Last Updated :09/03/08
y much anticipated second trip to the fascinating continent of South America had finally arrived; I’d booked it four months previously (I’d gone for an unusual three-leg trip each way plus a link from Santiago to Buenos Aires) and I couldn’t believe it had come around so quickly – more so as I still wasn’t happy with my gen collection! But, here it was, and so the final week in the UK was a flurry of emails to my Chilean and Argentinean contacts along with a lot of last-minute internet scouring for any breaking beer gen and, more importantly, transport information of our two target cities. This time I was travelling with an old friend, Big Feller, who had accompanied me on my Inter-rail in 1991 and so was well used to my slightly peculiar ways when abroad… or so I hoped!
I’d learnt that a superb new scooping pub had opened in Buenos Aires although a number of the brewpubs from last time had sadly closed; the beer revolution seemed to be stalling, although I was assured by Nicolás (my scooping contact in BsAs) that there was still plenty of good beer around to drink and I’d struggle to try everything available. I had also been in contact with Luís (one of the owners of Murrays, the brewers of my favourite beer I’d scooped in 2006) and he’d very sociably arranged us a Sunday trip around two breweries plus a proper Argentinean meal and more beer elsewhere if we stood the pace; with this as an introduction to the city I felt as if we’d hit the jackpot with regards to scoops!
The move was an ambitious one; we were to fly from Manchester to Heathrow (which, with hindsight, I freely admit was a stupid thing to attempt) and thence to Madrid’s enormous new terminal 4 and then onto Santiago. After a mere day there we would take a LAN Chile flight to Buenos Aires where we’d spend five days exploring the fascinating city and scooping as many beers as was humanely possible without killing ourselves whilst, along the way, eating many empanadas and lomos to keep body and soul together. A good move on paper, but it was reliant on British Airways and Heathrow to get us to Madrid on time…
Thursday 11th October 2007.
So, with a bag laden with scoops for my new South American mates, I drove up to Cheshire to pick up Big Feller, my travelling companion for the trip. Jim is an old friend from school and I’d asked him to come with me as we’d had a superb inter-rail around Europe a mere 16 years previously and this sounded like a good follow-up journey! He isn’t a scooper per se although he does like good beer and, through my incessant gibbering about railways and scooping, he’s fully aware of why I do what would seem like ludicrous things to most normals!
We were soon at the airparks car park in Handforth where the transfer operation to Ringway airport (that’s what us locals call it!) went smoothly despite one of the buses having it’s engine in bits and a mechanic grinning out from the compartment. Now those who have flown from Manchester will know that it’s not easy to get around and the three terminals are a long way apart… ours, T1, is the furthest away from the bus drop-off point outside the rail station and we were knackered just reaching the check-in desks there owing to the unseasonable heat!
We were met by a very nice young lady who proceeded to check us in at the self-service machines – although one packed up after printing half the boarding passes necessitating her doing mine again – before we dumped our hold bags for loading. Now, at this point, let me say that I had absolutely no conviction whatsoever that our bags would arrive at Santiago (I didn’t think they’d make it as far as Heathrow, if truth be told) and so it was with some trepidation I saw our bags trundle off down the chute with labels attached, clearly listing the flights they must be loaded onto, with the feeling we’d never see them again.
Divested of our cumbersome luggage (owing to the six bottles of beer I’d packed into each) we trotted off at a much-improved speed through security. One amusing incident occurred when a besuited Tory twat rushed past the bloke sensibly positioned at the queue entrance handing out bags for toiletries… “I hate fucking businessmen” came the grimacing oath from the bag hander-outer, still clutching a bag, “they’re such ignorant bastards”; we could only agree with him on the evidence thus presented! I shuffled through the scanner, trying to prevent my belt-less trousers from falling down whilst trying not to stand on anything sharp with my sock-clad feet, but the removal of various items of clothing wasn’t too bad and we were soon through and wondering what to do for the next two hours.
Memo to self: never use BA or LHR again…
Our flight departed more or less on-time for the short 35-minute hop down to Heathrow where we had a three-hour wait for our next flight to Madrid. I’ve only flown from LHR twice previously and I can honestly say that this is twice too many as I hate the place! Being rush-hour on a Thursday the airport was wedged with random besuited Tories acting important and, on a more worrying note, almost every flight was late – some very late! We only had two hours in Madrid to connect to our Santiago flight and I suddenly realised that we may have a rather large problem should our flight be as late as most of the others lighting the screen red…
Time ticked on, passed by our scooping in free tasters of Khazakstan vodka (Snow Queen, and very nice it was too) and Jack Daniel’s single-cask whisky (not as bad as I imagined it would be), and still our flight showed as “on-time”. Boarding time came and went with no amendments to the screen but suddenly it updated to reveal an hour’s delay… this wasn’t a good sign and I knew then that we were going to miss our connection in Madrid – sometimes you just know the future! We enquired at the beleaguered BA desk where we were told all flights were late due to fog that morning and ours was waiting for a new crew as the original one was out of hours having arrived late from another destination; despite being assured we’d be “looked after” at Madrid this was a hammer-blow to our plans as we only had one day in Santiago to search out the city’s scoops and it looked as if this had been snatched from us.
The flight eventually left 135 minutes late and I’m sure I saw our flight to Santiago depart as we taxied to stand… we’d been told the Santiago flight had gone by the cabin crew and also that we’d be taken care of, but by whom? The airport was deserted and so we followed the crowd through immigration, down an array of escalators, onto a Stansted-like train to the main terminal, then back up a myriad of escalators and out of the door… what a fucking shambles, what was going on? I asked one of the very rare airport staff this very question and they directed us upstairs to an Iberia desk where, she told us, we would be rebooked.
