herbal and Redhill, I headed out in the wrong direction in order to maximise the mileage on 657! After a superb run back in the dark, standing in the bike van immediately behind the smoke-belching monster with some very colourful characters gazing at us in a exceedingly confused manner, we made the long trek back to the centre of the city where we were all set to hit a couple of the many brewpubs on my long list – and we were thirsty!
“There’s never a brewpub out here!”
We took a train out to yet another station with an amusing name – Dr Drago – where the first brewpub to be scooped was apparently located. On alighting from the train, however, I wasn’t too sure; this was a residential area and, as we plodded along roads lined with faceless modern houses, I was feeling a tad nervous; coming all the way out here for nothing on my first brewpub hunt wouldn’t be the best way of making friends and influencing the other two! Naturally, I said nothing about my doubts and plodded stoically onwards towards where I hoped against hope there would be a brewpub situated and, even more improbably, one that would be open on a Sunday night in an area where nothing stirred at all.
Suddenly I saw lights ahead and, as we drew closer, it appeared as if the impossible had come to pass and we’d not only found the brewpub in what must be one of the most unlikely settings I’ve ever found one in, but it was open too! I gave the impression of being blasé about finding Spangher (for this was it’s name) but secretly I was secretly very relieved that it had all worked out for us! As we entered the pub I was suddenly struck by the atmosphere of the place; it was very small and cosy with a piano having it’s ivories softly tinkled in one corner and a smattering of locals – surely they must be locals or hardcore beer scoopers to find a place like this – quietly enjoying the scene. There was no sign of a brewery but there was a beer list on the wall with the magical words “cerveza artesanal” on it, and that was all that mattered!
We bagged a table by the large windows which gave us a view out into the dimly-lit silent streets outside that had convinced me this place couldn’t possibly exist, and perused the menu to see what beers were on offer. It turned out that the three standard beers which I call the “holy trinity” of Argentinean beers were on offer; rubia (golden), roja (red) and negra (black) with no seasonals – but as this was my first brewpub I didn’t want to be greedy, so we settled for a large litre jug of the rubia as it worked out at the best value (ARG$20, £3.75) and soaked up the very bohemian surroundings as our jug was filled from the unmarked taps on the bar. We were soon in possession of a brimming jug of hazy golden beer and three glasses and so, with a joint “cheers!”, I poured the beer into the glasses, seeing that we still had another half to go once we’d drunk the first glass; with three jugs to go this might be a good session!
I took a mouthful of the brew – my first Argentinean brewpub beer – and swirled it around my mouth to analyse it’s flavour; it wasn’t a blockbuster of a beer or a hop-monster, but it was a very drinkable and, for the want of a better word, sociable beer! It had a malty flavour which led to a smooth, grainy, toffeeish and quite complex finish although the true test of the beer’s sociability was the speed at which it vanished down our throats; within ten minutes the jug was empty and we immediately ordered the next beer, the roja, to the amazement of the barstaff who seemed to be very impressed by the beer consuming ability of the three strange Englishmen who had somehow managed to find their little bar miles from the usual tourist haunts!
Roja was a lovely reddy-copper colour with the tell-tale haze of yeast suspension, and as soon as the beaming barmaid had plonked the jug onto the table I could smell the delicious treacle-toffee aromas billowing from the beer; this was going to be even better than the last! Once again I acted as mum and poured the beer, which smelt much better once I’d agitated a bit of air into it – the roja was a lovely treacly, malty, toffeeish brew in the same easy-going sociable vein as it’s golden brother but with added dark malt notes and went down even better than the first one! The barstaff must have been getting a bit concerned at our rapid demolition of their beers as they tried to sell us a huge plate of cheese and ham; we were asked if we wanted it three times before, as we’d decided to eat in Buller and were saving ourselves so had politely refused, they actually brought the plate over to show us! It looked delicious and it’s one of my regrets that we didn’t take advantage of this feast, but we’d decided on a massive blow-out later in the evening so, once again, courteously refused the delicious pile of snacks - although I’m definitely having it next time!
The final beer of Spangher’s arsenal was the negra which, obviously, we’d saved until last and I was pleased to see that it followed in the by now obvious Spangher house style of a subtle, sociable toffee-malt style but this time overlaid with a strong roast and caramelly flavour, although I think I preferred the roja for it’s downright suppability! We took a bit more time with this jug and watched the cosy little bar fill up around us with locals enjoying the beers and atmosphere; this was certainly a characterful introduction to Argentina’s brewpubs and nothing like I thought it would be – the feel was more Soho coffee bar than a brewpub in one of the biggest cities in the world!
From one extreme to another.
Reluctantly we finished our beer and paid the bill, bidding the very friendly barstaff good night, then walked the short distance to a busy road which brought us back to the reality that we were in a huge sprawling metropolis and not a quiet little village as it had seemed in Spangher, despite being just 5km from the city centre. We hailed a taxi – easy, there are hundreds of the things about – for the trip back into the centre as by now it was around 23:00 and we couldn’t be arsed to walk back to Dr Drago station for the last train!
The driver seemed somewhat confused that three slightly lubricated Englishmen had hailed her taxi in a quiet residential area and, unexpectedly, she didn’t seem to know where our next target, Buller, was located; I’d assumed everyone would know as it’s next door to the famous Recoleta cemetery where Evita Perón is buried so all it took was a quick mention of said cemetery to elicit a smile of recognition from the driver and that was it, we were off, storming along the wide highways towards the city centre and our second brewpub of the evening.
Ten minutes later we were climbing the steps towards our garishly-lit objective, the Buller brewpub, which I had mixed feelings about; it did six beers and food until very late, but was distinctly American in style and outlook which meant that the beers wouldn’t be particularly local in flavour. When we arrived I immediately saw what the reports meant as it looked like something you’d see in a documentary about Las Vegas or some other repulsive brash city with neon lights glaring out of the huge plate-glass windows and some sort of “house” music thumping away – this was some contrast from the quiet, local character of Spangher and I felt a little uncomfortable about supporting such an obviously American venture, but we wanted food and more scoops so, as usual, my principles went by the wayside and in we went!
A table was soon acquired and we studied the beer list intently – well, Herbal and I did, as Redhill was only along for the trains and wasn’t actually a beer scooper, although he does rate proper beer rather than fizzy junk! I saw with a mixture of delight (8 scoops!) and disappointment (none of the “holy trinity” but plenty of international recipes) that we could order a tasting tray of all beers for a reasonable ARG$16 so, when we managed to collar a waiter, Herbal and I ordered a tasting tray whilst Redhill opted for a pint of the much-vaunted IPA which, according to many reports on the internet, was the best beer in Argentina – although most of those who had said this hadn’t been to many of the other brewpubs and were mainly Americans! I was aiming to visit as many as possible in the nine days we had and be able to offer a far more considered opinion than those who had only been to Buller; I was already wondering what those American tasters would have made of our experience in Spangher where a very European subtlety, rather than American brashness, had been the house style.
Eight scoops and a massive pizza. With an egg on it.
Our tasting trays soon arrived and we arranged them into scooping order of flavour intensity – light lager first and dry stout last – then immediately kicked off the scooping as I was interested to see if these beers were simply international clones or if they had a bit of character to them. First impressions, unfortunately, weren’t that good; light lager (4.5%) was creamy and malty but ultimately bland if very drinkable. The small glass didn’t last long and I was soon tucking into the second beer, cream pale ale (5.2%), which was far better and resembled an English bitter in character with lots of maltiness and a good, bitter hoppiness – happily, things were looking up already!
Our food soon arrived in the form of massive pizzas covered in all manner of random meats and finished with an egg in the middle – as per the ethos of Buller; not very authentic but decent enough all the same – so we gorged ourselves on the enormous plates of food ostensibly to soak up the beer but more prosaically because we were absolutely starving; maybe we should have had that mountain of cheese and salami in Spangher? No matter, the pizzas were soon no more and, with chins dripping saturated fats, we recommenced the beer tasting session from the cute little glasses in the cute little wooden glass holders.
Honey ale (8.5%) was next up; this may seem a surprising choice given the ABV, but I was counting on it being pretty unpleasant and reasoned I’d need the rest of the beers to wash the taste away - honey beers are an art form in themselves, owing to the unpredictable nature of the wild yeast and bacteria found in honey, and consequently I’ve not had many good ones in my scooping career with some absolutely rancid ones just to show how even some otherwise excellent brewers can be undone by bees’ sweet output. Grimacing in preparation for the expected infected taste, I supped the amber brew – and was surprised, pleasantly so! As I’d expected it was very thick, sticky and sweet yet without the bacterial infection so common in honey beers; I did momentarily wonder if honey essence had been used, but surely that wouldn’t have given the stickiness and sweetness the beer possessed? Even if essence had been used, I ruminated, this was still a decent beer and much better than I’d expected.
Next up was Oktoberfest (5.5%) which was a decent attempt at a European lager with brown sugar, malt and nut flavours and a mellow nutty-malt finish; OK, it wasn’t really up to German standards, but it was perfectly acceptable and I had to reluctantly admit that the Buller beers were far better then I had been expecting they’d be! By now the time was gone midnight and the crowds were thinning out – and the shite music had got quieter – so I reached for my second-to-last beer in the hope that the good run would continue; it should do, I thought, the two best beers are still to come!
IPA (6%) had now reached drinking position and I had reasonably high hopes for it as most visitors to Argentina had chosen it as their favourite brew in the whole country – although, as I’ve previously said, a lot of these visitors were Americans who aren’t known for their tolerance of balanced beer and prefer beers with huge, simple flavours – so I’d assumed that it was a typical American “hop monster” which, despite being out of place in Buenos Aires, might at least have a decent flavour and might also be the hoppiest beer I’d taste the whole week!
Well, I don’t know what beer those Americans were drinking, but if they think Buller IPA is a great beer then either I had a poor brew or they were simply drinking with the name in mind and not actually tasting the beer at all! I knew something was wrong the moment I noticed that the brew wasn’t pale but a dull brown and the aroma wasn’t as intense as I’d been expecting so, intrigued, I took a big swig (which almost emptied the little glass) and swirled it around my tastebuds; well, it certainly tasted better than it looked, with a fair amount of citrussy hops and bitterness along with, in my view, a rather overpowering toffee maltiness. Yes, it was a decent enough beer, but it was nowhere near as good as I’d hoped as the bitterness was a touch too astringent and the malt far too overpowering for my delicate European tastes – but, as I’ve said, Yanks love unbalanced and garish beers!
The final glass was now glistening darkly at me from the tray and so, unable to resist, I had a large gulp and analysed it – which is far less scientific and boring than it sounds – to see if this beery finale had been worth waiting for. Dry Stout (5.8%) certainly had a bit of a kick to it; a massively intense charcoaly roast maltiness with a sweetish body before a long, burnt, toasted grain finish then a raspingly burnt aftertaste; to me, this was the most American beer I’d tasted thus far with it’s hugely over-the-top flavours and, although it was a reasonably balanced beer with a good flavour, it was just a touch too “in yer face” for my liking, with the intense burnt grain flavour overpowering everything else, although it was certainly a huge finale to the evening’s drinking which had convinced me that the Buller brewer was a competent man if a little too enamoured with the American way of doing things!
We considered having one more proper-sized glass of our favourite beers of the six but, with Redhill asleep on the table and the customers drifting away into the darkness, we took a quick timecheck and decided enough was enough for one night; after all, we’d scooped two brewpubs and nine beers which, although still lagging behind the very ambitious target of 11 a night I’d set myself (and was now considering a bit far-fetched), was respectable enough for the second night in Buenos Aires! Buller is theoretically walkable from the Hotel Cordoba if you’re feeling energetic but, at 01:00 in the morning, we didn’t feel that way inclined so hailed the first taxi we saw and, five minutes later, we were back at the hotel, although the driver had a touch of bother negotiating the one-way system in the locality; ARG$6 very well spent if you ask me!
Monday 29th May 2006.
That’s enough about my situation, wouldn’t you like some train information?
Once again I indulged in a lie-in, leaving the other two to their early morning exit, as my priorities were the beer and, as I’d already gathered, most bars didn’t open until late in the evening – well, that’s my excuse anyhow for being a lazy bastard! After another long and relaxing shower I headed off to Retiro San Martin station to sample some of the ancient diesels which worked the trains there. Confusingly there are three Retiro stations, decreasing in size and aesthetics as you head away from the centre, with vastly differing facilities;
1 The first one you reach after crossing the frenetic Avenue Libertad is called Mitre, and is a superb cathedral-like building with a multitude of food options available and a huge domed roof looking not unlike King’s Cross. Boring electric trains go from here to various destinations including the Spangher brewpub!
2 The second is the Ferrovias station which is a compact yet still attractive structure with lovely period fixtures and the cleanest toilets of any of the stations! The trains don’t go anywhere interesting beer-wise but are good if you like unsilenced GM’s.
3 The third, San Martin, is more of a tin shed with zero visual appeal and the tightest security, hidden behind a scruffy market, but has the best trains by a long way… there is a cheap football clothing shop on the concourse where, if you are so inclined, you can get a Boca Juniors or River Plate shirt for around £6 or, if it’s raining, an Argentina skull-cap for a mere 80p! More usefully, there is also a chemist shop which sells razors and suchlike.
After a good spell riding up and down the San Martin line – which had higher security than the others I’d done so far with security guards on each train and policemen randomly making appearances too, although this didn’t seem to dissuade the on-train hawkers – I decided that sustenance was required and went to explore the market beside the station which, on my quick sprint through earlier, had looked promising for food and any cheap clothes I might require.
As funny as it may sound to want to purchase clothes whilst on the bash, I say this in all seriousness as my trousers were gradually ripping in the gusset area having implausibly begun to deconstruct as soon as I sat on the plane from Paris! The original small rip had now transformed itself into a gaping tear and, despite the positive point of this additional ventilation preventing me from getting sweaty gonads, having a big rip in my trousers obviously wasn’t an ideal situation especially when climbing stairs continually at Subte stations… therefore, I’d decided to have a look through the market in the hope of finding something a little less breezy!
I had a quick look in the football shop as, despite hating the game myself, my dad had requested a River Plate shirt if possible so I gauged the price of the requested garment – after having to work out what colours River Plate played in as I’d no idea whatsoever! (white with a diagonal red stripe just in case not knowing was going to keep you awake tonight). I decided to buy one at a later date and so, my first task accomplished, I headed out of the station’s side door to ascertain the food possibilities on offer, which turned out to be not bad at all; there are two fast-food stands just outside which sell the usual Argentine staples such as Chorizo (spicy sausage in French bread), Hamburguesas (pretty self-explanatory, this one), Pizza or Empanadas of which I scooped a couple each of the meat and ham/cheese varieties and, as expected, very good they were too.
A little further on there is a strange sort of bar which seems to double as another fast-food outlet (no scoops on, I checked!) and, on the other side of the passage, several shops selling food items such as water and chocolate. Behind all this mayhem of humanity – it’s very busy along this passage to the station’s door – is a covered clothing market in which I suspect you could buy almost any pirated “brand” clothing should you so wish although, as I’ve previously said, purchasing branded clothes wasn’t my motive for venturing inside…
I followed the seething mass of people into the indoor market and was suddenly struck by just how much clothing was for sale in the room; it hung from the stalls, walls, and even from the roof in places – and 75% of it was football shirts of one type or another! Ten minutes later, after a walk around the complete maze of stalls, I’d not found any trousers I would be seen out in but I now knew the names of every player of Boca Juniors and River Plate…
Resigned to having windswept nads for the duration of the trip and not wanting a football shirt, I had no option but to abandon my search and return to the slightly less seething outdoors for a few more trips on the old trains but, this time, I did have a normal excuse; we’d seen a shopping centre a few stops out of town and I was determined to have a look around just in case there were some rare beers available anywhere inside… unfortunately, no beers of any sort worth drinking were found within and I was eventually driven out by the discovery of a McScum on the top floor – no need!
A double blow-out.
After a lengthy wait for a train back as, during the rush hour, most trains run fast back into Buenos Aires in order to turn them around quickly and get more people out of the capital and back home, I eventually arrived back in the city on a mission – to visit the Cossab brewpub out in the southeast of the city. This nirvana of beer culture sounded like the best venue for beer scooping in the whole capital with, as far as I could tell (the pub has no website), eight draught beers and a whole load of bottles too; on the Subte down to Avenida la Plata I was frothing at the mouth with anticipation of a proper night’s scooping and, hopefully, the chance to bump up my scooping tally to a more acceptable level than the grand total of eleven it currently stood at!