Once at the desk, the advice was simple; go to the check-ins around the corner and we’d be rebooked. So, after queuing for ten minutes, we were told we’d be put on the next day’s flight… not quite what I had in mind, nor did the bloke who had also missed his connection and was tagging along with us in the hope of getting something sorted out. Back to the Iberia desk we went for another 20-minute queue before we tried to get put on another flight to, maybe, Buenos Aires where we could connect to Santiago. Sadly, it seemed as if “looking after” people who miss connections simply involves rebooking on the next flight and not trying to re-route them; honestly, we did try, suggesting a flight to BsAs or even Sao Paolo, but we were told these flights were full (I’m convinced they weren’t and the bloke just couldn’t be arsed, but I can’t prove that…) and eventually, after a good 15 minutes of trying, we accepted defeat and returned to the check-in desks to rebook the following evening, our respective schedules ruined – our only scooping day in town gone and our companion’s lecture missed!
Saying all this, we didn’t fare as badly as the passengers for the Johannesburg flight which had connected despite it too being late; around twenty had been denied boarding due to overbooking and they’d been told the next available flight was in three days… we were soon checked into the next Santiago flight and returned to the Iberia desk to sort out our promised hotel for the night and next day which, amazingly, was immediately forthcoming (to get rid of us I suspect) and so, finally, at 03:30, we were stood in the queue for a taxi to the hotel Auditorium which was a distinctly second-best outcome compared to being on another flight to the Southern hemisphere but, being absolutely knackered and pissed off with the whole shambles thus far, we were happy to be getting a bed and food at least…
Another 15 minute queue later and we were in a taxi heading for the hotel. It wasn’t one of the on-airport ones as I’d expected and turned out to be beside a busy road a good few miles from civilisation with what looked like zero possibilities of us getting into Madrid to salvage something from our enforced stopover in the Spanish capital; cheers then, what were we supposed to do all Friday? The atmosphere in the taxi was distinctly irritable as we pulled up to the hotel’s front door…
The driver then asked for his payment – to which we showed him the docket we’d been given by the Iberia staff and so, with zero euros between us, we invited him into the reception to let the staff there sort the matter out… which, amazingly, they did! “British Airways?” they enquired as if this were writ in stone of people arriving at such an hour, and quickly issued us with rooms, meal tickets and paid the taxi driver off too – a total result there then! With the time now 04:00 we were all totally knackered and so trooped off to our rooms, of which the hotel claimed 800+ and seemed to be comprised of four accommodation blocks stuck together! Our rooms were predictably in the furthest block but as long as it had a bed I didn’t care by this point and so it was into the room and to sleep without even time to reflect on what had been a decidedly bad start to our South American scooping trip.
Friday 12th October 2007.
Making the best of it.
Having got to bed so late I was asleep almost immediately and thus woke in time for breakfast at 09:00 with the sun glaring through my still-open curtains. Jim appeared, grumbling about the electrics in his room not working (luckily, I’d stayed in similar hotels before and knew to put my card in the main switch inside the door) and off we went to try out the breakfast which, admittedly, was very impressive with a huge buffet ranging from croissants to cooked eggs and chorizo (via most things in-between) which satiated our hunger – we’d not eaten since a butty on the flight from Heathrow the previous evening and I was a lot hungrier than I’d thought!
A quick de-rance later and we’d decided to head off into Madrid in an attempt to salvage something from this enforced stay in the Spanish capital; I’d been there six months previously and remembered where some decent bars were located – including the two brewpubs – so was convinced that we’d be able to have a decent afternoon out with a few drinks before returning for our evening meal and thence a bus back to Terminal 4 to try and reach Santiago again!
The hotel ran a free shuttle bus to the airport every half an hour so we took advantage of that and were quickly at T2 from where I knew we could catch the metro into the centre. My memory served me well as we swiftly located the ticket office where, for the bargain €3.70 each (now €4), we were soon in possession of day tickets for the metro system; be aware that if you’re travelling from the centre to the airport you need to pay an “excess” to do so but this is built into the ticket you purchase from the airport itself.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at our first call, Plaza de España, where Sue and I had begun our trip in March that year; I’d decided to follow our route from then as it would take us around the most attractive bits of the centre and I’d also know where we were going! We admired the touristy bits of Madrid in the glorious autumn sunshine (it was warm and very dry, just what we needed as a respite from the UK’s gloomy dampness) before making for Plaza Santa Ana where all the best bars had been located on our previous visit and, I hoped, we’d be able to scoop most of them in again!
Beer, sherry and wine – don’t mix your drinks!
We began at Naturbier, a brewpub right on the square, where I’d been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the beer on my preceding visit. Once again both beers were very drinkable although I still prefer the Helles (how very Germanic!) with it’s bitter, hoppy leafiness and fresh malty body over the slightly sweeter and burnt Tostado. Jim was becoming increasingly impressed with Madrid’s all-round atmosphere and climate but I told him we were yet to see the best bits – if they were open at noon – including the superb Venencia sherry bar on Calle Echegaray! With our beers supped, we headed off towards this unspoilt little bar which I was desperately hoping would be open…
Luckily for us it was, and so in we went to the murky interior lit by what must be 10-watt bulbs or less; being lunchtime the place was full of locals enjoying a few copas and tapas of the delicious manchego sheep’s cheese and Serrano ham so Jim loitered by the wall whilst I acquired two glasses of Sherry – Olorosso and Palo Cortado – plus the free dish of olives to go with them. “Don’t like olives” muttered the Big Feller, eyeing them with distaste, but he took one anyway and munched on it for a few seconds, spat out the pit, and took a swig of Palo Cortado. He suddenly looked a lot happier with things in general and remarked that he must have had crap olives in the past, although I feel that eating a good one before a swig of sherry in a bar such as we were in is more likely to foster a good impression of them! He was also impressed with the Sherry and, I must admit, if all you’d tasted was the shite generally available in the UK then you’d probably have the same opinion as Jim – and I – had before tasting the real stuff; imagine thinking all beer tasted like Heineken?
With what I assume was siesta time approaching (or even going back to work time) the crowds began to thin out and we managed to bag a table to ourselves and I ordered another round of sherries, this time Fino and Manzanilla, which showed Jim the difference between sherries which are made with flor covering the wine and the other two where the flor dies or recedes allowing the wine to oxidise to some degree. Jim seemed to be getting into the olives now and I had to share the dish with him when I’d expected to be eating the lot… if nothing else this trip had taught Jim that olives aren’t rancid and go very well with sherry!
As I said in the March report for Madrid (from Siberia to Iberia part 2) I’m not sure which Bodega the sherries in Venencia come from and until our visit I wasn’t even sure the casks on the stillage weren’t just there for show, but when I noticed some bottles being filled from one of them I was amazed! Obviously this could simply mean there is a pipe from somewhere to the tap, or even bulk sherry is filled into the cask and dispensed for show into bottles… whatever, it’s good stuff and it’s a shame my Spanish isn’t up to asking where the wines are produced… although we probably scooped them during our trip to Jerez anyway a few years back.
One more round was decided upon owing to the sociable atmosphere and thinning crowds and this time I supplemented our liquid intake with a tapa of manchego sheep’s cheese which, as with the olives, Jim professed not to like but was soon tucking into with gusto – to be fair, most sheep’s cheese in the UK isn’t too pleasant and so this hard, acidic cheese is nothing like most people have tried before – and, like the olives, it goes superbly with sherry! One amusing incident occurred when a tourist took ages setting up a photo of the main room from the stairs and the barman had a rant at him; “No photos!” he shouted, waving his hands, and the tourist quickly sat down again! I’ve no idea why they don’t want phots taken of their superb bar, but I imagine it’s to keep the tourist count to a minimum… I know it sounds a touch hypocritical of me saying keep the tourists out, but I’ve only been to Venencia twice and already it feels like a local and I am very protective of the place!
The first empanada of the trip!
After paying the ludicrously small bill (the barman chalks your rounds on the bar then wipes it off when you pay – how very Uerige-esque!) we made off for some more wine after spotting the Venencia’s cat lurking by the door of the restaurant next door. Our next stop was another wine bar we’d visited in March but not before visiting the surreal and quite unique “museum of empanadas of Galicia” on the north-eastern corner of Plaza Santa Ana; this place sells slices of what can only be described as flat pies with strange ingredients and are absolutely nothing like the pasty-ish empanadas of Argentina but, with hunger beginning to kick in and a few more bars to scoop, it was a very necessary visit! Inside we found we’d missed most of the choices and were left with sardine empanada; bring it on!
This very salty, bone-laden yet extremely tasty concoction was consumed in the blazing afternoon sunshine before we visited the little wine bar in the south-east corner of the square where a decent variety of wines had been available by the glass on our last visit. This proved to still be the case and we availed ourselves of some unusual wines (I can’t remember what they were, but they were slightly unusual) which we supped sat at a glass-covered barrel into which persons unknown had pushed all manner of coinage; there was even a British half-penny in there!
I’d saved the classic Viva Madrid until last… well, this wasn’t strictly true as we’d passed on the way from Venencia to see the door firmly closed, but now I was hoping we’d have chance to visit this superb little place with it’s tiled walls and ceiling looking like something from a pirate’s ship with gnarled beams and carved heads everywhere! On the way we passed the still-closed Magister brewpub (it doesn’t open until around 18:00 and we weren’t waiting that long!) before, with a great wave of relief, I saw the door of the bar was open and in we went.
Inside all was cool and quiet; we sat in the window and watched goings on in the lane outside and supped our cherryish, fruity and very pleasant €2 glasses of Ribiera del Duero peacefully whilst discussing our forthcoming trip. We’d obviously missed our day in Santiago, which I was gutted about, but we would still have five hours in the city when we arrived before our flight across the Andes and so I reasoned we should contact Cristián, my contact there, and arrange to meet up and swap the bottles somewhere convenient before a quick look-around then back to the airport for yet another flight! This agreed we supped up and wandered off back down Echegaray, past the now closed Venencia, to the metro station at Sevilla (which was by the hotel we’d stayed in March) and thence back to the airport.
All went smoothly and we were soon on the minibus back to the hotel where we had a few hours before it was time to stuff ourselves with the evening meal. I tried to sleep but couldn’t and spent an hour or so gazing out of the window, watching planes on their final approach to the airport, hoping that this time we’d actually get going on the main part of the trip; don’t get me wrong, we’d had a good afternoon in Madrid and a good rant, but I was itching to be back in South America as I knew there were many scoops waiting for me there and I was eager to see if I liked Buenos Aires as much as I had the first time around.
The evening meal was, as had been breakfast, surprisingly good and we gorged ourselves on the wide choice of very acceptable choices on offer as well as having a glass or three of the gratis wine to help us sleep on the plane, although this wasn’t nearly as good as that we’d had during the day which probably saved us drinking a bottle each! Our stomachs stuffed with food we spent the next hour on the free internet booths in the hotel, catching up on the news, before we took the minibus to T4 to see if this time we’d be lucky… well, with no Heathrow or British Airways involved, we had a decent chance this time!
Already having boarding cards from the previous evening we proceeded through the extremely confusing airport (surely some signs and screens wouldn’t have wrecked the budget too much?) and thence via the little train to the T4 satellite from where our flight was leaving. After what seemed like a couple of miles travel (and may have been close to that) we arrived at the gate to see the plane being serviced ready for the flight – the longest sector Iberia fly at almost 7000 miles – and, even better, I could see it’s number for my big orange book! With nothing better to do we lounged around waiting for something to go wrong and totally ruin our trip but, this time, the gods were with us and we boarded on-time and took our seats (we were in the middle along with our friend from the night before) for the marathon 13-hour flight down to the bottom of the world.
Saturday 13th October 2007.
We departed a mere 25 minutes late and, as with all other large planes I’ve flown on, I was amazed by how something so enormous – and an Airbus A340-600 is massive! – could fly, but fly she did and we roared into the night sky with, hopefully, our luggage safely aboard; we’d been assured that it would be on the flight but we weren’t convinced at all that this would be the case and I’d very little hope of us seeing our bags on the carousel at Santiago.