The short walk up to the brewpub seemed to last an age but, eventually, the building hove into view – with no lights on inside – surely it must be open, I gibbered to myself… standing outside the locked door I cursed the lack of any website for this pub which had caused me to trail all the way out here for nothing; nevertheless, there was an opening hours notice inside the door which informed me that I’d have to return on Wednesday at 18:30 to get my scoops here… I trudged back to the metro station mightily gutted, but at least I now knew when to come back and where the pub was!
Studying my beer gen folder back at the station I realised that I could pay a visit to another brewpub on my way back into the centre, namely the Cao bar, although this was one of my “maybes” as I wasn't sure if it was brewing, going to brew, thinking about brewing or had never even entertained the idea at all, although my best guess on the gen I had was that I had a 50/50 chance of getting a scoop there and, with it being en-route, I wasn't losing anything apart from a 12p Subte ticket.
The pub was a five-minute stroll from Pichincha station and it was immediately looking better then Cossab – it was open, for a start! Situated on a busy arterial road, the Cao was an attractive building with a superb wooden interior which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an Edinburgh pub. I made my way to the bar and desperately scanned the whole area for scoops, but there were none to be seen; had my curse struck again I wondered? Deciding to grasp the nettle, I asked a passing waiter if there was any cerveza artesanale on the menu; he consulted with the Josef Stalin lookalike behind the bar and his shake of the head told me all I wanted to know – I was withered again! “Next week!” suggested the waiter, and off he went carrying a gorgeous-looking plate of food.
Expect nowt and you won’t be disappointed.
As far as I could work out from my limited Spanish there was no beer available, although I got the feeling that this may only be temporary, so I decided to re-visit the pub as late into the trip as was possible and left, noticing on the way the words cerveza artesanales painted outside, so maybe they are indeed going to brew very shortly? Unfortunately, this second blow-out had left my scoops tally in a parlous situation – zero winners today, eleven on the board in total, and the time was already approaching 20:00 on Monday night; I was getting a bit concerned at this point that I might not even reach 50 scoops during the trip and, what was worse, it wasn’t through lack of trying on my part! My best option now seemed to be to take the Subte into the centre and leap at Indepencia where I could experience the very promising San Telmo area for the first time and, Insha'Allah, at least here – in the buzzing city centre – the bars should be open…
I walked along Estados Unidos towards my first targets and was enthralled by my surroundings; the streets were laid with cobbles and occasional remnants of tramlines protruded through the stones, the streetlights were dim, the frontages of the buildings were crumbling colonial in style and, strangest of all, there seemed to be an almost complete lack of any people wandering around! Slightly confused, I pressed on towards the first place I would encounter, the Bohemia Bar and Art; this place is the place where both Messrs Westby and Enderby scooped some huge winners when it brewed as the Brewhouse Club but, with the owners now relocated to Cossab, the place had apparently morphed into an ordinary bar, albeit with real beer still available.
As I neared No.745 I glanced at my watch and saw that it was now 21:00 but very little seemed to be happening; I grimaced as I remembered the advice in the Rough Guide which had warned that “Argentineans are night owls who wouldn’t dream of dining early” and thought just how bad for my scooping tally this would be if it were true… and, predictably, I soon came up against the bolted door of Bohemia; I glowered at the heavens in the hope of seeing the malevolent deity who was heaping all this bad fortune upon me, but none could be seen. Feeling like I may as well give up on scooping any beers at all due to my rock-bottom luck, I decided to carry on a few blocks to have a look at the beer museum which Tim Proudman had told me about a few weeks previous.
It was only a few minutes walk along Estados Unidos to the Museo de Cerveza which, on form for the night’s proceedings, was firmly shuttered and closed… I was now becoming a tad disillusioned with the whole concept of scooping beer in Buenos Aires; how the fuck was I supposed to scratch beers when every bastard pub was closed? The one silver lining of this walk along Estados Unidos was that I’d noticed a bar which prominently advertised artesanal beer (and it was open!) and, also, another of Tim’s recommendations had also been spotted with activity inside so, feeling like I was at last going to get some winners on the scoresheet, I retraced my steps back to the crappily-named Gibraltar bar on Peru where, hopefully, some Stone beers from Pilar would be available for my delectation!
The only handpump on the continent?
I entered the door of the Gibraltar and immediately saw that this wasn’t some crappy theme pub targeting Brits (probably a sound business plan, as there aren’t many there!) but a cosy bar, all dark wood, with a good mix of expats, locals and the occasional tourist and a good atmosphere although these observations paled into insignificance when I arrived at the bar and just stood and stared for a couple of seconds with, had I been a cartoon character, my jaw on the floor as there – right in front of me on the bar – was a handpump complete with Stone IPA pumpclip! Talk about seeing the thing you expect the least right in front of you... a poster announced that “happy hour” was currently in full swing and for every beer you bought, another would be given free; this made the prices of ARG$5-8 for a pint very reasonable indeed!
With my choice made for me by the handpump, I ordered a pint (for that’s the only glass size they seemed to have) of the Stone cask IPA (6.5%) and, as I was absolutely ravenous, a home-made beefburger with chips and, the essentials sorted, cast my eyes around the bar area in search of more scoops; amazingly, the more I looked around, the more I saw! Apart from the cask beer I was now enjoying (an amber ale, fruity and solidly malty, with a rich, strong bitter finish; intense and hoppy whilst being quite well balanced) I could see two other Stone beers on tap (XB and Stout) as well as some bottles from what looked like a micro – a quick request to the sociable barmaid produced five beers of Artesanale nature, namely Baires Rot Dort, Antares Barley wine, and Del Castillo Special Stout, Whisky Malt and Barley wine; I was beginning to like this pub! I quickly secured all of the above as carry-outs to consume at some point later in the week and, the bottles stashed in my rucksack, I carried on with the pleasurable task of drinking the pint of IPA…
I drained my pint with relish and redeemed my happy hour token for my next pint, Stone Stout, and stood by the bar admiring the fixtures and fittings until my burger arrived – and it was absolutely enormous! With my stomach threatening to begin digesting me from the inside I immediately tucked into the huge home-made slab of meat and found it to be gloriously beef flavoured; this may seem a strange thing to say about a beefburger, but just think what 99% of them taste of – whatever it is, it’s not beef! I was busy stuffing burger and chips (also real!) into my mouth when the woman sat next to me suddenly burst into conversation – just why she had chosen the minute I began to eat I didn’t know – and, to make matters worse, she was a septic tank! (Cockney rhyming slang for Yank there - sorry, it's my ancestry!)
To be honest, she was one of the better Americans I’ve met and seemed well up on where places are in the world – something a lot of her countrymen have problems with – and exhibited surprisingly left-wing attitudes to a lot of topics. As she was from New York, and therefore blessed with a big mouth and voice which I assume could be utilised in times of emergency as a public address system, I didn’t have to play any proactive part in the conversation (well, I suppose it was technically a monologue as I didn’t say much!) and simply continued to eat and grunted occasionally to show that I was actually listening to her, even when I actually wasn't.
As she seemed to know the city reasonably well, I asked for a recommendation for a traditional Parilla grill-house as, obviously, I didn’t want to get stung in some crappy tourist haunt. The American and barmaid had a quick discussion and then, after coming to a decision, drew me a map of how to reach the Desnivel, a short distance away, which they said was very highly regarded by the locals for it’s superb steaks and house wine – just what I wanted! I thanked them both and carefully filed the map in the back of my big orange scooping book for further reference; I didn’t have time to visit that night, but I certainly would before we returned home!
Two more breweries in the book!
My excellent food finished (I hadn’t expected a simple beefburger and chips could be so good!) and the last of my stout drunk (excellently roasty, with a frazzled, burnt grain taste with some sweetness yet not overpowering) I made my excuses and left the American behind to annoy some other poor English-speaker – I reasoned that I’d have the Stone XB another night – and set out for the pub I’d seen earlier on in the evening, the Territorio bar, where a sign had promised cervezas artesanale and, seeing as I’d only just scraped into the lower reaches of the 20’s as far as scoops went, it was a pretty safe bet that I’d require almost everything there – unless it was another Stone pub of course!
A short walk later, I had reached my destination and was stood by the bar admiring the numerous beer taps. The sociable barman, although not speaking much English, was quick to extol the virtues of the beers available; Koala stout, Shopron red and two “house” beers of which the brewer wasn’t known but I was assured were “artesanal”. A quick glance at my watch told me that I’d missed the last subte back to the hotel (they stop running at around 11:00, apparently as a hang-over from the power shortages which dogged the country during the economic troubles of the early part of this century) and so settled down with a glass of the Koala to continue my scooping, resigned to walking the mile-and-a-half back to the hotel after I’d ticked the beers.
The stout was a delicious example of the genre; it was deep red/black with a sweetish, roasted flavour which turned nutty, burnt, malty and very complex in the dry, roasted grain finish and would give quite a few well-known European stouts a run for their money. The café itself was small, quiet and very modern with a large plate-glass door allowing me to see, from my tiny table, the comings and goings outside in San Telmo as I supped the delicious stout. The glass was soon empty and so I switched to the Shopron red; Shopron was a brewery I’d been desperate to sample as many of the reports regarding Argentine beer I’d read lavished praise upon their beers and I was extremely pleased to see one of their brews on draught for my delectation.
I was aware that Shopron were at a tiny disadvantage here as red ale isn’t my favourite style of beer, usually being too sweet and caramelly, but I reasoned that a quality brewer should be able to produce good beers of any style – Brendan Dobbin always could, for example – so I bravely took a large pull from the glass. As I’d hoped, Shopron did me proud with a delicious toffeeish (but not sickly toffee!) and full-bodied brew with lots of character, a pronounced fruitiness and some bitterness to balance the toffee in the finish perfectly; this was one good beer, and I couldn’t wait to try their Porter!
By this time I was becoming tired and so decided to leave the other beers until later in the week – oh, the luxury of long trips – and, after paying the bill and checking my map and seeing that I simply had to walk north along Bolivar, which turned into San Martin, until I reached the hotel after around a mile and a half, I trudged off into the night trying to look as un-touristy as possible as I’d read about some of the slightly dodgy inhabitants of San Telmo and wanted to arrive back in one piece if possible…
The time was around 00:30 and lots of people were still milling around the streets on their way to or from the many bars and restaurants clustered around the district. I soon left this area and the buildings gradually became more run-down with a total lack of people on the streets so, not knowing if this was a “dodgy” neighbourhood or simply one where the inhabitants needed their sleep, I doubled my pace in the hope of reaching a nicer one as quickly as possible. I was relieved when the buildings changed into financial institutions and offices so I concluded that I’d reached the banking centre and eased my pace. I took some money out of one of the many cash machines situated in the lobby of a bank where a card-swipe at the door was required to gain entrance and pressed on towards the hotel, already over half way through my walk.
I soon began to notice the piles of binbags on the pavement ready for collection by the municipal authorities and further on, saw that the bags had been ripped open and the contents searched through for something; I remembered reading about the cartonerios in the rough guide and how much of the city’s desperately poor population earns a meagre living by sifting the rubbish for recyclable materials to sell on for a few pesos. A short while later and I saw them at work, ripping open the bags and quickly transferring the cardboard and paper into their home-made trolleys and then sifting through the rest for any glass or plastics; it’s sad to see people reduced to rummaging through other people’s rubbish to earn a living, but I suppose it’s better than simply begging or mugging poor travellers who happen to be walking past after a few scoops so I gave them a respectably wide berth and trudged on. Before long I was at the hotel and saw that the walk had taken a good 40 minutes, but seeing the cartonerios at work had shown me a side of the city which few tourists see and, in a way, I was glad to have witnessed the “other side” of Buenos Aires for myself rather than simply reading about it in a guidebook – after all, isn’t the experience what travel is all about?
Back in the hotel, the receptionist asked me if we’d be able to pay for our first three nights in the morning and, having just replenished my cash reserves, I agreed and headed off to bed for some sleep. I awoke the other two with my clumsy entrance and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow…
Tuesday 30th May 2006.
My first - and only - Argentinean multinational!
I’d decided to join the other two in a journey out into the suburbs on some particularly hellfire old diesels and so it was with difficulty I awoke after only five hours sleep for the bracing walk down to Retiro Mitre station (it was almost the middle of winter in Argentina and, although not cold, the temperature in the morning was certainly conducive to helping us wake up) where we caught an electric train out to Victoria for our link with the diesel line. As we boarded the train we saw that the front two carriages were simply vans with no doors or windows, presumably to allow the local cartonerios easier access, but we opted to travel at the very front anyway, which caused a fair few bemused looks from the locals at a bunch of Englishmen travelling in the “free” part of the train – there seemed to be no tickets required if you travelled in these carriages and, despite many as the tickets being only around 20p, we wanted to be as close to the engines as possible…
We spent the morning travelling up and down the line – which was severely overgrown and more in need of track maintenance than almost any railway I've ever seen – on a variety of superb and slightly less superb engines (including a cab-ride at one point) before we broke at Maquinista Savio for some food. As we stepped out into the main street it was as if we’d walked into a wild west film; the streets were filled with dust and ramshackle vehicles, the buildings were similarly constructed, and I half expected a posse of blokes on horses to come riding along accompanied by some tumbleweed! No posse appeared, however, so we walked along what appeared to be the main street but found nothing in the way of scoops or proper food so returned to the station, where I bought a handful of cakes from the small shop which cost me less than 50p! Herbal returned with a huge bottle of Quilmes Bock for the train and I almost wished I’d got one for myself as by this time I was feeling like a drink, although I remembered that it was made by Heineken and plotted to drink some of Herbals’ beer than give the multinational tossers any of my money!
As we waited for the train to Capilla we spotted an amusing beige dog limping around the trackbed. It seemed to have a bad leg and couldn’t climb onto the platforms, so was basically stuck on the tracks until a kindly local lifted it onto the unused platform whereupon it hobbled off on a mission unknown. We also witnessed a money collection from the station with an armed guard complete with shotgun to protect it; as he stood menacingly only 10 metres from our position I began to feel slightly uncomfortable about the state of affairs, but he’d obviously decided we posed no threat to his charge and didn’t point the gun at us once…
We headed off to Capilla on an excellent freight engine and Herbal opened the bottle of bock, which he pronounced to be “alright”. I blagged a swig from his bottle and discovered that it was just as I’d anticipated, being caramelly, sweet, industrial-tasting crap and I was so glad I didn’t have 970ml of it to drink myself! We eventually arrived at our destination, but Herbal was confused; we were meant to change for a train to Zarate but no other trains could be seen. After some discussion with the station manager it became apparent that there was another station in Capilla – and the train should have left there by now! Deciding to go for it anyhow on the off-chance it was late, we marched through the quiet streets until we found the station hidden behind some trees and looking like some abandoned branch-line complete with water tower, very English station buildings and various animals wandering around the place including the customary dogs and even some horses!
Two trains a week.
To our relief there were still passengers waiting for the train, so we selected a spot on the platform away from the scarily-large ants and waited… and waited… Herbal informed us that this station had two trains a week – one in each direction – so if we’d missed this one there would have been no waiting for the next train… eventually a horn was heard, getting closer and closer, before the train pulled in and we climbed aboard. The trip was only twenty minutes yet, this being a privately-run train, the ticket cost almost a pound each! We were soon at Zarate where we realised that this was another of those “multi-station” places and we only had 20 minutes to reach the other! It seemed as if the rail company didn’t really expect anyone to alight there as the station was basically a freight yard so, with no taxis outside, we had to ask the supervisor to order us a remis which, he assured us, would be there very shortly… we hoped so, as if we missed this connection at Zarate we’d have to wait over an hour for the next one!
Almost as soon as we’d reached the gate to the complex the taxi had arrived – well, taxi is probably not the best description for it, I’d say car would be better – I have suspicions that it was simply a member of staff who had volunteered to run us across town for a few pesos! After agreeing a four peso fare we were off through the mud roads of a huge shanty town, along a major road, and then through another slightly less shanty area before arriving at Zarate station with less than five minutes to go before the train departed – always makes! We thanked the driver for making the train and paid him a full ARG$5 before scurrying over to the station and getting our tickets for the train, which was sat in the platform ready to depart.
I shan’t bore you with the happenings of the afternoon as they weren’t that exciting to those who don't appreciate noisy, smoky old diesel locomotives, except for one incident at Benavidez where Redhill and I decided to take a photo of the cartonerios boarding the train with their unfeasibly large trolleys. A few took exception to this and waved us away, so we wandered over to the other platform to watch the train leave; as we photographed the departure, herbal suddenly started bellowing in an agitated manner – some of the cartonerios had decided to spit at him, as he was the closest to the train, and a few direct hits had been scored! Redhill and I were slightly further back and so out of range of the spittle barrage, but Herbal wasn’t pleased and blamed us for getting him gobbed on by a bunch of low-lifes!