I was asleep before the food came around and had to be woken by Big Feller when the rolling riots arrived; I was playing things very sensibly and chose a glass of orange juice to top up my vitamin count before the trip as catching a cold - and losing my taste - must be the worst thing that could happen to me on this trip if you ignore such things as the plane crashing, us getting shot or the many other possibilities which, if you think about them (not a good idea), are actually a lot worse than losing your tastebuds for a few days… as I said, it’s best not to think about such things!
After the distinctly mediocre food I dossed out again and, apart from a bog-visit during the night, I slept solidly until awakening with our position on the screens showing as somewhere over southern Brazil… 8 hours doss, thank you very much! Apparently I’d been snoring but no one seemed that bothered by my nocturnal ALCo impressions and so we tucked into our breakfast – once again, very ordinary – in preparation for our scooping of another country. In Jim’s case this would be the 5th continent he’d ticked having been around the world six years previously and so South America would make it a full set apart from Antarctica… well, there’s always another year for that!
We approached the Andes and I craned my neck to see them as phots I’d seen had been impressive; they looked very large and snow-capped and so I went, camera in hand, through to the other side of the plane to obtain a few phots. As I passed through the galley the waitress, seeing my camera, pretended to pose and I had to tell her that, beautiful as she was, it was the Andes I wanted photos of… (to be honest she wasn’t particularly beautiful, but I didn’t want to be too rude just in case she spat in my coffee).
One of the surprising things on the A340-600 is the “tailcam” which looks down from the tail onto the aircraft and had been switched on for takeoff; now, as we began our descent, it came on again and we were treated to an approach that I can only describe as amazing; the huge aircraft threaded it’s way through what must have been a valley with surprising dexterity for such a hefty plane, all played through the screens to which I – and most of the passengers – sat transfixed by the amazing spectacle of such immense mountains in close up. I ventured a look out of the window, it being difficult to judge on the screens just how far away from the peaks we were, and we seemed very close to some of them…
Suddenly, the Andes ended and the aircraft dived sharply into the clouds below; I’d heard the approach was a steep one but I’d not expected such a big dipper-like ride and my stomach was left several thousand feet up in the air! Ten minutes later we had touched down in Santiago, ten minutes early, and as we taxied to our stand I felt the same as the first time I’d landed in Argentina the previous year with a mixture of trepidation, desperation and just plain excitement whirling around in my stomach which had by now been reunited with my body.
There at last.
Upon disembarking we stiffly shuffled along to baggage reclaim where both Jim and I felt 99% certain we wouldn’t see our bags… ten minutes later, with all manner of luggage circulating on the belt apart from ours, it seemed as if we’d been proved right until – sailing serenely through the hatch – came my bag! I cackled with joy as I grabbed the tatty specimen from the belt and examined it for damage to the beers – none was apparent, all 9 had survived the trip it seemed, now all we had to do was wait for Jim’s rucksack… which appeared shortly after mine! We were both amazed as to the appearance of our luggage and realised we’d severely underestimated the skill of the baggage handlers at the various airports in transferring bags!
All was not well with Jim’s bag, however… “Smells of beer in here” he muttered, head in the bag, and so when he pulled out the carefully constructed supermarket winebox full of beer (it was ringed with bubblewrap, as was each bottle, so despite it’s Heath Robinson appearance I’d been fairly optimistic about their survival) I was dismayed to see beer dripping from it and the box itself looking rather travel-worn… upon closer investigation it transpired that one of the bottles – Corvedale Summer – had either blown or been crushed in transit and the resulting beer slick had impregnated Jim’s clothes with ale! All I could do was apologise for my tardy packing of the ale and offer some of my clothes wash fluid for the use of, but for now we shouldered our bags and headed, via an x-ray machine, for the exit and a new country.
Once out in the arrivals hall I looked around for anyone resembling a scooper; no-one was obvious and my name wasn’t on any of the placards being held aloft by hopeful-looking taxi drivers and the like. Leaving Jim to sort out his bag I went for a more thorough investigation of the hall but still found no-one; I was sure we’d arranged to meet and so, after getting out some money and transferring ourselves to the bus stop to avoid the persistent yet friendly taxi drivers touting for business, I rang Cristián to see where he was…
He sounded surprised to hear from me so early but a move was quickly arranged; Jim and I would take the bus to Los Heroes and meet him and David there where we could swap our cargo of beers and then they would drive us around the city on a whirlwind tour before dropping us back off at the bus station again… it would be a brief visit, but at least we’d get to see the city and – to me, more importantly – I’d get my first cache of winners!
Chile was a new country for my list and as Per had told me he’d tasted some decent brews there I was ready to sample as many as possible; shame BA had fucked up the trip and made us a day late as I’d really been looking forwards to the crawl around Santiago… ah well, nothing we could do about that now, so I purchased the bus tickets for a most reasonable £2 return and on we got for the half-hour trek into the centre of Santiago.
The beer swap – on a park bench.
I’m not quite sure what I expected of Santiago but I think that, seeing as Chile’s economy is (and has been for a while) far stronger than Argentina’s, I expected a far more opulent and – for want of a better word – attractive city than we saw on the journey into the centre. Don’t read this wrong, there was nothing horrible or dodgy-looking about it, but I think I just expected something different to what is reality! We eventually arrived at Los Heroes bus terminal which was, in reality, a layby in the centre of the superbly-named Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, the main drag through the city, where we began the arduous task of sorting out the bottles for the impending beer swap; Cristián had rung me to say he’d be five minutes and so, a mere hour after arriving in Santiago, our first major beer exchange was on!
All my bottles had survived and, once they were unpacked, I turned my attention to the shambles in Jim’s bag. The Corvedale bottle had indeed exploded but, as it was ensconsed in bubble wrap, the shards of glass were restricted to one very soggy, beer-soaked and glass filled package that dripped beer all over the floor as I transferred it to the nearest bin. The other bottles were fine and they were arranged in a row to dry the beer which had seeped onto most of them owing to the carnage in the Corvedale package.
Cristián and David soon arrived carrying a surprisingly large box in which, even from a distance, I could see a worrying number of bottles… I must state now I had little idea what either of my fellow scoopers looked like but the site of two blokes carrying a box of random beers isn’t that common and convinced me that these were my comrades in beer! After the preliminary greetings (they both spoke some English to aid my terrible Spanish) I presented them with my ten surviving bottles of beer which they greeted with huge smiles and much enthusiasm; I’d chosen micro-brewed beer from around Worcestershire and so the list comprised of
All the beers were bottle-conditioned and from small brewers so I hoped to give the Santiago Ratebeer crew (for there are more!) a good range of beers they’d never find in Chile – although I knew that some UK beers such as Sam Smiths, Greede Kerching and Fullers could be found with increasing regularity; lucky them!
Then the fun started; bottle after bottle (plus a couple of fourpacks) came from their box and I realised that there was no way all these scoops would fit into the original packaging and some would have to either take their chance in the main bags – not a good option – or be put into our carry-on bags; we’d cross that bridge when we came to it, I thought, as more and more bottles came from the capacious box. 17 bottles in all came our way, all from Chilean micros, and I think it’s fair to say there was mutual beer comradeship felt all around at Los Heroes at that moment in time!
Santiago – a whirlwind tour.
With just over an hour to go before we needed to be back on airport bus, our guides suggested that they could drive us around the centre to give us an idea of what we’d have experienced had BA managed to get us to Madrid in time. Back at their car, parked on the pavement blocking a building site entrance, we thought at first they’d be booked by the resident traffic warden but, after they explained the situation, she waved us off with a smile – cultural differences, eh? Imagine this happening back in the UK… so off we went with David driving and Cristián doing his bit as a tour guide explaining what the various building we were passing were. We now saw the more impressive side to Santiago and it did look very Spanish in parts with more than a hint of Barcelona in much of the architecture – this was more like it, and I was even more gutted we’d missed a day wandering around here and an evening scooping beers in the many bars…
At one point I noticed some rails in the road we were travelling along; hellfire, I’d just seen a remnant of Santiago’s long-destroyed tramway system! Sadly the rails soon petered out and so we gazed at the varied architecture of Santiago which had been adorned with some fascinating graffiti which seemed to be mainly left-wing and revolutionary. Unfortunately we were too early for any of the bars to be open but we paused at one of the best, the Backstage, where we obtained a copy of their beer list – gutted? You bet I was… just about every Chilean micro that we’d not already been given was on the list and a night in there would have been extremely productive to the cause! I resolved there and then that Santiago hadn’t seen the last of me and a return trip was necessary at the earliest possible opportunity!
We stormed back along Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins where we parted company with our friends Cristián and David; we wished each other well and I promised I’d be back as soon as I could to sample yet more beers from Chile; Jim and I had already mooted a Patagonia trip in the future with visits to Santiago and Buenos Aires (for some scoops!) and so, as we waved our comrades goodbye, it was with a much more positive attitude about the whole trip that we strode back to Los Heroes and the bus; yes, British Airways and Heathrow had managed to ruin our day in Santiago, but we’d be back – and we had 17 scoops clinking away in our rucksacks for our pleasure later on!
You find scoops in the strangest places – part 1.
With a bus every ten minutes we weren’t concerned about rushing for the one already sat there but we made it anyhow; you know how, if you rush for a bus/train/other transport, how it contrives to leave just as you approach it? Well, we walked slowly up to this one and it didn’t budge until we were sat down whereupon it left – I think the lesson is not to run, just walk!
Half an hour later and we were back at the airport where we sorted out our hold luggage; despite my best efforts we couldn’t fit all the beers in our bags and so I asked at the LAN Chile desk if liquids were allowed in baggage a mano (hand luggage), just in case the rules here were different, but no – no liquids in hand luggage was the message and we now had five beers to drink before we checked in! So, selecting a suitable row of seats where we could sup in relative peace, I chose five beers to drink and thus, sat in the departures hall of Arturo Benitez airport, the scooping part of the trip began in earnest! Okay, so in reality our first scoop had been on the plane, but that had felt like a bonus tick (and anyhow it was Bolivian!) so now we had the chance to get a few in the book…
With no vessels to drink from it would have to be straight from the bottle – not the best way to appreciate the beers I know, but needs must and all that… We began with Austral Lager from the Antarctic region of Chile (the brewery claims to be the furthest south in the world although I’m sure Beagle in Argentina shades it) and found it to be a very average, slightly grassy, plain lager – not the start I’d hoped for, but there was time yet! Next up came Del Puerto Amber which I could tell, holding the bottle up to one of the extremely bright and ideal-for-examining-beer arclights above, was more of an “Irish Red” style brew of which I’ve rarely had an interesting example, even in Ireland with the noble exception of Porterhouse, but I was up for anything in our current situation!
The usual thick, toffee-ish maltiness was evident in the aroma – sniffed straight from the top of the bottle, hardcore! – but this was joined in the flavour by a decent bitterness which cut through the cloying malt and left a moreish finish with a good balance; this brewery could teach a few European brewers a thing or two about Irish Reds! Next, despite a security guard lurking nearby, I cracked open another Del Puerto bottle, this time Pale Ale but sadly this one didn’t live up to the quality of the last being a rather plain amber brew with little in the way of hops although the malty body was tasty enough.
Next came a beer I’d refused during my last visit; Bolson (from Argentina) Cassis, a blackcurrant beer, which I’d no real intention of trying but as it had been given to us by the Santiago crew I reasoned we may as well try it… sadly, all my preconceptions were 100% right, with a sickly “ribena” aroma and sickly-sweet, sticky, horribly cloying taste with no beer managing to get above the all-consuming nauseating fruit – a few sips convinced me that it wasn’t a beer I wanted to drink – was it even a beer? – so the bottle was surreptitiously slid under the chairs to await it’s fate at the hands of the cleaners later!