Leaving the other two to do some more train moves, I headed off back into the city for some more (I hoped) serious beer scooping; I had four brewpubs in my sights and I intended to score the lot! I alighted from the train at Ministerio Carranza and found my way to the Dalinger brewpub… to find it, you guessed, firmly closed and bolted. Okay, so it was a Monday evening at 19:00, but I was growing just a bit frustrated at not being able to find any of the brewpubs (or many other pubs, for that matter) open, although I suspected that it being the week after a bank holiday near the middle of winter may have had something to do with it…
I searched high and low for opening times but found none so, with no sign of life inside, I trudged down to Ru bar, a short walk away, with a feeling that tonight wasn’t going to be my lucky night, if you get my meaning, as Tim Proudman had visited the city a month previously and had come up against a closed door when - by the times on their website - the bar should have been open… and it came as no real surprise when I encountered the building with shutters in place and a notice in the window informing me that the Ru bar was on “vacation”!
A pattern was forming again and I wasn’t impressed with it but, with little I could do apart from carry on trying the pubs on my list, I crossed the busy San Martin rail lines and headed down to a pub whose name didn’t exactly set my imagination alight, the Sullivan Pub; I suppose I was blinded by knowing just how crap and, well, un-Irish so-called “Irish” pubs are back home so I wasn’t expecting too much by the time I arrived at the front door of this large building in the posh suburb of Palermo Soho, but as they were supposed to have the rare Munster beers on sale, so I went regardless of my prejudices.
Once inside the pub I felt a lot better; this wasn’t like some fake “Oirish” place but a sociable, well-fitted out place with plenty of room inside and a relaxed atmosphere, although I couldn’t see any artesanale beer thus far… I selected a table, sat down, then studied the menu and, to my elation, there they were – Munster rubia and negra! I was quickly in possession of a 350ml bottle of the rubia (golden) beer but something was wrong; I could smell phenols coming from the glass and that isn’t a promising thing when tasting beer! This unfortunate twang was also prevalent in the taste, where it mixed with wheat, malt and sweetness to give me the impression that, had this beer not had it’s TCP problems, it might just have been a decent drinking brew – but sadly that was not to be and the phenols ruined it for me, I’m afraid. After struggling through this glass I wasn’t that enamoured with drinking a dark version of it but I’d come 7,000 miles to do just this and I might never get another chance… and, after all, the bottles were only small…
Beamish Stout revisited – 7,000 miles away.
The negra proved to me conclusively that the phenolic twang in the rubia was an infection or cleaning problem, as my second Munster beer was an absolute stunner! The negra (black) was, as it’s name suggests, almost black in colour and lurked in the glass in an intimidatory manner, giving off pungent wafts of roasted grains and liquorice. As for flavour, well, who remembers Beamish before the multinationals ruined it? About ten years ago, Beamish was a lovely drink – even on keg dispense – with a mellow, nutty, sweet roasty taste and bitter finish which slid over the tongue like a divine caress, mesmerising in it’s silky, nutty mellowness. Then, as befits multinational scum, S&N decided that it wasn’t shifting enough volume and, predictably, came to the conclusion that the beer’s flavour was putting prospective drinkers off – and “rebranded” Beamish stout as “Beamish black” which had the soul ripped out of it and tasted just like any other bland, boring stout – therefore condemning another beer to the dustbin of history, sacrificed on the altar of profit and homogenisation of taste. Wankers.
As I said before that tirade, Munster negra reminded me a great deal of the old Beamish stout and as I drank the beer the more I loved it; it was very roasty and nutty with lots of roast and bitterness, but with that indefinable mellowness which makes good stouts great and instantly became my favourite Argentine beer thus far. I was really tempted to order another bottle to drink and even one to take home in order to show Sue just how good Argentinean beers were, but I put that off until later in the week and set off for my next port of call, the newly-opened Clandestina brewpub, which had been a bit of a bonus when I discovered it had opened two weeks before our visit!
I actually walked past the door of the brewpub as it had a very low-key sign outside and wasn’t at all obvious but, looking at my map, I knew I’d passed it and returned the short distance and in I went to, hopefully, increase my meagre tally of two for the night; I’d long since given up any hope of matching my initial aspirations of eleven scoops per day and was happy to take whatever I could get in the hope of maybe reaching fifty by the end of the trip, or at the very least a lot more than the meagre total of eighteen I was currently on, and it was day four already!
Inside the door was a well thought-out bar with understated yet cosy furniture and a bar sporting five beer taps and the brewing kit visible through windows above it. There were a few other people in enjoying the beers and the atmosphere was very welcoming – I felt as though, at last, things were starting to turn in my favour and marched to the bar to see what was available. I was greeted by a gorgeous young lady who quickly ascertained that my Spanish wasn’t really up to scratch and so shifted effortlessly into perfect English, asking me which of the three beers I’d like. “Only three?” I moaned silently to myself, but outwardly I smiled broadly and started with a glass of the rubia which came with a bowl of home-made popcorn – to stimulate thirst, presumably.
I’d be lying if I said that this beer was superb, as much as I wanted it to be; I think that when the brewery beds in then the beers will be excellent but, two weeks in, the rubia had slight TCP hints to the flavour over a wheaty, malty body and, although it was drinkable, the phenolic twang was similar to the Munster rubia I’d had not an hour previously… time for the next beer, then! I was soon in possession of a glass of the roja and, more importantly, a plateful of chips and home-made beefburger as – once again – I was hungry! This beer was far better than the rubia, with an amber colour, a flavour of toasty maltiness and then a dry, toasty, grassy hop finish which went down very well indeed.
I had been joined at the bar by the brewer whose English was about as good as my Spanish and so we required the services of his missus to act as a go-between; I learnt that he had been home brewing for quite a few years until he’d finally been persuaded to set up properly although, unlike most of his contemporaries, he was determined to do the job properly with a clever branding exercise on everything from the website to the beer labels and, I must admit, the image of the beers does stand out as very professional – but, as we all know, it’s the beer that really matters, not the image, and so I ordered a glass of the final brew available that day - the negra - whilst the brewer informed me that another beer, Purpura Americana, would be on later in the week and that all his ingredients are Argentinean, even the cascade hops!
As I’d expected, this was the best beer in Clandestina and by quite a fair margin; a rich burnt coffee and toasted malt flavour gave way to a dry, bitter roastiness and it was so good I had another – surely the ultimate measure of satisfaction? (as wine writer Hugh Johnson says, 1 glass = tolerance, 2 glasses = you quite like it) and had a decent chat with the owners. I think that I’d rate Clandestina as the most sociable of the brewpubs I visited in Buenos Aires, but whether that was because they were trying hard in their first month of opening or they were just nice people I don’t know – but I reckon the latter to be true! Oh yes, and if you go, take some beermats for the walls!
Gold and Black, winners galore!
Having finished my scooping at Clandestina for now I said my goodbyes and took the subte back into the centre and then walked the ten minutes or so down to my last visit of the evening, the Rubia y Negra brewpub - or at least I thought it was a brewpub, but I had some doubts that an upmarket place as this seemed to be would actually bother to brew! Yet again, I found myself retracing my steps along the road having missed the entrance, but in mitigation I plead that it was dark, I’d already had some beers, and the entrance is merely a door with a sign above it; it’s really not that obvious at all… honest.
I climbed the stairs and emerged into what I’d class as a “yoof” bar back home – all soft colours, bright young things chatting, easy listening on the sound system and an overall impression of wealth; I thought back to the cartonerios I’d seen at work the previous night and considered the amazing polarity of fiscal distribution in this city. On the wall was a drinks list and on it were two beers “on offer” at ARG$6, but I still saw no brewery – until I looked above the bar, and there it was - looking very operational and shiny! Hey ho, here we go…
Once at the bar I found a menu and saw that there weren’t two beers here, but eight… including some rather unusual choices such as barley wine and Belgian ale! The barstaff, as befits such a monument to affluence, were patient and tolerant of my pathetic attempts to speak Spanish and switched to perfect English straight away, although they did ask what an Englishman was doing in their bar… I replied I was there for the beer, a comment which brought the whole crew of barstaff out into a big cheer! Having made friends and influenced people, it was time to begin the onerous task of tasting all of the beers – except for the wheat, as that was going to be flagged! Helpfully, the menu for the beers included comments by the brewer on flavours and ingredients and so, forewarned and forearmed, it was time to begin the scooping!
My new best friends behind the bar advised me that a “taster tray” was available for ARG$15 which gave me five samples for around £2.50 – this was London prices, I thought to myself, but I suppose it’s set at such a level to keep the clientele “exclusive”? With my beers laid out in front of me I began with Cream Ale (4.5%) which was light on the palate, gently bitterish and reasonably malty with a pleasant, well balanced finish – I was off to a good start! Next up was Pilsen (5.5%) where the malty, nutty palate faded into a malty sweetness although it was lacking hoppiness in my opinion. I was now on a roll and feeling good, so next up was Bitter (5%) which, in keeping with the house style, was toffeeish and malty with a smidgeon of bitterness but nowhere near enough to be a serious bitter; the finish faded to a dryish, malty, smooth and sociable aftertaste.
Scotch (6%) was my next scoop and this was a strange one; it’s almost as if the brewer associated whisky (in particular, Islay) with the Scottish taste and made a beer with smoked malt… I know this happens in France, but this was really a rauchbier rather than a Scotch, although it was in reality a very subtle and drinkable beer with a lot of character – but not like many Scotch beers I've drunk! The next beer was lurking darkly in it’s glass and I expected a lot of it simply from the delicious aromas wafting from it, but it was a touch disappointing, being more of a new-style porter than a stout, and overly caramelly rather than roasted yet, still, the brewer managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat and I actually quite liked the brew overall, despite the stylistic differences, and the finish was good and tasty with more bitterness than I’d been used to in the previous beers. Okay, that was my tasting tray finished, now it was time to scoop the (hopefully) more serious beers in!
Heaven knows I’m pissed up now.
Right then, I had three beers left to go and these were going to be served in glasses of uncertain provenance but which looked larger than half a pint; it was then I realised that I’d drunk a lot of beer and wished I’d had the barley wine in the smaller taster glasses… too late for that now though, but before I could order a glass of the bizarrely-named “Trappist Abbey beer” (6%) the barman asked which beer I would like “on the house”! Beaming broadly at this munificent act I requested the Trappist which, despite being commendably different, was overloaded with coriandery spice. It was decent enough in taste with the usual toffee-malt in addition to the spiciness and a toffeeish, bitter, spiced aftertaste which I thought a touch medicinal – not the best beer of the evening, then! I decided to flag the wheat beer on the grounds that I don’t like them and ordered an unnervingly large glass of the barley wine (12%) for the ludicrous price of ARG$10 for a 350cl glass!
As I brought the glass to my nose I could smell that this beer was the brewer’s pride and joy; it had obviously been matured for a long time (six months according to the menu) and had all the lovely Madeira-like and Brettanomyces character I’d expect from such a brew. Just as I was bringing the glass to my lips, the music changed and I stood there for a minute or so unable to grasp what it was… I knew it, but I just couldn’t place it! Suddenly I realised – it was the Smiths! Drinking 12% barley wine in Buenos Aires listening to Hatful of Hollow wasn’t something I did every day!
The beer was superb; intense, strong and malty, it had caramel flavours with lots of the promised brett twang and Madeira esters coming through. The flavour went through several stages of maltiness and sherried toffee before finishing alcoholic, malty, sherried, and amazingly complex – this was one excellent beer! The glass (or it may have been two – I have the feeling I either bought or was bought another barley wine) lasted for almost the whole Smiths album before they changed it for something far more mundane, but it was at that point I realised that I was very drunk – as I returned from the toilets down the stairs I was struggling to put my feet in the correct places to enable me to ascend the steps back to the bar! After grimacing at my watch for a while I concluded it was around 01:00-ish and so I said goodbye to my friends behind the bar before wobbling down the steps and out into the busy street below.
Standing outside the brewpub I came to the realisation that I’d somehow got very pissed and hadn’t got a chance of walking back to the hotel as planned, due to the map resembling a plate of spaghetti to me at this point, despite my attempts to read it. After a few minutes failing to comprehend why the map had suddenly become meaningless, I decided that it was time for a taxi and so drunkenly lurched in front of the first one which ventured close enough to my position. The driver was obviously used to seeing English scoopers stagger out of Rubia y Negra at one in the morning and so didn’t bat an eyelid as I slurred my greeting and destination to him before slumping into the front seat – after tottering around the car as I’d been trying to get into the driver’s door!
The journey must have only been a couple of minutes in duration and soon we were at the hotel and so, after paying the driver an exceedingly generous ARG$4 (the fare was only around 2, but even in my drunken state I felt I should pay extra for allowing me into his car), I breezed past reception, trying to appear as sober as possible, before arriving at the door to our room. Now I don’t remember much about what happened next and so I’m relying on Herbal’s testimony and the notes I made in my book the next day (which is where the past page comes from) but he claims that there was a fumbling sound at the door for a few seconds before I burst into the room, bellowing about “barley wine”, and then – rumour has it - told the same story a good number of times about my escapades in Rubia y Negra and how pissed up I was! I vaguely remember describing the place and how everyone and his dog should go and drink the barley wine, but I’m sure I only told the story once…
Wednesday 31st May 2006.
A well-deserved lie-in.
The next thing I remember is waking up in a heap on the floor, half clothed, with a sore head through presumed contact with the bedside table! Herbal says he was woken by the crash and asked me what I was doing, to which I apparently replied “I fell out of bed” then immediately righted the offending object before climbing back in and dossing out again straight away! I vaguely remember this happening, but only because I hit my head on the table and that sort of broke through my still-drunken state via the pain of impact!
I finally surfaced fairly late the next morning, unsurprisingly, and had a bad head courtesy of it’s overnight get-together with the table and the quantity of beer consumed the previous evening, although 15 minutes in the shower soon sorted me out to 75% scoop-readiness in preparation for the day ahead. I’d planned to have a lie-in anyhow and so, at around 11:00, I headed off to Retiro Mitre station to catch a train to the terminus of Bartholomew Mitre and thence to find the wine shop “Wine and More” where, apparently, I could find the rare Bersaglier beer for sale and then I planned to spend the rest of the evening in the legendary Cossab brewpub – as long as it was open as per the schedule on the door!
After a lengthy walk along Avenue Maipú in the uncomfortably warm winter sun I arrived at the shop and found, disappointingly, that there were only two beers on offer from Bersaglier (the Scotch was out of stock) and nothing else beery, although the sociable owner spoke perfect English and he ribbed me about the forthcoming world cup, which I feigned interest about in what I hope was a reasonably convincing manner. My beers in the bag, off I went back to the station with a stop on the way at La Fabrica Empanada where I bagged some carne picante empanadas and provided some entertainment to the locals who couldn’t understand why an Englishman was in their local pie shop! The empanadas were superb, with lashings of chillis inside and after three my mouth was well and truly overloading with the effects of chilli – but it was worth it…
I took the next train back into the centre and then a subte out to Entremes Deli in Palermo where, so the internet promised, there would be some proper beer on sale… and there was, but the shop was closed during the afternoon and so the Antares beers (and maybe others) remained firmly on their shelves with me fuming outside! The trip wasn’t a total waste of time, however, as on the way back to the station I just happened to look into a little bakery in search of empanadas (well, it was a couple of hours since I’d eaten one) and just happened to see a Koala brewery font sat on the counter… ten seconds later and I was inside!
My luck turns.
The Dolcetto café turned out to be a nice little place which made it’s own cakes and such and, more importantly, sold two beers from the rare Koala micro brewery to consume on the premises. I was more than impressed when I found out they were Scotch and Rubia, both winners, so ordered a glass of the Scotch and supped it at my little table by the window as I watched the world pass by outside. The beer was very yeasty and brown with an unusual malty and yeasty taste which made me think it wasn’t being served in it’s best condition (maybe the keg was almost empty or hadn’t settled yet) but it certainly wasn’t undrinkable, just a bit strange! I followed this with the rubia (after another glass of the Scotch due to an error in my note-keeping) which was a lot better, being pale and buttery with some sweetish maltiness and a hint of hoppy bitterness in the aftertaste; not the sort of thing you expect to scoop in a little bakery, but was I complaining…?
I then took the subte back to the centre yet again – passing on the way the amusingly-named “Pizza Bum” - and had a few brief trips out on the heritage diesel engines in the rush hour, before returning to the hotel for a quick brush-up and abandonment of the bottles I’d bought earlier in the day as I didn’t particularly want to carry them around all night! As I trotted back towards the underground I felt a sense of anticipation; it was early, I was heading for the best scooping pub in the city, and I was ready for a big session – as long as the place was open!
I retraced my steps of two nights before although with a different outcome – there were lights inside the building and people behind the bar! Feeling a strange elation usually reserved for visiting new countries (well, I suppose I was doing that too…) I pushed open the creaky door and selected a table – I had a choice of any of them although it wasn’t that easy to see in the very dark ambient light inside; I suppose that’s called atmosphere! I picked up the large menu on the table and within two minutes I knew that I’d found my South American Nirvana – ten beers on draught and around fifty Argentine micros in bottle… this could be a long evening!
I began with a tasting tray of the five Cossab beers available although, just as the beers were being poured, I saw that a sample tray of the ten draught beers would have saved me a few pesos… always read the menu before ordering! As I waited for the beers I looked around the pub; the lighting was very subdued but through the gloom I could see lots of brewery adverts and posters alongside a traditional “beery” décor, enhanced by the presence of various bottles of Argentine scattered around the bar area where the barmen were engrossed in a game of cards on the computer and sipping yerba mate. The beers soon arrived in their cute little glasses and so, yet again, I selected a beer and commenced another tasting session!
Eight beers please, heavy on the cascades!
As is usually the case when starting out on a range of beers I had no idea what the house style would be, but I was hoping for some hops as most of the beers I’d sampled thus far in the trip, whilst being mostly well-brewed and tasty, had been lacking a little in the hop department! First up was Rubia (5%) which immediately set out the stall for what was to come and had me salivating at the prospect of another five beers this good; it was a pale beer, excellently bitter and hoppy with some pronounced cascade hop notes and then a balanced, fairly bitter finish to round off a cracking drinking beer which I’d happily have supped all night if there weren’t so many winners to get in the book…
Next up was Bitter (?%) and I was wondering what the difference would be between it and the rubia. My question was soon answered and it turned out to be a decent malt-accented brew, very sociable if a little understated, with a reasonably bitter and tangy aftertaste which gave a sociable, well-flavoured beer. And on… Rojiza (6%) next, and I was very impressed with this one. Red in colour with some perfumey hoppiness in the nose and a strong bitterness balancing out the sweet toffee and malty sweetness; excellently balanced and even better than the Shopron I’d scooped a few evenings back; this was turning into a superb tasting session which I was enjoying immensely, added to by the quiet surroundings of the pub, and I’d only tried three beers so far! Could it get any better, I wondered?
My next glass was Brown (6.5%) which I wasn’t so sure about; yes, it was full, chocolatey and also very hoppy, but in my opinion the citrussy hops and chocolatey malt were too much at opposite ends of the taste spectrum, and ended up waging a pitched battle on my tongue which resulted in many casualties. An interesting beer, yes, but not one I’d personally recommend as one for a session! As I had just one glass left, I asked if I could upgrade my tasting to the full ten which was immediately agreed so, as my next four beers were poured (the Antares barley wine had run out, but I wasn’t too devastated as I had a bottle waiting back in the hotel for consumption later in the week) I tucked into the last glass of my original five with high hopes.
Cossab Negra (6%) was excellent – well, it does takes some doing to totally fuck up a stout, what with all those burnt, nutty, roasty flavours to hide behind, although plenty of brewers still manage to do just that! There was no hiding here, though, and the beer was black, burnt (maybe a touch too frazzled) with a balancing bitter edge and a complex coffee, liquorice and roast grain aftertaste which lasted for a good while. My next four beers had now appeared, so I tucked into them with gusto; the first three were from the same brewery which, by now, I’d spotted lurking behind the bar in a back room although they are brewed by the Murray’s brewers which used to brew in the Brewhouse club in San Telmo until they relocated here a couple of years back to, presumably, get their hands on some proper brewing kit.
The first beer, unfortunately, wasn’t that good – the first less than excellent beer I’d had that night – although Argentineans brew Scotch ale like they don’t quite know what it’s supposed to taste like (and rightly so – “Scotch” ale isn’t Scottish, so has nowt to do with smoked malt, that’s a Belgian or French invention) and consequently come up with some strange results. Murray’s Scotch (4.8%) was an unusual dark red beer; it had a smoky, phenolic taste with some dryness but overall it didn’t taste quite right – as an email from the brewer has since confirmed! Francisco Farias tells me the beer had fermentation temperature issues so I was right to query it’s flavour and I’d expect it to be as good as his other beers when it’s on form – I hope to test this theory in the future!
Murray’s dry stout (4.5%) was next and this was certainly a return to form for Cossab and the beer was definitely different than that I’d scooped earlier under the Cossab banner – it was black and coffeeish, bitter, roasted, with a dry, nutty roast finish – and basically it was a classic dry stout with little to find fault in at all. My last scoop which was brewed on the premises had intrigued me since I’d heard about it; a proper IPA, but I was assuming this meant “proper” in the American sense and, therefore, over-hopped and totally unbalanced – well, it was time to find out! I raised Murray’s IPA (7.3%) to my nose and was immediately knocked for six by the intense resinous, lemony aroma; there were some hops in here alright! The flavour was even better than the aroma which showed me that Murray’s were extremely competent brewers and, unlike a lot of American IPA’s I’ve sampled, had managed to construct a superbly hoppy beer without it becoming one-dimensional and undrinkable; the beer was full and malty with a luscious nutty, grainy body but with massive flavours of cascade hops everywhere leaving a lip-smackingly hoppy, lemony, bitter finish and one which I shall remember for quite a while… it’s not often I have a beer of this quality, but when I do I want everyone to know about it – what a pity it’s 7,000 miles away, or I’d be in Cossab most nights for my fix!
And another winner on life’s tombola…
With the Antares barley wine off (although I wasn’t too bothered, as there was a bottle waiting for me back at the hotel) I had just one more little glass to sample - and it was a winning brewery, yet again! In a strange twist of fate, the beer was Dalinger Stout Tirada (6%) which I’d tried to score in the brewpub a few nights back but been withered by it being closed… the beer was black, bitter and full-bodied with a hefty dose of caramel which gave it a nice, rounded finish and gave my the impetus to try and visit Dalinger again later in the week for the other three beers.
Right, it was time to delve into the menu again and see what breweries I could scoop in bottle. I already knew some of them as the bottles were arrayed on the bartop, but on reading the menu I concluded that I could spend a whole week in here and still not finish every Argentinean beer on offer in this excellent pub! I selected Danker Munich (5.2%) as my first bottle of the evening and found it to be very German in flavour with a sweetish, nutty taste and finish; very competent indeed, and my opinion of the Argentine artesanale brewing industry was growing with each beer I tried!
Next up was another negra (6%) from the unknown (to my list, at least) Sumerios brewery. The beer was very black, very roasty and very bitter (more cascades?) all adding up to a tremendously concentrated yet balanced flavour with the harsh edges of the individual flavours being balanced out by the others to give a well-flavoured, interesting beer. By this stage in the evening (around 23:00) I was getting very peckish and so indulged in a large plate of Patagonian cheeses which included some gorgeous examples of sheep’s cheese (manchega de ovejas) as well as more standard cow variants and lots of bread and other sundries; the whole thing cost a few quid and set me up for another hour’s scooping with no problem whatsoever!
I decided on the Araucana negra (7.2%) next – keeping to my choice of dark beers if possible – and I wasn't let down by this one either; it was in a sweeter style than the others, yet still delicious with a treacle toffee hint all through the brew leaving a complex, bitter and dark sugar finish which I found delicious. I glanced at my watch and saw the time was approaching 23:30 and decided that I should think about getting back to the hotel at some point; looking back now, I don’t know why I thought that as Cossab is open until around 03:00 and there seems to be a never-ending supply of cheap taxis on the streets, but maybe subconsciously I was trying to avoid getting in the same shambolic state I’d staggered back in after my visit to Rubia y Negra the previous night?
My final beer of the evening was Los Cardos cream stout (6%), another lusciously black, burnt, bitumen-like beer with lots of charcoal and dead fires aftertastes to go with the more usual toasty malt and bitter roastiness; all in all, a fitting final beer to my session in the city’s greatest scooping pub! I considered staying for a few more beers, but decided (foolishly!) to buy my final two Argentine breweries on the list I required for take-outs – ostensibly so Sue could try them too – and, after paying the eminently reasonable bill of around £15 for a great evening’s scooping, headed out into the buzzing streets to see if I could locate a bus back to somewhere close to the hotel.
I found a bus stop a short distance along the road and waited patiently for a bus going my way to arrive. Lots passed, but the destinations meant nothing to me and so I continued to wait until I saw a Retiro bus approach – that would do nicely, I thought, until it stormed past and stopped further up the road! I tried to scamper after it but before I could get to the door it stormed off in a blast of hot diesel fumes and I was left a bit withered, not knowing when the next one would arrive – or indeed if there would be any more! I needn’t have worried, however, as in this 24-hour city buses were still frequent at 01:30 and soon a number 126 screeched to a halt beside me. I didn’t really know what to do so gabbled to the driver in my piss-poor Spanish about Retiro train station, whereupon he said “70 centavos” and gestured behind him before roaring off in the manner of all buses in the city. Thankfully, a kindly local helped me by showing the slot to insert my money into the ticket machine and that was it – I was on a bus back to Retiro for the outlandish price of eleven pence!
The ride through the streets was somewhat akin to being a participant in some surreal video game, with the bus weaving around traffic and applying both throttle and brake in evenly harsh measures. As seems to be the practice with buses in Buenos Aires this one was “customised” and came with a strange white driver’s seat, curtains in the front window, and various red lights casting an eerie glow on my fellow passengers, although everyone else acted as if everything was normal so I thought it best to follow suite. After an entertaining journey through the city we arrived at Retiro where I alighted and, after witnessing the very amusing sight of a freight train crossing the main road outside (it simply blasted it’s horn continuously and just went for it!), walked back to the hotel where I arrived at around 02:00 after one of the best nights’ scooping I’ve had for a long time, having scratched an amazing seventeen beers for the day! Okay, so I was still 12 winners behind schedule, but I’d made up a lot of ground and suddenly, with a bit of luck with the remaining brewpubs and a prevailing wind, my 100-beer target suddenly seemed attainable…
Thursday 1st June 2006.
You won’t be surprised to hear that a lie-in was the order of the day and I barely woke as the other two vanished on their ludicrously early mission. I eventually got up and, after another epic revitalising shower, felt fit to face the world again and wandered off to spend a few hours on the San Martin line to see what was about and, more prosaically, to indulge in more of the superb empanadas available at the Torre de Retiro café opposite the deadly pedestrian crossing the racetrack of Avenue de Libertad; both the carne and queso y jamon are superb here and are warmed not in a microwave but in the pizza oven! This enlightened attitude to heating prevents them becoming soggy and preserves the delicious texture of the pastry and meat… I really can’t waffle on enough (although you may have other views) about how good these empanadas were so the best thing is for you to get over there and try them yourself!
My breakfast - well, elevenses - needs fulfilled, I stopped to admire the cute little silver tabby station cat munching on his own breakfast of cat crunchies before a trip out to Jose Paz on the ancient and prehistoric-looking diesels of the San Martin line, where I wandered around the rather shanty market area outside the station in hope of finding a pair of trousers to replace mine (which were still slowly disintegrating around me) but saw nothing in my style at all! (Read 40” waist fat-bastard size).
Back in the centre a few hours later I decided to head off down to the metre-gauge railway in the south of the city for some more trips on the superb engines down there and, just as importantly, I wanted to scoop the entire network of the Premetro – the city’s only remaining tramway, built in the late 1980’s and using home-made single car vehicles. I headed off on the Subte line E right to the end at Plaza de los Virreyes where the interchange for the tram is located; as I climbed the stairs to the trams I was asked if I was using the premetro and replied in the affirmative and, amazingly, was handed a ticket for the tram absolutely free – what a bargain, 17 stops on the metro including a change of lines and now anywhere I wanted on the tram for 70 centavos – 11 pence!
A trip to the supermarket.
A tram was waiting, so I immediately clambered aboard and off we went through the city’s outer suburbs which proved quite an interesting trip; we passed the rail station at Presidente Illia and then swept over the line on a steep bridge before stopping outside a huge “retail park” just like we have at home! This contained a massive “Jumbo” supermarket along with lots of other shops, but I was immediately intrigued by the supermarket, the only really big one I’d seen so far, and hoped it may stock some local beers… I decided to take the tram to the end of it’s journey and then back to the stop, amusingly named Jumbo, to check out the alcohol section!
The end of the line was not quite as I’d expected; it transpired to be a very dodgy-looking area of towering concrete flats looking very similar to parts of old Stalinist Eastern Europe and certainly not somewhere I wanted to hang around in for too long! After a hurried photo I abandoned my usual policy of waiting for another tram - in order to scoop two for the price of one - and hopped back aboard the one I’d arrived on where I had the chance to dispose of some of the mountains of shrapnel I’d acquired throughout the trip in the ticket machine; 40 centavos for a single journey on the tram seemed excellent value and so, my pocket marginally lighter, I selected a seat for the trip to Jumbos where, I hoped, a delectable selection of artesanal beers would be waiting!
Walking across the car park to the entrance, I was struck by the affluence of the people parking up there and, once again, thought what a divided city this was along monetary lines with the comparison of this huge shopping centre a mere mile or so from a gargantuan development of Stalinist flats where, I presumed, the majority of inhabitants wouldn’t be able to afford many trips to Jumbo. I soon found the alcohol aisle where, predictably, my visions of rows of micro-brewed bottles stretching out into the distance were rudely shattered by, after the shelves stacked with multinational crud, a small area with a few good beers; bad, yes, but it was the best selection I’d seen thus far in a shop and included some Belgian beers along with three scoops from the Barba Roja brewery at Escobar which I’d been hoping to visit but hadn’t gotten around to as yet – result!
I purchased all three bottles of Barba Roja (rubia, roja and the disgusting-sounding “lemon beer”) along with an Otro Mondo and some water before clanking my way back to the tramstop; my bag was now very heavy with it’s cargo of two 660ml bottles but I wasn’t sure if drinking on the trams was the done thing so resolved to take them back to the hotel later on – after scooping the remaining tramline, of course! As luck would have it the next tram was headed for General Savio and so off I went, scooping the whole network when I arrived five minutes later! I’d aimed to catch the same tram back to Presidente Illia and then a few trips on the noisy little diesels until it was time to scoop some beers, but after a lightning-fast runaround the tram stormed off leaving me taking it’s photo on the other side of the tracks! Luckily, this wasn’t as dodgy a place as Centro Civico had been and so waiting for the next tram wasn’t too potentially dangerous to my health!
German delights in San Telmo.
I’d ascertained that the trams ran every ten minutes or so and, with ten minutes to spare, I cracked open the little bottle of Barba Roja lemon beer to ease the weight in my groaning rucksack and hopefully prevent the ageing straps reaching catastrophic meltdown. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe a pale ale with – for some reason known only to the brewer – a twist of citrus? What I didn’t expect was to be consuming a bottle of shandy on a tramstop in a seedy suburb of BsAs… yes, folks, Barba Roja lemon beer isn’t really beer at all but shandy! Saying that, it was very refreshing and tasted as if there was some proper beer in it and so, in the spirit of desperation, into the book it went; beggars can’t be choosers and all that!
The next tram soon hove into view so I downed the shandy and hopped aboard, feeding more shrapnel into the ticket machine as I did so, just in case the policemen - who seemed to be on every tram - decided to hold an impromptu ticket inspection, and I didn’t fancy trying to argue the toss in my very dodgy Spanish… I spent the next few hours entertaining myself with heritage USA diesel locos before taking yet another metro to Sanguier and then the metro to Indepencia (press the 70c button on the tram’s ticket machine and you get a ticket valid for a metro journey too) for what I hoped would be a far more productive night of beer scooping around San Telmo than I’d experienced a few evenings previously.
My first destination was a bar which sounded like it had a slight identity crisis; the Unterturckheim bier bar was apparently a German-styled pub with proper German food and a wide selection of local artesanal beers on offer and, if the reports were true, sounded just like the kind of place I was looking for. I soon located it and, thankfully, it was open (unlike many of the others I’d tried thus far during the week) so I hurried inside and studied the menu; it didn’t take me long to be suitably impressed with the ranges of beer and food on offer and so, after a chat with the very sociable barman, I ordered a bratwurst mit sauerkraut and a bottle of the superbly-named Barba Roja Winner (4.8%) – which surely couldn’t be worse than their “lemon beer” - and sat back to await developments.