Another Austral brew came next, a fruit beer, but I hoped this one would be a teeny bit better than the previous rubbish; made with the local wild Calafate berry (or Magellan Barberry) it had an unusual sour, redcurrant-like aroma and taste over a slight maltiness and, despite the berry flavour being understated, it was very well executed with a tangy sharpness from the fruit and plenty of complexity – and, most importantly, no cloying sweetness!
You find scoops in the strangest places – part 2.
Our surplus beers disposed of by environmentally friendly means it was time to check-in for our flight to Buenos Aires. This was accomplished with very little fuss and so off we went through security to see what airside would have in store for us; once again, customs was easily negotiated and we were soon mooching around the shops stuffed with tat which seemingly infest every airport worldwide; everything’s the same wherever you are, queue up to consume, Capitalism has won! I was, however, seriously tempted by a bottle of the local speciality spirit, Pisco, for the princely sum of US$5 (the prices were in dollars, surely another sign of an insidious multinational controlling force?) but as I was sure we’d have enough to drink without necking 40% spirits I wisely left it on the shelf…
At the gate we saw that the promised LAN Chile Boeing 767 had been replaced by an Airbus A340, thus depriving me of a plane type scoop, but I wasn’t worried about that and was just glad after our aircraft exploits of recent times that there was physically a plane there! With an hour to pass we wandered around yet more shops, posing next to a huge plastic model of a Rapa Nui Moaia (Easter Island head) for a token “amusing holiday photo”, but then we saw a bar called Fritz with beer on tap – could this be a couple of bonus winners for the book?
Closer inspection revealed that yes, this bar served Kunstmann beers (they used to be a micro but expanded and are now owned by CCU who are in turn owned by Heineken), and both were scoops! Technically the brewery was a winner although we had a bottle of their Gran Torobayo in my bag which, hopefully, was being loaded into the plane’s hold as we surveyed the taps, but we decided that we may as well avail ourselves of the beer and food just to spend some more of the Pesos of which I’d unwisely withdrawn far too many!
One large burger-type meal later we were finishing off the beers which weren’t particularly interesting but, then again, I’ve not scored a lot of beers in airports so was thankful for small mercies; the Rubia was a pale, fizzy, bland identikit lager but the dark brown Bok had some caramelly notes to raise the bar a smidgeon, although I don’t think that I would recommend either of them except as a desperate airport scoop!
We boarded early and were on our way quickly, although our lack of window seats meant we didn’t have the hoped-for views of the Andes as the plane launched into a very steep climb to crest the summit of the jagged mountains I could see approaching. Craning my neck to peer out of the nearest window I could see the same glorious views we’d been treated to on the approach and was slightly gutted that the plane was full and we hadn’t been able to secure seats with a view… we soon settled into the cruise and were treated to a very good snack after which I indulged in a quick doze until the big Airbus started it’s descent and we were soon coming in over the familiar grid-pattern suburbs I remember so well from last time; it felt strange to be back so soon, and I couldn’t wait to be back in one of my favourite cities.
Arrival at Ezeiza was as relaxed as my previous visit and the queues took only ten minutes before we were released into the arrivals hall although we were lucky to miss the super-desperate Ada in booth 7 who took ten times longer than the other officers to process each passport! With the time being after 17:00 I’d decided to bite the bullet and ching out for the super-expensive coach direct to Puerto Madero purely to save time as we couldn’t really spare the 90+ minutes on the local bus, although paying ARG$32 each really grated as opposed to ARG$1.50 on the slow No.86 bus! Time was of the essence, however, and so after acquiring some ching from the same ATM I’d used last time (which still knew my name!) I reluctantly parted with £4.50 each for the Manuel Tienda Léon coach.
The taxi drivers were notably less persistent and a lot more helpful than on my last visit – when we declined their offers they simply pointed to the bus stop with a smile – so we trudged along the walkway to where a coach was waiting. We were soon aboard and on our way with the driver obviously in a rush as we pulled off the main elevated road within 20 minutes of leaving the airport and then stormed towards Puerto Madero. Argentina were playing Chile at football and a radio somewhere on the bus was blasting out a live feed from the game at high volume which, thus far, had been mainly a bloke gibbering in Spanish and lots of the usual football noises, but suddenly the other passengers on the bus erupted into a bout of cheering and – I’m not making this up - the commentator launched into one of those marathon “gooooooal” shouts of which the “ooo” bit lasted, and I timed it, 20 seconds; he must be a dolphin, I mused, and breathe through a hole in his head!
We were soon at the Puerto Madero depot and so, shouldering our bags which suddenly felt very heavy indeed, headed towards Retiro park and our hotel, the Gran Dora, situated on Maipu. My contact in Buenos Aires, Nicolás, had kindly booked us the Central Cordoba for the Sunday to Thursday nights but we had to make do with another hotel for Saturday and so I’d opted for the Dora owing to it’s proximity to the Cordoba which facilitated only a short walk in the morning with our heavy bags!
Easing in slowly.
One thing I hadn’t told Jim about – and had kind of forgotten myself – was that the city was rather hillier than it looked and, as we stomped up through Retiro park, breathing heavily, I was glad we’d be dumping our bags for the rest of the week the next morning! Hotel Dora was soon found and a quick check-in saw us up in our room within five minutes, although despite the hotel’s luxurious lobby the rooms had certainly seen better days and ours was distinctly average for the USD$90 price tag, reinforcing my decision to stay in the Central Cordoba for the rest of the week at close to half the price for much better rooms!
I filled the mini-bar with our bottles of beer for later on and we had half an hour of relaxation after a very long day of travelling before it was time to ease Big Feller into the city slowly by way of a wander to Rubia y Negra, the poshest brewpub in the city by far! This walk, whilst only ten minutes in duration, would show him quite a few sides to the city and, anyway, I had an ulterior motive as we’d not have time to visit again owing to our packed and hectic schedule for the rest of the week.