The barman was soon clanking away within a fridge behind the bar and soon returned with the required bottle, a bowl of monkey nuts in their shells and – bizarrely - a glass fresh from the freezer complete with ice frosting! I must have looked suitably surprised as he explained that the locals like their beer cold and this was the most visual way to show it was! He poured the beer and went back to cooking my food so, without further delays, I took a mouthful of the beer whilst making sure my lips didn’t become fused to the glass or catch frostbite from it… Winner turned out to be a decent enough beer, far better than the lemon (also on the menu although I wasn’t tempted again) with a black colour and restrained liquorice and roast barley flavour before a smooth coffeeish and pronounced treacle aftertaste; good but not great, but what a name…!
My food soon arrived and, in true German style, the plate was enormous and creaking with the strain imposed upon it by the sheer quantity of victuals! To wash it down I went for a beer I’d been looking forwards to trying, Shopron porter (6.2%), although the comestibles were so impressive I didn’t touch it until, exhausted from the feeding frenzy ten minutes later, I’d cleared the plate of the very true to style and well-cooked sausage which was the best meal I’d had so far in Argentina. I then started on the beer and was amazed by the quality of the brew; it was black with red highlights and was full-bodied, dry, and quite bitter with a roasty and liquorice flavour along with a distinct red fruitiness. The aftertaste was superbly complex and had notes of bitterness, fruit, roast, nutty malt and loads of roast barley; this was one excellent beer and I supped it with due reverence!
I was getting into my drinking stride now and, the superb porter finished, my next beer was yet another brewery scoop; Del Castillo ale (6.2%) and the by now customary frozen glass which, after initially contracting freezer burn to the lips, I now cleverly thawed at the drinking point to facilitate painless supping! This beer was a very sociable drinking brew with an amber colour and a sweetish malty flavour with some hoppiness and would make a great session beer were it not for the well-concealed strength of the stuff! By now I’d decided that I was going to try and cover as many pubs as I could before my pre-arranged meeting with the other two and a local train nut later in the evening and so, reluctantly, I settled the bill and headed off, promising I’d return before we went home in four days – was it really so soon? I was now becoming slightly worried that there was still enough beer-wise to do for a week and I had half that to try and squeeze it all in… all of a sudden, nine days seemed a very short time to try and cover all the beery delights of the city!
Ex-brewpubs, closed brewpubs and non-brewpubs.
I plodded off along Estados Unidos (this means United States in Spanish, just in case you were wondering) and soon arrived at the Bohemia bar and art – the old Brewhouse club brewpub which closed in 2004 when Murrays upped sticks to Cossab – and, happily, found it open and was soon inside the cosy brick-lined bar. I was naturally a bit gutted I’d missed the brewing operation here although the slight consolation prize was my last Shopron beer, pale ale (5.5%), being available in bottle and so I ordered one and sat back to admire the bare bricks and random other junk littering the walls; a great effort seemed to have been made to make the place seem alternative and arty, but I felt it was unnecessary and the industrial-looking bare bricks were all that was required to set the cosy tone of the place whilst adding a little interest and didn’t really require the associated tat to make a statement.
Having scooped Shopron’s porter and red ale already I was expecting good things from their pale ale and I wasn’t disappointed; it was light amber in colour with a good fruity sweetness over a rich malty palate which resulted in an exquisite balance and one of the best “supping” beers I’d found thus far. “I could go a session on this and still find it interesting”, I mulled, as the delicious beer slipped away frighteningly quickly. I considered having another bottle - purely in the interests of science - to test my theory about it’s session potential but, with less time that I’d have liked before I was due to meet the others in the Patio Cervecero, I decided that I’d better make tracks and cover a few more of the places which had been closed on my last visit.
I wandered past the Gibraltar bar with it’s cask IPA calling to me but I resisted – I’d do this again on Friday and so wanted to leave something to scoop – and carried on along the by now familiar road to the beer museum… which was still firmly bolted closed with no explanation as to why! I’d reached the conclusion that the bank holiday the previous week had meant some places were closed for holidays or suchlike and, although this was a blow to my attempt to reach 100 scoops during the trip, at least I’d have something to come back for! I passed the Ni tem San Telmo bar – again firmly locked up – and, exasperated with my bad luck at scooping very much at all, decided that enough was enough and struck out for my final visit of the night, Patio Cervecero, another alleged brewpub which I wasn’t totally convinced would be open or even brewing…
As I walked towards the pub it was, at least, open; the glaring light coming from the bar gave the impression of looking at the kind of place I’d never consider entering even for a second back home but, here in Buenos Aires, I didn’t have as much choice and, anyway, I’d already seen the beerlist on the internet and there were lots of winners available to bolster my scoops list… I went inside and immediately saw that it was a rather tacky and “plastic” type of establishment although I could see the brewery behind glass along the left-hand side of the pub – this seemed to be the bar’s saving grace and I hoped the beers were better than the bar hinted they might be!
I examined the beer list and saw a decent spread of beers and, had I felt desperate enough, I think I could have scooped thirty beers in here alone – but I still maintained my ethical scooping standards and rejected a good number as “dodgy” or from breweries which I wasn’t that keen on, including a worrying number of multinational junk. There was no sign of beers from the on-site brewery which, on further inspection, seemed very shiny and unused and so I asked the waitress if this was so, although neither of us had much language in common so I decided to wait until our Argentine friend joined us so he could ask for the gen on my behalf!
For my first beer I chose Graf Spee negra (4.5%) in the hope that it was from a small, local brewery – after all, the Graf Spee did sink very close to Buenos Aires in Montevideo harbour – but the bottle gave little away except saying the beer was “artesanal” and brewed in Argentina! I had my suspicions that it was from the Bolson brewery in the south of the country as the Patio chain seemed to have a strong tie to them, evidenced by the long list of Bolson beers, but it was the taste of the beer which mattered and it was a decent deep brown, roasty, bitterish and tasty brew which, wherever it was from, passed muster as a very drinkable dark beer. Next I chose another Bolson beer, ostensibly to see if it had any flavour differences, and indeed negra extra (6.2%) did have some similarities in the malty, roasty flavour although obviously it was fuller in body due to the extra alcoholic kick the beer had with an luscious toffee-ish aftertaste.
Herbal and Redhill soon rang me for directions and, after a quick taxi from Constitution station, they arrived ready for some beers and food, but first we had to rescue our Argentine friends from the other Patio bar just along the road to which they had gone by mistake! Soon, however, we were all seated around a large table and spent the rest of the evening discussing Argentine railways and beers whilst indulging in lots of empanadas (more carne picante – mmmmmmmm!) and more beers; I had Sur Patagonia negra (4.8%), a coffeeish, sweetish, deliciously-flavoured dark beer with a great deal of character, then followed that with Gold Brick negra (4.5%, probably another Bolson beer) which was distinctly different than the Graf Spee being a lot more caramelly in character and blander in taste.
Our friend managed to extract the gen about the brewery from the barstaff and it seems that the brewery hasn’t been used yet despite being installed last year, although there are plans for it to be put to use shortly, according to the beer menu and the barstaff. One amusing incident occurred when one of our guests, drinking Quilmes, requested another jug of the industrial slops – to which we said we’d buy him beer as long as it was artesanal! He seemed to be a tad surprised by our insisting on what, to him, must have been a strange type of beer but he agreed with good grace and, by the end of the evening, even seemed to be enjoying it – another convert to proper beer, maybe? My final beer of the evening was Baires superior stout (5.5%) which was floral, bitter, nutty and roasty with a good, complex finish and a good way to end an enjoyable evening’s drinking.
With the time now gone midnight and the barstaff clearing up around us, we decided that we’d loitered long enough and, after paying the bill and giving our thanks to our friends (who had booked the hotel for us in person after we’d failed to do it online), we took a taxi back to the hotel where, on counting up my scoops, I discovered that I’d reached the dizzy heights of 52 scoops – a far cry from the 100 I’d hoped to rake in, although I still had three days left to try and make the total a bit more presentable; I’d now revised my estimate of winners to 70 and felt that if I could attain this then the trip would have been a resounding success; after all, had all the brewpubs and bars I’d run up against locked doors been open then I’d have easily made the 100 winners which I had originally considered a target during the nine days…
Friday 2nd June 2006.
The rainy season.
As was by now customary I indulged myself in a lie-in whilst the other two headed at some unearthly hour of the morning. The morning had dawned dull with heavy-looking clouds hurrying across a leaden sky and it felt like rain was imminent; this wasn’t a particular problem as most of my time was spent either on trains or in bars, but I ensured I had my waterproof coat in my day-bag as I was planning another wander around Palermo that evening and wasn't keen on getting soaked.
One flaw had developed in our lovely bathroom in the form of the toilet flush mechanism; it was a press-button device and had slowly been getting more and more difficult to flush until now I had to resort to removing the facing plate and pulling up the little metal hook by hand to operate it – unfortunately, the flushing was reluctant to stop once it had begun with the result I had to jam the metal hook under a convenient piece of plastic to enable the header tank to fill up again; such are the trials and tribulations of a week’s beer scooping in Argentina!
I headed off for a few trips on the San Martin line where I saw a sight we’d been waiting for all week; one of the engines bought from Portugal (built to a British design) looked as if it was finally going to do something useful and so, after gaining the necessary information from the proud crew of the train whilst they practised their shunting, I decided to have a walk around the bars of the so-called “microcentre” in the couple of hours I had until the train departed on it’s first trip.
Herbal had booked us on the overnight train to Junin, against my better judgement, as I wasn’t really up for the move as it would take away one of my last evenings in the capital for an almost certain zero on the beer front owing to us being on trains all night and not having time to look for any beers in either of the places we’d be going to – ah well, I thought, at least I’d see more of the country than Buenos Aires – and so I was off around the city in this convenient break to see if I could notch up my scooping tally by a few more as I was by now in a state of major desperation!
I walked along the busy Libertad highway towards Rubia y Negra with the vague plan of of trying their wheat beer (said I was desperate!) but before I’d got half way the heavens opened in a spectacular manner and one of the heaviest rainstorms I’ve ever seen lashed the dusty streets into a watery submission. I took shelter under a convenient tree and watched the gutters turn into raging torrents of dirty water and wondered if this walk had been a good idea… after a good ten-minute soaking, however, the rain relented enough to enable me to abandon my shelter and carry on in search of scoops. I soon passed Rubia y Negra which had what can only be described as full-blown rivers running past the door, so decided to carry on in the hope of finding some unknown bar in the posh area around the area in spite the rain which had returned, albeit without the fury of the previous downpour. I pulled on my hat and shuffled along without any real hope of finding anything at this time in the day and thinking maybe I should have gone back to bed…
I soon reached the Kilkenny, an Irish bar supposedly with artesanal beers, although the shutters were down and whatever beer might have been inside was destined to remain unscooped by me, so I plotted a course through the most promising area back to Retiro station. I passed quite a few restaurants and a couple of bars but nowhere did I see the magic words “cerveza artesanal” on any of the menus and concluded that rich people in Buenos Aires drank wine rather than beer if they had a choice. I was soon back at the station having seen much of the city centre but without a single winner to show for the mile or two I’d walked and thinking that this might be the first scoopless day of the trip!
With a while before the train departed, and after buying my ticket for the usual pittance, I visited the sportswear shop on the concourse to buy a River Plate shirt for my dad which I obtained for £6 in addition to a rather amusing Argentina skull cap for 80p! My shopping done, I went through the barrier and met up with the other two who were already frothing over the engine which was sat in the end platform merrily whistling along to itself in that English Electric way and we were soon in conversation with some Argentinean rail cranks who gave us some more gen about the railways of the capital. We took the train out to Caceros for another back before trolling over to the Ferrovias station to see what happened there; unfortunately, this meant that we missed our overnight train – much to my relief, I must say – and so, with an evening in the city I’d not expected to have, it was off in search of beer by way of the Viejo Belgrano brewpub.
I took the Subte to Juramento station and walked the few blocks through heavy evening traffic to the brewpub, where I hoped to kick off the evening’s scooping with at least four winners; the pub’s website indicated that the “holy trinity” of Argentinean beers would be available namely rubia, roja and negra plus, if I was lucky, a seasonal beer. As I arrived at the bar, however, things didn’t look good; the lights inside were dim and I could see no customers at any of the tables – was this to be yet another dismal evening’s scooping in Buenos Aires, I wondered to myself?
The sole member of staff inside saw my face pressed up against the glass and, presumably feeling sorry for me, unlocked the door and let me in. With a halting mixture of Spanish and English I deduced that there was no beer available from the in-house brewery – which was obvious behind the bar but seemed to be being used as a coat rack – and so I went for something almost as good, a bottle of Wesensart rubia (5.5%), whilst I cursed my luck at finding yet another brewpub without beer. To compound my disappointment, the beer itself was quite poor with a pronounced phenolic twang which overshadowed the just detectable bitterness I could taste in the background.
I attempted to discover why no beers were available from the in-house brewery and, as far as I could work out with my ropey Spanish, it seemed as if the brewery was no longer used and it certainly looked like it’s current use was as a coat hanger rather than of a producer of artesanal beers… with nothing else in the fridge to detain me (although there were some bottles of Munster and Shopron amongst others) I headed off to Clandestina in the hope that two more of their beers would be available to bolster my single scoop of the night so far.
My next visit was almost certainly going to produce nothing but, as it was only a couple of blocks away, I reasoned I may as well have a look just in case. Peor para el Sol (worse for the sun) is another brewpub which I had conflicting information on; I knew it had originally been located just around the corner from Viejo Belgrano but other gen claimed it had moved out to San Martin 6066. As I arrived at the location it was obvious that the building was no longer a brewpub - it was now a children's clothes shop - and so I crossed another potential scoop off my list with a resigned shrug of the shoulders; I was getting used to it by this point! My fact-finding done, it was time to visit somewhere which I knew was open - I'd been there earlier in the week - Clandestina, where I hoped for one or two new scoops on the bar.
It wasn’t long before I was ensconced by the bar in Clandestina and chatting happily to the very sociable owners. In an attempt to garner better Anglo-Argentine relations, I’d brought along some beermats in case any of the pubs was a collector (this is very common and a donation of a couple can work wonders!) and so, with the beer museum seemingly closed for the duration of our visit, I decided to unload my mats on my new best friends; they were very grateful for this unexpected addition to their collection and presented me with a very Belgian-esque bowl of cheese to eat with my beer. Happily for my scoops tally, the strange-sounding Purpura Americana was now available, as I’d been told it would be, and so I indulged in a glass of this reddy brew with an unusual sweetish, fruity flavour and a malty, grainy finish balanced with some hops; the brewer informed me the beer was brewed with what I think was roasted wheat although I might have been mistaken… Happily, the chilli beer wasn’t available thus saving me from any temptation in that field, so I made do with a glass of their delicious negra... and then another!
Wishing the sociable owners all the best with their brewpub, I headed for Dalinger in the hope that it would be open this time; although I’d already scooped one of the beers in Cossab I was desperate to get another brewpub in the book as that meant at least another three winners for the tally! You may be able to tell that I was getting a bit obsessed with my scoops total by this point in the trip, although I blame "rover brain" for the majority of my compulsive behavior! After crossing the San Martin railway (waiting a few minutes for a 1955-vintage ALCo to thunder past) I had a quick look at Ru bar as I passed just in case the owners had returned from their holiday but, predictably, it was still firmly shuttered and locked tight with no sign of life inside so I trudged on through the persistent drizzle, pausing only to admire a gorgeous black and white cat perched on a windowsill above the road.
To my intense relief, Dalinger was lit up like Blackpool illuminations and so I wasted no time in getting myself through the door and to the bar where I studied the beer taps with interest; in addition to the stout i'd already scooped there were three other beers available - the predictable rubia (6.5%), the strangely-named Belgian (6.5%) and the slightly unusual brown (6%). The sociable barman, after ascertaining via my appalling attempt to order a beer in Spanish that I was English, informed me that the brewer himself would be along shortly, but in the meantime gave me a taste of all the beers which proved to be a blessing in disguise as both the rubia and Belgian were fairly phenolic and not really enjoyable drinking, although the brown and stout were both free of the TCP flavours and consequently pretty tasty. The barman must have noticed my grimace on tasting the rubia as he soon appeared from the cellar with another glass, telling me this was a new batch and a slightly different recipe, so naturally I took this free scoop with open arms! If the truth must be told it wasn't noticeably different or much better than the first example of the rubia I'd had, but I had a target of 100 beers to reach and every one counted!
The brewer soon arrived - a jovial, bearded chap - who spoke excellent English and graciously answered my questions about some of the other brewpubs I'd failed to find open; Ru bar's owners, he joked, had "been on holiday for three months!" and he grimaced when he mentioned their beers which left me with no illusions as to his opinion of Ru's output! "I think they will not reopen" he concluded and so that was another one to scratch off the list. I next enquired as to Viejo Belgrano, to which I was told that they no longer brewed as far as he knew and, after my visit, I was inclined to agree with his opinion. In answer to my next query the brewer said he didn't know if Peor para el Sol was still brewing, but he confirmed that it had moved to San Martin 6066 which was, apparently, "a long trip away"; I resolved to take a look the next evening as the time was already pushing 22:00 and I still wanted to try more bars around the microcentre which might have artesanal beers.
I wandered along Humboldt towards Palermo San Martin station, looking in the bars I passed along the way, without much hope of finding any scoops but on the lookout nevertheless for anything which might come my way in the manner of a praying mantis waiting for an unfortunate insect to come within it's grasp - except I haven't got enormous arms or drooling mandibles so maybe that's not a good comparison! I passed numerous pretentious bars which wouldn't have been out of place in the west end of London before finding a likely-looking candidate in the form of the Dubliner's bar; I'd learnt from my research that many of the Irish bars had artesanal beers on sale and so, desperate for another scoop, I slunk inside and viewed the menu... which told me that the bar had two "house beers"... Bingo!
I took off my coat and hung it under the bar to dry (it was still drizzling) before asking the barman where the beers were brewed; had I stumbled upon a new brewpub not yet in the list, I thought to myself? Sadly, it seemed not - I was informed (in excellent English yet again!) by yet another very sociable barman that the beers were brewed for them "locally" although he didn't know exactly who made them. I decided to give the negra a go as I reasoned that I could always try and find out later who the reclusive brewer was, and was soon sipping a very good stout and wishing I knew who the brewer was! The beer had a full body and roasty, toasted flavour with hints of brett and a decent bitterness in the finish and was definitely artesanal although I'd still like to have known the brewer! (A local beer enthusiast thinks it's from Shopron, but this is as yet unconfirmed). As I supped my beer thoughtfully, the barman asked me what an Englishman was doing in Buenos Aires, to which I replied "trying as many artesanal beers as possible" - he thought this was the best excuse for a trip to his city he'd heard in a long time!
Some beers in the room.
I decided against trying the Dubliner rubia as I don't like having too many beers on my list waiting for the brewer to be confirmed and, having bid yet another helpful barman goodnight, carried on through the damp streets towards the railway station; as I spashed my way along the characterfully haphazard paving stones I kept a keen ticker's eye out for possible beer bars but without success; I was soon climbing the stairs to the platform having paid my 11p fare for the 3km journey and only had to wait a few minutes for the next train into the city. Herbal had texted me as he wanted to meet up for some beers - presumably he was by this point getting desperate to bump up his tally of scoops - so I met him by the Ferrovias station and we wandered along to a bar which I'd read served micro-brewed beers... and indeed it did, and although they were Shopron, one of my favourite brewers thus far, we were after some scoops and so did a swift about-turn back through the door. You might be excused for thinking we were being a touch desperate here and should have stopped for a glass of the delicious Shopron Porter and, had Jhon Jhon been a normal bar we would have done, but it was a "yoof" hangout with headache-inducing thump-thump music which wouldn't have made drinking any beer, no matter how good, a particularly pleasant experience.
We decided to try the city centre tap of the Buller brewpub just in case there happened to be a one-off special beer available but we almost gave up at the door as the place looked (and sounded) like a nightclub with yet more thump-thump sounds pounding out of the doors. Stiffening our upper lips in English style we entered the bar and, despite no scoops being available, decided that the scenery was of sufficient quality to warrant our staying for a beer and so I tried the IPA again to see if I rated it any better the second time around; well, not really, it's not an IPA in my opinion although it's a perfectly drinkable strong bitter! Our beers supped and the lasses letched at (well, we had been away from home over a week!) we decided to return to the hotel and drink a few of the bottles of beer I'd acquired during the week; I had around ten which needed drinking by Sunday night as the four I was taking home were already packed!
We started with Del Castillo whisky malt, a special edition beer according to the bottle, which was an amber ale with some smoky maltiness and a good, smooth, very mellow and slightly charcoal-like – reminiscent of bonfires and burning twigs – finish. Next we cracked open the large 660ml bottle of Barba Roja rubia (4.5%) I’d bought from the Jumbo supermarket which, despite being pasteurised, was hazy and buttery in taste, a few hops poking above the parapet, and a decent nutty malt finish; not bad at all if a little safe! Baires Red Dort was subsequently de-capped and proved to be a real let-down… a plasticky, toffee-malt flavour with a cloying sweetness drowned out any finer nuances which may have been lurking below the surface of this very poor beer – although there probably weren’t any finer nuances to be found in my opinion! Last but certainly not least was Del Castillo (yes, them again!) barley wine which weighed in at a whopping 15% and certainly tasted it although it had, as was the case at Rubia y Negra, been aged for a decent length of time judging by the complex sherried flavours and rich malty, alcoholic and almost Madeira finish – a good beer to finish the night on, we both agreed!
Saturday 3rd June 2006.
The panic sets in.
I was now getting very worried about my beer scoops tally; it had reached the dizzy heights of 64 which, whilst under the circumstances was impressive enough, was still nowhere near the hundred I’d been aiming for and I needed good shows on my last two evenings in the city to bump it up to a more respectable value, such as 75-80, which I’d be happy-ish with. I planned to cover Peor para el Sol in the evening and maybe have another look around San Telmo to see what I could pick up in the hope of finding a ruck of winners somewhere... and, if not, there was always the Stone XB in the Gibraltar and loads of other stuff in either of the Patio bars...
First, however, I had to contend with our toilet which had finally given up the ghost; the entire flush mechanism had ended up in pieces on the floor along with a considerable amount of plaster and fibre-glass cladding (I'm hoping it was fibre glass and not asbestos...) and the only way to now flush the thing was to allow the tank to fill by manually holding up the ball-cock and then releasing it to send a Niagara-like torrent down into the bowl below, and then wedging the ball-cock up again with a random piece of plastic I'd found. I'm not sure what finally broke our toilet, but imagine three blokes away from home drinking loads of beer and eating steaks plus other junk food and I'm sure you can see why we exposed the inherent fragility in the toilet mechanism's construction!
Leaving reception with the mechanism's button panel in the vague hope they would fix the thing, I headed off for a wander around the Microcentre to take in the feel of the place and see if I could find any beer shops lurking there. After a good walk around where, in places, I could have sworn I was in Barcelona, I decided to take a spin on the superb old Line "A" Subte trains; these heritage beasties were apparently built in 1912 (some may be slightly younger) and have bodies made of wood - travelling in one is somewhat akin to being in a Victorian wardrobe with seats, although it's not a good idea to think about what the result of a collision might be! Another quaint feature of the trains is that when they are travelling at speed and go round a corner the whole body can be seen to sway and lean over... I'd heard this from other people who had been on them and not believed it, but as I sat at the end of a carriage and watched the whole body lurch around complete with alarming creaking and groaning noises I couldn't really deny it! This must rate as one of my most surreal rail experiences...
I know I've mentioned the hawkers on trains before, but I must reiterate that there seemed to be at least two on every single train or Subte selling all manner of useful stuff and other assorted tat; after politely refusing the offers of a bird doll, an LED-infested rubber ball and a particularly annoying bird whistle (all for one peso, naturally) I finally succumbed to temptation and bought a tiny torch as I figured I could hang it on my keyring where it might come in useful at some point and, anyhow, 18p wasn’t a vast sum to squander should it not last ten minutes... as I write this at the start of October, the torch is still blazing away happily and must rate as one of the best-value purchases I've made in recent years!
I then decided to try and reach the end of the San Martin line at Pilar on one of the huge 1955-vintage American diesel engines and was lucky enough to fall right into the excellent 8450 complete with flashing orange lights on it's noses! This whopper is a freight loco which is hired in to work the line as they are very short of engines, and so it was an ideal time to scoop the whole line in - for the grand sum of around 60p return for a three-hour return journey! Parts of the run were interesting as we passed military airbases (best not tell Planey I saw those...) and miles of faceless suburbs interspersed with shanty towns and wasteland. At Pilar I had ten minutes whilst the loco was fed and watered; it was quite touching to see how the driver took care of his ageing engine by checking the oil and water levels and I'm pretty sure he gave Ayelen (for she was so called!) a pat on the nose at one point...
"You don't like anything!"
Back in Buenos Aires, after an excellent run back from Pilar behind Ayelen, I took the metro to Frederico Lacroze where I had a quick gander around the rambling market at the top of the escalators before finding the train station. I took the next service four stops to El Libertador where I hoped I'd find the last brewpub I hadn't visited so far, although as the brewer in Dalinger had cast doubts whether the place was still brewing I wasn't expecting too much, but was still slightly miffed when I saw the place was in darkness and, even worse, it looked as if it were permanently closed... I think it was at this point that I finally accepted that I wasn't going to reach the magical 100 scoops for the week and, dejectedly, I caught the next train back into Lacroze where I consoled myself with a couple of slices of pizza before taking the Subte back to the centre where I met up with the other two for some beers around San Telmo; Herbal had not really visited any of the bars before and I was eager to show him what delights he'd missed on the beer front!
We started in the Patio Cervecera bar which is only around 250 metres from the one we'd visited a few nights before. Unfortunately, being Saturday night, it was heaving with normals who seemed to be drinking jugs of "quims" (as we now called Quilmes) rather than the proper stuff, but we found a table and, after confirming that the bar no longer sold beer from Beagle - a shame, as I think it's the furthest-south brewery in the world - we ordered a round of Sur Patagonia rubia (4.6%) and supped on these surprisingly tasty brews as we watched some particularly atrocious "musicians" (and I use the word in an extremely loose context) regale the patrons with some crap renditions of songs I felt I might have known had they been played with any degree of skill or adherence to the original tune. The beer, however, was one of the best rubias I'd had thus far, having a delicious delicate rose petal hop character with a dry bitter finish balanced with a creamy maltiness and, had drinking in the pub not been akin to torture, I think we might have stayed for another.
With the atrocious guitar player and his heritage singer mate getting ever closer, we took the easy way out and fled in search of quieter surroundings. Along Humberto we went, noticing more tramlines still embedded in the cobbles as we passed, and decided to have a beer at a bar with a rear patio - although that was closed and we were invited to sit in the bar instead! I wasn't convinced we'd find artesanal beer in the bar and we prepared to make a run for it should this be the case, although the barman was emphatic that they had some and produced a bottle of Shopron porter; now this was worth staying for! Herbal hadn't yet had the pleasure of sampling this superb brew and so we had a bottle each as I marvelled at the beer's sheer quality and layers of flavour, which seemed as if they had been put together by someone who is an artist in brewing and really knows what he's doing with the raw ingredients. As we drank, the barman engaged us in conversation about beer; he, like most of his countrymen, was interested as to what a group of Englishmen were doing in his bar and was suitably withered when we said we were there for the beer and trains! Well, I suppose it's not your usual excuse for a holiday...
The barman's beer preferences were soon made known and we weren't impressed; we quickly dissed his liking for "quims" and then Guinness in quick succession to which he replied with exasperation "You don't like Quilmes or Guinness - you don't like anything!" before retiring in a huff back to his newspaper - this comment caused much laughter amongst the three of us as we supped the delectable porter which, in my opinion at least, makes Guinness seem like the cheaply-brewed, watery, hop-less fluid it is these days.
"Eh up, we've pulled... again!"
Our beer gone, we paid the still sulking barman and, leaving Redhill to return to the hotel for an early night, Herbal and I headed for the Gibraltar bar where I'd promised him a pint of cask beer and fervently hoped it was still available... luckily it was, so we quickly ordered a pint each and found some space by the piano in the side room to enjoy it. The pub was wedged with normals enjoying their Saturday night out and I was pleased to see a lot of them were drinking the Stone beers in preference to the usual fizzy crud most Argentines inexplicably drink. Herbal was suitably withered by scooping a cask beer in the southern hemisphere and I was pleased to see it tasted as good as the first time I'd scratched it all the way back on Monday! Next, we went for the Stone XB (5.5%) which I required and I was pleased to see it maintained the quality of the other two Stone beers, being amber in colour with floral hops and a tasty, bitter, grainy aftertaste with some solid dryness making a very drinkable brew worthy of a good few pints if it weren't for the reasonably lofty ABV.
Herbal also required the Stone stout and so, ever one to re-scoop decent beers, we had a pint each; we were now getting into our drinking stride and I wished there were more scooping pubs like this one with a good range of local beers available but, alas, the brewpubs nearby were either inexplicably closed or not yet brewing! As we supped the beer and discussed the week's events, a middle-aged woman sidled up to us and struck up a conversation as bold as you like! Normally I'd have been a touch concerned by this but, being the third such time during the trip, I was getting used to being accosted by women and, anyway, it was good to have someone else English to speak to...
I can't remember her name (that sounds so man-like!) but it transpired that she was living in Buenos Aires working as an English teacher, had heard us talking, and decided that we needed a bit of company...! She seemed sociable enough so we chatted for half an hour or so about what was happening back home and what life was like living in BsAs; she said that it was a great place to live with a superb social scene although, being winter, some places were closed for holidays at the moment - that explained some of the brewpubs then, I thought - and she'd recommend six months there to anyone; I reasoned that in six months I could easily scoop 500 beers if not 1,000 or so and for a moment drifted off into a beautiful vision of living in Buenos Aires spending my days travelling around scooping beers... well, it was a nice dream whilst it lasted! I asked her about decent Parillas (steak restaurants) in the city and she endorsed the opinion of the barmaid in Gibraltar earlier in the week, recommending Desnivel as a superb beef experience, and said that the customers were mainly locals - which is always a good sign to me!
Herbal and I decided to take a wander along Estados Unidos to the Territorio bar where I hoped I'd be able to discover who brewed their house beers and there were various draught winners for Herbal to scoop, but we didn't expect our latest best friend to come along with us; I suppose she was either bored or gagging for it, but she must have been really desperate to follow us two around! Whatever her motivation, we soon arrived at the tiny Territorio bar where, after a short wait for a table, we piled inside where I suddenly had a brainwave; I could ask her to use her Spanish skills to enquire as to who brewed the house beers... bish-bosh, result, sorted! Congratulating myself on such an unusually far-sighted idea, I relayed my idea to our friend who did her best - but either the barman didn't know or didn't want to say, I'm not sure which; D'oh!
My glass of "Territorio" brown ale was a good, solid, malty brew, rich and toffee-ish with a decent dash of chocolate in the long malt-driven finish; this was even more gutting as I wanted to know who brewed such a good brown ale, although one possibility which sprung to mind was that maybe it could be a rebadge of Dalinger's? It certainly had many of the taste characteristics, but a definitive identification eluded me apart to say that it was similar...! As Herbal required all the draught beers we stayed for another glass of ale in the very sociable and cosy surroundings - I had a glass of Koala stout, once again very good - before deciding we'd better get back to the hotel as I still had some bottles which needed drinking and both of us were knackered after a very long week of early starts and loads of beer... thinking about this now, maybe I should have got my desperate boots on and repaired to the Patio Cervecera where I could theoretically have scooped another ten or so bottles, but at the time I just didn't feel like being desperate and, besides, we still weren't sure what our friend wanted from us!
Nothing, as it turned out, as once we'd paid up and left the little bar she bid us goodnight and left us to catch a taxi back to the hotel. I was all for waiting for a bus, but as we didn't know where the nearest stop was - and San Telmo is confusingly made up of one-way streets - we gave up on that idea and took one of the many taxis which were passing by the bar for the sake of an easy life; anyway, as Herbal rightly said, we weren't going to break the bank with a taxi, as every one we'd taken so far had been around a quid or less! This one was no exception and, even including a tip, we only paid around 6 pesos for the short ride back which followed the route I'd walked earlier in the week and I was amazed I'd actually managed to walk so far! Back at the hotel, we briefly woke Redhill will the by now customary chorus of "Barley Wiiiiiiiine!!!" before cracking open a couple of bottles; Barba Roja Diabla (4.5%) was a bland, toffee and caramel-tasting beer with little to recommend it and, even worse, it was in a 660ml bottle! (why are the worst beers always in the biggest bottles and vice-versa?). We finished with Del Castillo Especial stout (13%) whose massive rich, full-bodied flavour with buckets of black malt, liquorice, aniseed and bitterness was a million miles from the Barba Roja in character and quality.
Sunday 4th June 2006.
The last day!!!
Well, the last full day, and none of us could believe how quickly the time had flown by. Looking back over the week past, I was pleased that I'd managed to combine my three initial objectives of experiencing the old diesels, scooping lots of beers and seeing as much of the city as was possible; yes, I could have had more beers, but I was happy with the ones I'd had and knew that had just a few more bars and brewpubs been open or had I been just 20% more desperate then I would have probably reached my 100-beer target with room to spare; as it was, I still had four scoops to drink that night and two more to take home with me (as well as another Shopron porter just to show Sue how good Argentine beer could be) so ideally I'd like another five or so scoops to take me over the 80 barrier.