Along Marcelo Alvear we walked, past one of the Irish bars that claimed it’s own house beer, (which may be Dalinger stout – or may not!) where the tug of a possible scoop dragged my path towards the door… until we saw the price and decided against it! We then crossed the 10 lanes of mayhem which is the Avenida 9 de Julio then turned right into Libertad and followed the road down the gentle incline to the brewpub. Along the way we passed some attractive squares, statues and architecture and Jim was impressed – “It’s nowt like I thought it would be” he said, and I agreed that was exactly what I’d thought the first time I’d arrived, although I mentioned that this was the really exclusive bit and there were plenty of places we’d see during the week on a different social strata entirely…
The door to the brewpub soon appeared and we clattered up the stairs to see what beers were available. I knew that we were in time for happy hour which was a good thing as the beer prices in Rubia y Negra (gold and black) are stratospheric and top even London’s, although this is to keep the clientele “exclusive” and during the happy hour prices are almost reasonable with 2 for the price of 1! I pointed out the cute little brewplant above the bar whilst examining the menu for scoops but Jim was ahead of me already; “What’s this Oktoberfest?” he asked, gesturing towards a chalked menu on the wall, so that was my first beer on order along with my second favourite of their beers, the stout, as tragically the jewel in their crown - barley wine - wasn’t available, although that was probably a good thing considering the state of me after a pint of it last time!
The Oktoberfest (5%) was a deep amber beer and was a very good attempt at the style which, had it been served to me blind, I’d have sworn was about as Bavarian as they come. A toasty, malty aroma was followed by a sweetish, nutty and malty taste with more toast and a final rich grain flourish with a hint of dryness. Jim’s stout was as good as I remembered it with a full, rich roastiness which veered towards coffee and charcoal with a long toasted dryness in the burnt grain aftertaste and he was impressed with both beers; I’d tried my best to convince him that Argentine beer wasn’t – as I’d originally expected it to be – pale fizzy crap with no character to it whatsoever but these two beers might have done more convincing than I did!
We finished with one more round, Jim opting for the delicious stout again in lieu of any Barley wine, whilst I asked for the Trigo (wheat beer) as this was the one of the permanent beers I’d not had last time. The barman told me it wasn’t available but then, thinking about this, gestured for me to wait a while: a few minutes later he returned with a glass of trigo which, by the looks of things, he’d just put onto one of the taps! Tasting it, however, he needn’t have bothered as it didn’t taste ready to me with a thin, wheaty, grainy mouthfeel and a very “green” finish; not the most pleasant beer I’ve had in Argentina, but at least I had the consolation that it was a winner! Jim’s stout was just the job to wash the taste away – much to his chagrin – and so, as we drained our glasses, that was the end of our first day in Argentina; we decided to pay up (ARG$32, or £5, for 4 halves of beer – glad it was happy hour!) and head back.
We walked back via Del Libertador highway, the multi-lane racetrack which passes Retiro station, and called in for some empanadas at the superb Torre de Retiro restaurant on the corner of Maipu. This place is a mainly a restaurant but also serves some of the best empanadas I’ve tried in Buenos Aires which, at night or if you ask, will be served “caliente” or hot – not microwaved but placed in the pizza oven for a minute! The choice is the traditional trinity of carne (beef), jamon y queso (ham and cheese) and pollo (chicken, pronounced “pozho”) but, by this time of the evening, supplies of the chicken variety had run out so we made do with four carne and four ham & cheese! Back at the hotel Jim got his first taste of the phenomenon that is empanadas and he seemed impressed; I was just as impressed that they were as good as my last visit and still only ARG$2 a go; 30p for a delicious little pasty is the way to go!
A couple of beers were managed before doss; Austral Pale Ale (5%) was a reasonably bland malty beer with nothing really of interest, and Hunstmann Gran Torobayo (7.5%, their best beer according to the Santiago Ratebeer crew) was very toffeeish and sweet, maybe too much so for comfort, with a touch of dryness which failed to balance the slightly spicy toffee-maltiness out although I’ve had a lot worse… that was enough as we were both knackered by this point and so we decided to cart all the bottles across to the Central Cordoba in the morning for consumption later in the week…
Sunday 14th October 2007.
“Prescott, phone for you!”.
We awoke fairly early and got our stuff together for the transfer of hotels across to the Central Cordoba. I’d stayed there on our previous trip and had been impressed with the general quality for the price (around £14 each a night) so this would be our base for the next five days; the hotel is in a great location for getting around the city with the three Retiro rail stations five minutes walk through the park, a Subte station even closer, and also it’s easy to reach at night as a high percentage of colectivos (buses) either terminate or call at Retiro so after-pub travel is relatively easy!
After a quick breakfast of ham, cheese and coffee in what was basically the lobby we paid up and wandered across to San Martín where the Central Cordoba is situated, just behind the Marriott, where insecure tourists who are afraid of staying in the “real” city pay 10 times more than we were about to for the privilege of having besuited porters fawning over them but as we passed they just looked bored. It felt good to be back in the city and, as we walked across Retiro in the warming spring sunshine with the trees just coming into full leaf and birds singing all around, all the problems of the last two days were receding into memory and I knew we had five and a half days in which to explore more of this fascinating city.
Sunday, however, had a rather different slant on it; I’d arranged a memorable trip out with the help of both Nicolás the local scooper and Luís from Murray’s brewery and we had a full day of activities on the cards including a visit to Cardos brewery, a meal at a restaurant, a visit to the Stone brewpub and then on to another, Ceres, before returning to our hotel – quite a packed schedule and the prospect of many scoops for me and a comprehensive if a little frenzied introduction to the city for Jim!
We arrived at the Central Cordoba and I was pleased to see the same faces behind reception who had greeted us the last time; we’d arranged to check in later on that day but we felt that as we’d be out in the suburbs we would try and get sorted early on. I think the man behind the counter recognised me from last time and grinned broadly as I explained we were early and could we possibly check in now? After a quick scan of the room plan he said that it would be no problem but we’d need to wait in the strange upstairs lobby for our room to be prepared and confirmed the cost would be ARG$180 a night and so, everything agreed, we clambered up the steep steps to await proceedings.