Happily our toilet had been fixed, and so we were able to utilise it's faculties to the max before we went our separate ways as per usual, Herbal and Redhill off after more engines whilst I went for another spin on the premetro tram and then a quick trip on one of the superb old General Electric diesels which worked the "narrow gauge" out to the southeast of the city. I was supremely lucky in this respect as, arriving at Tapiales, one of the new engines was in the process of being swapped for an old one and so Buenos Aires and back it was, then out to Gonzales Catan and back to Presidente Illia for the final spin on the tram out to Virryes before the long slog all the way back into the city cente via the Subte.
With a desperation born of the last night in Buenos Aires, I scurried along between all the San Telmo prospective scooping venues, but the beer museum and San tan Telmo were still firmly closed whilst Territorio still had the same beers on draught and I didn't really fancy going to the garish neon Patio Cervecera again and so, with no further ideas, I decided that I may as well go somewhere that I knew would have some beers available I could scratch, and I decided that my best hope would be the excellent Unterturckheim bar where I knew the full range of Del Castillo, Barba Roja and Antares beers were waiting to be whipped into the big orange book. By this the pub was open so I was straight in there like a ferret and was greeted warmly by the sociable barman from my last visit who obviously remembered the stupid Englishman who moaned about the cold glasses, insisted on a different beer every time and then wrote them down for some obscure reason!
I started with Del Castillo Miel (honey beer, 6.8%) which was pale, sweetish and obviously honeyed but reasonably well executed and integrated with a well-balanced finish without the honey dominating too much as can be the case without a careful hand with the sticky stuff. I decided to give Barba Roja another chance to amaze me and went for their Negra Fuerte (strong black, 5.8%) which was a decent enough beer if a touch safe; it had black treacle, some roast grain and a reasonably tasty and satisfying bitter, roasted, treacly aftertaste. Looking at my watch, I realised I had a choice to make - either have one more beer, scoop in the Desnivel parilla and do the Subte back to the hotel, or stay out late and try and scratch as many beers as possible; for a minute I considered camping out in the Patio Cervecera for a few hours to clear up their Baires beers, but my decision was to finish on one decent beer and then return to the hotel and finish the four bottles I had there - looking back, maybe I should have stayed out for two more beers to make the round figure of 80 scoops, but my earlier desperation had evaporated and I just couldn't be bothered!
For my final beer of the trip in a pub I went for Antares Imperial stout (8.5%) which fulfilled all my expectations of what the beer style should be like; looking at the glass I suddenly knew what Dylan Thomas meant when he said "bible black" and it certainly tasted the same with a full roasty, alcoholic, liquoricey palate which led to a bitter, intense and roasted malt finish with plenty going on on the tongue - this was exactly the sort of beer I'd wanted to finish on! It slipped down rather too easily and so, my scooping done, I bid my friend behind the bar goodbye and headed off along the by now well-worn path of Estados Unidos to the Desnivel restaurant (or Parilla) where I'd been promised by two different people the best steak experience in San Telmo - and, for some inexplicably stupid reason, I'd left it until the last evening of our visit to scoop it in... I was secretly hoping it wasn't superb as this would be my only chance to eat there!
Of the fruitless pursuit of ATM's.
As I strolled along the road I was on the lookout for a cashpoint; I knew there were a load of them about ten minutes away back towards the hotel but I assumed I'd see one around San Telmo as I was perilously short of money; I only possessed around 26 pesos plus a pocketful of worthless shrapnel and felt sure that the meal would cost more than this... and, after all, I might want a beer afterwards, so even though we were going home the next day I reasoned that I could easily spend a few more pesos somehow. Passing the bars which I'd visited earlier in the week, I was tempted to stop for a Shopron porter but reasoned that if I had one of those and didn't find a cashpoint, I'd be withered and might never try a proper Argentinean parilla and so, reluctantly, I walked by. I noticed with little surprise that the beer museum and Ni tan San Telmo were still closed and so turned along Defensa towards the restaurant. The stragglers from the Sunday market were still packing their tat away and it proved surprisingly difficult to negotiate the narrow road, thronged as it was with locals, tourists and tat stalls, but by the time I'd reached the restaurant (which looked very real from the outside) I'd still not located a cash machine; I cursed not getting more money out when I had the chance during the afternoon, but had no option but to continue walking and hope one would be situated somewhere nearby.
Eventually, a few hundred metres past the restaurant, a bank hove into view and I felt a massive surge of relief seeing it had a cash machine inside the lobby - my worries were over! My card let me into the lobby area and, although the machines didn't sport a Visa sign, I felt sure they would be happy to give me some money as I've rarely seen an ATM anywhere in the world so far which doesn't accept Visa cards... well, now I had, and as I frantically tried both machines without luck I realised that I was going to have to make do with what I had on me. Once outside the bank I scanned the horizon for another ATM but saw none and so, after a quick look along Indepencia and with nothing bank-like in sight there either, I counted up my money to see if I could afford anything to eat or if I'd be better just having another couple of beers and then heading back to the hotel in the hope of finding some money and/or food there.
Proper job, Guv'nor.
After a frenzied hunt around my person (and the immediate vicinity) for money it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to afford much food unless it was very cheap; I was the proud owner of 27 pesos and around 60 centavos, around £4, so it was with a sense of gloom that I entered the parilla. Inside the door was a riot of smells, noise and shouting as the waiters scurried around ferrying delicious-looking food to the well-filled tables whilst on the left stood a huge grill area with a smiling bloke flinging huge lumps of meat onto the sizzling grill where they were enveloped by crackling flames; he winked at me in a jovial manner and continued with his nonchalant meat mayhem which was producing some superb results - I hoped I had enough money to sample some of his cookery!
The head waiter appeared before me and I managed to convey my request for a table to him in Spanish (which was getting slightly better as the week wore on) so as he didn't take me for a tourist and earmark me for crap food. I was seated at a little table with views of the room which stretched out for a considerable way and was well populated with what mainly sounded like locals tucking into mammoth hunks of bovine and swilling wine with gusto; this looked like my sort of place! I gingerly opened the menu and saw, with a huge rush of relief, that I could afford a huge steak complete with chips and a 250ml jug of house wine and still have change left over! The menu was a fairly weighty tome and offered all manner of delicious-sounding steaks and accompaniments as well as some puddings which I may have been tempted with had I been more fluid in my assets, but I definitely wasn't going to order the roasted innards - no need!
Feeling like a kid in a sweetshop (no, not full of hypersensitivity-inducing E numbers and high GI sugars, you know what I mean) I quickly decided on a Lomo with patatas fritas and a small jug of house red; this came to around 24 pesos including the amusingly-titled "cutlery fee" and so I was sailing a touch close to the wind of bankruptcy, but I'd decided to just go for it and argue the toss later - after all, I could always wash up! Again, to avoid being served tourist-standard food (I doubt that this happens in Desnivel, but I wanted to make sure...), I ordered in my flimsy Spanish; the waiter made a quick note, muttered his approval, and rushed off towards the geezer stationed on the grill who nodded and flung what must have been the hindquarters of a cow onto his roaring flames; I really, really hoped that one was mine!
Within a very short time I had been furnished with a basket of deliciously soft bread and my little jug of wine. I poured a glass and supped appreciatively; it was very good indeed, all big cherry fruit and luscious liquoriceness, and although I have no idea what it was, it was excellent for a house wine and I'd happily drink it again! The next thing to arrive was a huge plate of freshly-made thin chips which smelt absolutely greasylicious and I snuck a quick chip butty before the steak arrived - or I was half way through constructing it when I suddenly realised that I might be charged for the bread and I only had three pesos as contingency... a quick shrug of the shoulders and I was munching on the butty as if it were the finest one I'd ever eaten and had already forgotten about the cost of the bread!
My steak soon arrived and, as the plate was plonked down in front of me, I just sat and stared at the sheer size of the lump of cow I'd been served - I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it was around 20cm long, 10c wide and around 5cm thick with not a shred of fat anywhere to be seen - before piling my plate high with the superb chips and tucking in with gusto. Despite it's formidable proportions the steak was as tender as butter and the knife cut through it with barely a whisper, although as any steak eater will know the tenderness isn't necessarily in proportion to the flavour of the meat and this was what really impressed me; it was cooked perfectly (i.e. medium rare) and the silky texture had a slight toothsome bite to it, but the full-bodied taste was something I've rarely experienced except with the excellent steaks from Top Barn farm shop near to Worcester... basically, I'd just paid £3 for one of the best all-round steaks I'd ever eaten!
After ten minutes of frenzied yet contemplative eating I sat back in my chair with a clean plate and empty bread bowl (actually, I'd emptied it twice as I reckoned I may as well get my value for money out of it!) whilst kicking myself I hadn't visited this magical place earlier in the week; after all, I'd known about it on the Monday evening and I could have been back every night... I cast a longing look at the Dulce de Leche tart on the menu but it was no use, I knew I couldn't afford it, so I drained my second glass of the rich, plummy and very impressive - both in value for money and flavour - house wine and asked for the bill which, I was hoping, my meagre resources would be able to cover! Luckily, my implausible attempt to speak Spanish seemed to have convinced the staff I wasn't some gullible tourist and the bill cam to exactly what I'd calculated it would - 24 pesos - and so, leaving 25 as payment which left me with the grand total of 2.5 pesos, or around 40p - to my name, it was time to get back to the hotel for my final scoops of the trip which were stored within the "mini bar" in our room... OK, they were in the wardrobe, but minibar sounds better to any impressionable readers and I just want to appear posh!
The last scoops of the trip.
With a gut stuffed with food it was a good thing I didn't fancy any more beers as I couldn't afford any, so I waddled back to Indepencia Subte station for one of the final trains back to General San Martin and the thence a short walk back to the hotel. I found the other two already in the room and so I cracked open the last beers of the trip, starting with Bersaglier Kolsch (6%), a sociable, hoppy, well-brewed pale beer with a delicate malt and hop finish and well-brewed character. I followed this with Bersaglier cream stout (6%) which almost took my head off with it's massive flavour! Another bible-black brew, it was very rich and full in body with masses of roast barley, spice, liquorice and an almost bitumen/tar character lurking in the background! The aftertaste was long and intense, comprising of lots more roastiness and full maltiness, a strong spicy hoppiness and a long, dry, toasted and bitter finish; this was some beer and I was so glad that I had another bottle to take home with me - I don't think Sue would have believed me about the quality of Argentinean beers without evidence such as Bersaglier cream stout!
Unfortunately, a run of excellence like this couldn't be maintained, and I eyed the bottle of San Carlos Otro Mondo (7.5%) with apprehension; I'd already sampled this stuff on the very first night we'd been in town when Herbal had a bottle of it in the Matias Irish bar and, to put not too fine a point on it, the tasting hadn't been a pleasant experience and I couldn't quite work out why I'd bought a bottle of it after that initial taste... oh yes, I'm desperate, I forgot for a second there... As soon as the bottle was opened I knew that I should have left it on the shelf in the supermarket; a strong, sweet whiff of toffee was escaping from the bottle which magnified itself exponentially when the beer was poured and once again I resolved not to be so desperate in the future! Luckily I had Herbal to share the bottle with, but neither of us managed more than a few mouthfuls before declaring the reddish, sickly-sweet toffee fluid undrinkable and consigning it to the drain...
Last up was Antares barley wine (10%) which I'd bought from the Gibraltar right at the start of the trip and had been waiting patiently to be scooped ever since... well, I'd actually opened it the night before but had felt too tired to appreciate it and so re-capped the bottle and put it back in the wardrobe for 24 hours! Surprisingly, this rough treatment didn’t seem to have affected the beer in any way and it tasted fine; full and sweetish in flavour with an attractive bronze colour, it had balancing bitterness and a balanced finish which was restrained for the strength yet robust enough to remind us it was a barley wine!
The last beer of the trip drunk, I felt a sense of achievement at scooping so many beers and having visited the wide variety of bars and brewpubs I'd been to, tempered with the knowledge that, had I felt more desperate and armed with better gen I could have scooped many more than this and, maybe, found some even better beers than the many excellent ones I'd tried during the trip... well, there was always the next time I thought and, we all decided right there and then, there WOULD be a next time!
Monday 5th June 2006.
We were up and packed very early the next day as we had an appointment with the 06:53 train to Hurlingham as this was the first morning run of the ex-Portuguese loco; I wasn't used to getting up so early, and staggered around blearily whilst trying to pack all my possessions - which seemed to have multiplied since we'd arrived - into my bag which seemed to have shrunk correspondingly thus presenting a challenge I didn't need at six in the morning! With my shoulder bone seemingly creaking under the weight of my bag, which I was sure would be at least a tonne over the hand baggage weight limit, we staggered downhill to the station at Retiro for the final time; I felt as if I'd been here for a lot longer than nine days and would happily have stayed longer and I'd developed quite a soft spot for this fascinating city. There was one positive point, however, which was that this was the last time we would have to risk life and limb crossing the Libertad highway to get to the station - the road is at least 8 lanes wide and the pedestrian phase seems perilously short even if you're reasonably sprightly on your limbs - so, surviving for the final time, we passed the stallholders outside the stations for the last time and bought our tickets to Jose Paz.
We took a newly-refurbished ALCo to Palermo for the EE loco to Hurlingham then a short wait bathed in the orange light of a glorious sunrise before another 1955-vintage beastie up to Jose Paz; Herbal reckoned we'd be able to take a long-distance train back into Retiro from here and so we waited... and waited... after an hour it became clear that the train was running very late and so, with our time almost up, we experienced the hawkers on the train for the last time as we returned to Retiro and from there took the Subte around to Constitution station where we caught a train to Ezeiza from where we hoped to take a bus to the airport.
Ezeiza was still the busy, dog-infested dusty chaos it had been when we arrived, although it wasn't such a shock to our systems this time! We quickly located the bus terminus and tried to work out which buses went to the airport; we had the gen that service 502 went there, but what we hadn't bargained on was there being numerous 502's - almost every bus seemed to be thus numbered with a small plate in the window indicating it's destination. After a short wait the correct bus arrived but we were physically unable to get on at the front door due to the seething mass of humanity which was already aboard and so, not wanting to miss the bus, we sneakily boarded via the back doors. Just in case you were wondering what's so radical about this, you're supposed to get on at the front, pay the driver, and then move down the bus but we figured that as we were going home it was OK to break the law just this once!
After a very strange journey, taking around 40 minutes and involving circumnavigating a particular road junction what seemed like twenty times, we arrived at the airport - straight into the middle of what seemed to be a huge demonstration against something! A large crowd was standing outside the terminal beating huge drums, chanting phrases in Spanish and waving banners which we couldn't translate - I think all of us thought, for a minute, that we weren't going home that day as the airport had been closed by a worker's strike... although, as we got closer, the throng of people turned out not to be a strike but some kind of local celebration of something we never discovered and so into the terminal we went and checked in immediately. I'd been hoping for the same arrangement on the return flight as we'd had on the outwards with a window seat and a free place next to me, but we soon discovered the plane was full and we couldn't even sit together and I was allocated a middle seat between two other passengers from Santiago; cheers then! Herbal and Redhill at least got to sit next to each other and, as a bonus, my bulging bag with it's straining handles was passed as cabin baggage with only a cursory glance from the check in staff - at least something went right!
With a long wait until the plane arrived, we spent the time browsing the shops in departures where I managed to find some Dulche de leche for a remarkably cheap price and a couple of bottles of wine to add yet more weight to my groaning bag - I was getting seriously concerned if I'd be able to lift it into the overhead lockers! The rest of the time was spent winding Herbal up before the enormous 777 finally arrived and came to a halt alongside us; although they look at first glance like a 737, the sheer size of the things can only really be appreciated when a member of ground crew stands next to the engine - they truly are phenomenal aircraft. We boarded quickly and I took my seat between two mercifully thin people and attempted to make myself as comfortable as possible; this was going to be a very long flight!
After the evening meal I attempted to sleep and managed to get some doss, although being next to two other passengers wasn't conducive to a good slumber. Halfway through the night I got up for a walk around and ate half a tray of butties and supped a whole carton of orange juice from the "self service" area halfway along the mammoth cabin before availing myself of the toilet facilities and then returning to my seat for some more fitful sleep until the lights came back on somewhere over Madeira...
Back in Paris, Redhill had a connecting flight to London but Herbal and I had a 4.5 hour wait for the Manchester plane; I'd chosen this service as it was supposed to be a Fokker 70, which are quite rare and a lot more interesting than the standard 737s or Airbuses, but by this time all we wanted to do was get home and so we tried to change our flights for the next service - and were politely denied by the Air France ticket desk - so it was up to the gate for a long wait. This proved to be even longer than expected as the flight was almost an hour late although, by compensation, it was a little Fokker we had back to Manchester. The food option aboard wasn't what we'd been hoping for; rather than the butty and champagne of the outward flight all we were offered was a cake the size of a gnat's cock! Cheers then, so exactly why should I fly Air France in future then, you tight bastards?
Back in Manchester we went our separate ways and, as I sat on the train back to Northwich, I read through my orange book and smiled at the many memories it was bringing back to me; this trip had been a huge experience for me in all ways and I knew I had to return as soon as possible, although I wasn't looking forwards to writing the report...
Well, what can I say? Buenos Aires was a landmark in my scooping career and, despite being a frustrating city to scoop in owing to unexplained closures and strange hours, was an experience I'd recommend to anyone who likes scooping the way it used to be and, indeed, the way it still should be - challenging yet very rewarding with the unique cultural experience of South America thrown in for good measure. There are literally hundreds of little micro breweries and brewpubs in Argentina although, looking at 95% of bars and all supermarkets, you'd never know; all they seem to sell is Quilmes (owned by Heineken) and other assorted labels from Quilmes (presumably all the same beer) in 970ml bottles for around 40-50p a go or, if you're really lucky, Quilmes Bock (I was only joking there!)...
To scoop beer in BsAs you need to know what you're doing and do a lot of research before you go. Luckily for you I've done most of it (as my internet usage log can testify) but you'll still need to have a good search around to find any new gen and, even then, be prepared for a lot of setbacks and unexplained closures - as I said, it's not an easy country to scoop in but anyone who was scooping in the early 1990's will know what I mean when I say it's a lot of work for not a lot but it's far more enjoyable than simply turning up and expecting every beer in the city to land on your plate the way a lot of scoopers do these days!
As for what beers to expect let's say that you might be very surprised by the quality and variety on offer; I was! The standard "holy trinity" of beers most brewpubs (and brewers) offer is rubia (golden), roja (or rojiza, red) and negra (black, normally a stout but can be brown ale-ish) along with a good range of other styles; I sampled barley wines, honey beers, imperial stouts, spiced ales, a bitter, a red beer made with roasted corn and various other strange concoctions. I also saw wheat and spiced beers on various lists although I flagged them as I don't really like those styles - maybe if I hadn't been so principled I'd have scooped the magical 100 beers for the week! One style which impressed me a lot was the negra or stout; a lot of brewers make one and, although it's more difficult to totally screw up a dark beer owing to the tasty roast malts being able to hide a multitude of sins, it's also just as hard to brew a very good one and I had the pleasure to sample at least ten excellent dark beers which ranged from a very passable imitation of how Beamish used to taste before multinational business sacrificed it to the god of blandness, through excellent porters stouts and brown ales, to a great imperial stout via all shades in-between. Pale beers were less consistently good with several having phenolic hints to them although Murray's IPA remains one of my favourite beers of all time for it's perfectly balanced malt and citrussy hop flavours and massive punch - with velvet gloves.
The city itself is a fascinating place with around 12 million people living there – it’s the 9th largest city in the world - some playing polo and living in mansions whilst just up the tracks there are others (usually indigenous people) living in shanty towns along the railway scraping a living by rifling binbags for cardboard and other recyclables; it's a city of huge contrasts and all the more interesting for it. Of course there are areas I'd not go to (or go back to!) but I can honestly say I never once felt directly threatened by anyone and I've felt more ill at ease in UK cities on several occasions.
The people are a heady mix of immigrant Europeans (mainly Italians and Spaniards with some Welsh and Cornish too) and indigenous people who seem to get the shitty end of whatever stick they happen to be holding at the time. Despite the obvious issues raised by the Falklands war in the not too distant past, the population are, almost to the man, a friendly, happy and outgoing people who seem delighted than tourists are coming to their city to explore and, more importantly I suppose, spend money - the recent recession in Argentina is still blighting lots of lives and the new-found prosperity hasn't filtered down to everyone yet in the same vein as the rise of capitalism in the former eastern bloc hasn't always meant a better life for those at the lower ends of society's ladder.
Overall, I'd recommend anyone with a slightest interest in proper beer, proper trains or even a streak of the old adventurer spirit to get along to Buenos Aires; it's not really that expensive to get there when you consider just how far it is (around 7,000 miles) and it's certainly not expensive when you get there! A week or so in the city will open your eyes to the extreme polarity of the citizens - or it will if you get out and explore, as just staying in a posh hotel and walking around the microcentre in daylight hours will convince you that this is some southern hemisphere Barcelona. Go and do the local trains and Subte, walk around San Telmo at night and explore the many bars of Palermo and you'll have a far more rounded experience of the life of the city and how it's population lives as well as finding the cheapest, and best, beer and steaks around.
I absolutely loved the place; it's an edgy, exciting, exotic city with some fantastic beer and is certainly an experience I will never forget - yes, I scooped 78 beers, but I also think that I saw the city in most of it's many guises and that, compounded with being almost half way around the world from home, made my experiences that little bit more exciting. I'll be back!
Getting there and getting around there.
Getting to Buenos Aires isn’t as easy as hopping on easyJet to Paris, oh no. First of all, you’ve got to contend with big airlines that exist to extract as much money from you for as little effort as they can, so it pays to shop around a lot! Your main options are basically;
I think you get the message; there is a vast choice of flights available to Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza airport although most require a change somewhere en-route onto a big plane for the slog across the Atlantic down to Argentina. Personally, we found Air France to be acceptable with decent enough seats (as long as the plane isn’t full, but there’s not a lot you can do about that), decent food and sociable times – and the price was about the best we found. It’s also usually cheaper to book via one of the agents such as Opodo or Expedia than direct with the airlines for some reason.
Once in Buenos Aires, you’ll soon work out that the 9th biggest city in the world takes some getting around. Ezeiza airport is a good 30km south of the centre and buses operated by Manuel Tienda Leon every half an hour until around 21:00 and take approximately 40 minutes to reach the city centre for 25 pesos. If you want to throw yourself in at the deep end, however, how about the No.86 bus which leaves for the colourful La Boca barrio irregularly for just a couple of pesos, or maybe the 502 to Ezeiza and then a local train into Constitution station? Go on, you know you want to – who needs aircon tourist buses, anyhow?
Once in the centre proper you have a pretty good underground system run by Metrovias to get you to within a five-minute walk of almost anywhere – as long as you’re not expecting to return after 23:00… the standard fare is 70 centavos for a journey which lasts until you come through the barrier at your final destination. Metrovias also run the cute Premetro which is basically a tram that feeds into line E from the far south-eastern suburbs; you won’t need to go anywhere near it unless you are a tram scooper or want to get to the metre-gauge railways!
There are literally thousands of buses – collectivos – which run basically everywhere in the city for what seems to be a flat fare of 70 centavos; I can’t recommend any websites for timetables, so the best bet seems to be to see what arrives… It’s a pretty safe bet that there will be a bus to within a short distance of where you want to go within a reasonable amount of time – it certainly seemed that way by the amount of buses I saw careering around the streets. To buy a ticket, say where you’re going to the driver who will tell you how much it’ll cost and then, before you’ve had a chance to find a seat, storm off doing his best to make you fall over and look a total cock. If you manage to stand up, put your change in the machine behind him and a ticket will hopefully come out – or it may not, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.
The local trains are very useful for reaching some of the more distant brewpubs and it’s the quickest way to reach Palermo by a good margin – it only takes five minutes from Retiro station, costs 70centavos and drops you just five or so blocks to the north of all the action, whilst the Subte takes at least ten minutes and drops you in near enough the same place. Timetables of the various services aren’t easy to come by and you may have to, as we did, study those pasted to the wall of the station and write down the appropriate times, although most lines run every 15 minutes or so until fairly late on in the evening. Fares are very cheap (I don’t think even the full run to Pilar and back costs more than 60p) so they won’t break the bank. Tickets are checked at the barriers and occasionally aboard although this is more common on the TBA trains to the south and west; theoretically you’re supposed to buy a ticket first, although it didn’t seem to matter that much. If you’re really into saving money, you can ride in the cartoneros vans on TBA for nothing – and you get a real down-to-earth experience thrown in too!
The main services are;
The other option, which you’ll be using quite a bit, is simply walking. Buenos Aires is an easy city to navigate on foot as a lot of it is laid out in a grid pattern and consequently you can simply count the “blocks” to your destination. Road signs could be better (or exist sometimes) but overall the centre of the city is easy to get around and seemingly very safe. We did quite a bit of walking around the outskirts and nowhere did I ever feel threatened or uneasy, although there are some areas of extreme depravation in the city which it’s best not to visit – you’ll soon be able to tell.
El Desnivel Parilla, Defensa 855 (just N of Estados Unidos). Opening hours not known, but probably every evening.
As my food intake generally revolved around eating in brewpubs and munching on empanadas, panchos (hot dogs) or choris (chorizo-like sausage on a roll) I must admit I only visited one proper Argentinean parilla (pronounced parisha) - but what a meal it was! I was recommended this place by several different locals in bars and, although there were some tourists in there with the restaurant being in the trendy barrio of San Telmo, on my visit it was mainly full of locals tucking into mammoth hunks of cow.
On entering the restaurant you are confronted by a large sweaty bloke cheerfully flinging outsize lumps of flesh onto a huge barbeque, before being shown to your table by the head honcho who will greet you in Spanish (he spoke a smattering of English). The menu is extensive but the main events are the steaks whose names are translated into English, although you may not recognise some of the cuts - a lomo is a melt-in-the-mouth tenderloin, whilst bife de chorizo isn't a spicy sausage but a prized, tasty cut of meat.
Order your chosen steak with a side-order of the excellent home-made patatas fritas (chips to you and me) and a half-litre of the house wine (ARG$5 or so and very good it is too) and, even with the ARG$1.50 service charge (amusingly called "cutlery fee"), you'll not pay more than ARG$25 (£4.50) for one of the best steaks you'll ever eat - that I promise. My lomo came perfectly cooked - i.e.; medium rare - and, despite being of huge proportions, was so tender and tasty that I simply sat there and savoured what is probably going to be one of the best meals I'll ever eat in my life. The basket of bread you are given is topped up when you finish it and is free despite what you may have suspected!
If you're still feeling hungry after consuming kilos of cow, apparently the Dulce de Leche tart is also superb; Dulce de Leche is a sticky beige goo made by boiling down milk and sugar which ends up tasting like a divine butterscotch and is one of the highlights of Argentinean cuisine. It's liberally plastered over all manner of cakes and pastries - another strong point in the cuisine of a country which must have some of the best food anywhere.
I chose to ignore the roasted innards on the menu and I suggest you do the same!
Other food places.
As for eating in pubs, I'd recommend Untertürkheim at Humberto 1° 899 jct of Tacuarí in San Telmo for it's rather authentic German food including all types of Wurst and sauerkraut! Add to this the decent range of beers and it's a good evening out. The food in the Gibraltar pub, Peru 895, (also in San Telmo) was good too with the home-made beefburger being especially tasty and very home-made! The Clandestina brewpub in Palermo is recommended also for the well-made food to go with the interesting brews on tap as well as the home-made popcorn!
These little beauties are likely to be your staple food when in Argentina. Resembling miniature Cornish pasties, they may indeed be modelled on them since lots of Cornish emigrated to Argentina to work in the mines, although the name may have originated in Spain where the Empanada Festival is part of Galician culture and empanar means to coat with bread. Usually containing carne (meat) or queso y jamon (cheese and ham) they are made in just about every bakery in every town to unique recipies giving a superb scooping potential and delicious surprise with every one you bite into!
Although meat and cheese are the common fillings I encountered various others such as cheese & onion, vegetarian, spicy meat (carne picante - mmmmmm!) and some too far-fetched to remember! Without exception every Empanada I sampled was good (some were superb) with no rancid bits of gristle or suchlike in them; well, originally I thought my second-ever meat empanada was full of bits of fat, so picked them out in disgust - before discovering they were in fact bits of egg which seems to be common practice with the meat ones! Sold for around ARG$1 - 2 each (20-40p) they won't break the bank and are a great snack on the move.
With usual selfless disregard for my waistline and coronaries I sampled as many as I could during my stay in Buenos Aires and, as a result of this research, I hereby reveal my tips for the best Empanadas to be had in the capital!
Assorted tat on trains list.
Just in case anyone is sad enough to want to know the full (well, everything I wrote down plus stuff Herbal and Redhill told me) list of the tat we were offered on trains, here it is…
Pens, Gloves, CDs, CD cases, DVDs, Biscuits, Bread, Cakes, ‘Ceramico’ – pottery, Lottery tickets, Raffle tickets, Padlocks (some without keys!), Wafers, Superglue, Hairclips, Torches, Josticks, Lemsip, Marker Pens, Spirographs Lighters, Hot Dogs, Fizzy Drinks, Battery Lights, Jewellery, Scissors, Diaries, Tape measures, Socks, Newspapers, Bird Whistles, Toothbrushes, Thermometers, Squeaky Toys, Headphones, Bird Dolls, Nail Clippers, Filofax, Wallets, ID Card holders, Paracetamol, TV Remote Control, LED-infested plastic balls and coffee.
Gazza's Beers and Pubs of the trip awards!
With so many beers sampled this is going to be a tough one, but here goes! Overall the standard of beer was very good, much better than I imagined it would be, and many of the beers I had wouldn't be out of their depth in the European scene. So, here I choose my favourites out of the 78 beers and countless pubs I scooped!
Beers (Top 5)
Argentina seems to be a haven for gorgeous roasted stouts which are brewed with a lot of skill and a delicate touch. There was a lot of competition for the top five places here, I may yet extend it to a "top ten".
Murrays IPA - Everything an IPA should be and more, loads of citrussy Cascades; superb stuff, and one of my "beers of the year" so far.
Shopron Porter - Delicious roasty, fruity, hoppy beer with perfect balance and poise.
Corsario Negra Black Porter (5%) - Gloriously full, roasty, bitter and tasty black ale yet still with everything in harmony.
Bersaglier Cream Stout (6%) - Black, roasted, fruity, rich and spicy beer with a lovely complex character.
Cossab Negra (6%) - Classic stout with a great balance of roast and bitterness.
Pubs (Top 5)
Cossab, Carlos Calvo 4199. Excellent scooping bar with it's own brewery, the best range of Artesanal Argentine beers in the city by a long way.
Gibraltar, Peru 895. A sort of ex-pat bar but it's done very well and serves some excellent beers from Stone and Del Castillo including cask Stone IPA!
Untertürkheim "Cervecería Alemana", Humberto 1° 899. Friendly bar run in the style of a German beerhouse, with a good range of beers and decent food too.
Cerveza Clandestina, Uriarte 1838. Very sociable and nicely done new brewpub in Palermo with good beers, food and welcome.
Spangher, Miller 2905. Unusual place, more like a café, but with good beer, excellent-looking snacks and a warm welcome.
© Gazza 11/10/06 v1.0
Some phots of the trip...
|Scooping a jug of Rubia in Spangher||Redhill bellowing the Spangher brewpub!||Herbal with tasting trays in the Buller brewpub||Buller brewpub's shiny kit||The outside of Buller|
|BsAs 28/05/06||BsAs 28/05/06||BsAs 28/05/06||BsAs 28/05/06||BsAs 29/05/06|
|Jesus having a good bellow at Olivos||Koala font in cafe Dolcetto||The superb Cossab brewpub.||It's a winner - must be, it says so on the bottle!!!||Rubia y Negra, up the stairs!|
|BsAs 31/05/06||BsAs 31/05/06||BsAs 31/05/06||BsAs 01/06/06||BsAs 02/06/06|
|Patio Cervecero fabrica - well, not yet it doesn't.||Bar de Cao - not yet brewing, but a very nice old bar.||Bar ni tan san Telmo - closed for some reason!||Unterturckheim beer bar, lots of scoops here||The Beer Museum San Telmo, also closed for some reason.|
|BsAs 03/06/06||BsAs 04/06/06||BsAs 04/06/06||BsAs 04/06/06||BsAs 04/06/06|
|Cask beer Stone IPA in Gibralta - what a winner!||An example of the proper trains on offer...! ALCo 657 at La Fraternidad.||Buller brewpub, Redhill dossed out with his IPA!|
|BsAs 04/06/06||BsAs 28/05/06||BsAs 28/05/06|
|Buenos Aires Premetro (tram) map||Heritage tram location map||Buenos Aires metro map||Buenos Aires rail map (suburban trains)|