I’d tried to ring Nicolás the previous evening but had received an “unobtainable” on his number and so I was hoping that our arrangement to meet at the Central Cordoba at 10:30 would still be on when suddenly the manager shouted up that there was a phone call for me! On the phone was Nicolás, who sounded relieved to get hold of me; “We shall be there in half an hour” he declared, which suited us just fine – time to get in the room, get our stuff unpacked and then we were out on what sounded like a superb day out and something I’d guess not many beery visitors to Buenos Aires have done: toured some breweries!
Half an hour later and we were in Luís’ Peugeot 406 and heading out through Palermo into the warm and sunny morning. In the car, along with Jim and myself, were Luís and Martín from Murrays’s brewery (their IPA was my favourite beer of 2006) and Nicolás the local beer scooper and we made a happy crowd as we hurtled along the motorway westwards from the city heading for Escobar, the home of Barba Roja brewery, where we could start the day’s scratching with a few of their slightly lacklustre and safe brews.
I know South American driving has a bad name – much in the same vein as Italian – and I was relieved to see that Luís was a far more restrained driver than many of his bretheren, although we still achieved unnervingly high speeds as we overtook trucks, vans and a multitude of ancient vehicles on the modern motorway. At one point we pulled up at a toll gate where we joined a 20-deep queue of traffic waiting for the gates; suddenly, horns started to blast all around us and within a few seconds seemingly every vehicle was sounding it’s horn at nothing obvious! Luís informed us that if the queues get too big then the gates must be opened to allow cars through so, with this aural encouragement for the staff to open the barriers, the drivers were attempting to evade the toll! A good try, but the gates remained in operation and we paid the 2-peso toll where, at the kiosk, was a large sign forbidding the use of horns…!
Off we went again and I marvelled at the appalling driving all around us as cars swerved, cut in and did just about anything to be in front of the others… it seemed as if I were in some computer driving game and any second we’d collect a bonus by barging some truck out of the way! Suddenly, we swung across all lanes towards a junction, and a short distance later we pulled into Barba Roja which far from being an isolated brewpub as I’d thought was some kind of huge theme park with all kinds of activities for families and complete with staff dressed as pirates! (Barba Roja means red beard and is supposedly named after a local pirate).
We browsed the shop where I picked up the last two beers produced there I wanted to drink (the others are flavoured lagers which sound gross), then we sat in the café for a quick coffee as we were too early for the pub to open, although the service was so poor that Luís had to go and request the drinks himself from the shop staff! Half an hour later the pub had opened and so we risked a swift Negra Fuerte (their best beer in all our opinions apart from Jim who’d not tried any of their beers previously). A 75cl bottle (their beers are all filtered and, I think, pasteurised so they have only a tenuous link to being a artesanal brewery in reality) was connected, upside-down, to a strange plastic barrel on which we could then pump the bottle with air and serve the beer via a little tap! Slightly surreal and definitely more style – if you call a plastic barrel style that is – than substance, as the beer was reasonably bland even for a strong dark beer, but it got the day off to a beery start I suppose…
I want one!
With Barba Roja’s best beer consumed and judged by all concerned to be conspicuously “average” it was therefore time to head off in search of more palatable brews at our arranged visit to the Cardos brewery in nearby Los Cardales, or “thistle town”. A short drive later and we pulled up outside a very rural building with very little happening around us; some cars passed by, cows grazed in a field which seemed to stretch into infinity and some noisy birds flapped and squawked in a nearby tree. As I said, not a lot was occurring in Los Cardales.
Luís rang Gustavo, the brewer, who soon pulled up and so our party was now eight – Luís and Martín from Murrays, Gustavo and two others from Cardos, Nicolas the Buenos Aires scooper plus Jim and myself – a fairly tight squeeze in the small yet perfectly formed brewery! The small brewing vessels (I’d guess 2.5 barrels or there about) were at the far end and I gazed at them enviously; I’d love a setup like this back home! The next room housed row upon row of bottles conditioning on shelves before being labelled plus a freezer where the hops were stored, then the final area was the cold-conditioning room – basically a giant fridge – with four large plastic tanks used to finish off the beers’ maturation phase. All in all a very petite yet highly desirable little place and at that moment I wished it was mine!
Gustavo talked us through the whole procedure in Spanish (he spoke very little English but his compatriots helped us out!) and we were even shown his first homebrewing pan which indicated just how much he’d expanded his output of beer! With the tour at an end – there’s only so long you can look around a brewery ten metres by three – we piled into the cars and sped off towards the restaurant in the nearby village of Capilla del Señor where a table had been booked for us at 13:00 to indulge in some local food… as we headed out into the hinterland I remembered that I’d been here before, on my last trip, although we’d arrived on one train, stomped across to the other station, and then left without seeing much at all so it would be nice to have a second opinion – especially one which included a lomo!
We arrived at a rustic-looking building with a small sign proclaiming it to be “Había Una Vez Fonda” in the almost deserted village which gave the impression we may see a tumbleweed round the corner any second; the colonial architecture and quiet “frontier town” feel was a million miles from the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires and I suddenly felt a very long way away from home. We filed into the restaurant where I was surprised to see that this wasn’t some ordinary eatery but what seemed like a family home which just happened to serve visitors with food; the garden was scattered with household objects (plus a very old motorbike for sale!) and the walls inside had a very random assortment of pictures and oddities from around the world on them – not your usual European eating place then!
We sat at a large table and soon the menus came around; I was delighted to see lomo on the list and so that was my order, although the suffix “disco” sounded a tad dubious – from a dancing cow, perhaps? There was a large range of all manner of local starters but before I could choose one it was made known that a helping of each one would be available for tasting and so that was my meal sorted! The owner, an affable bloke with the perfect manner to be in his position, collected the orders and strode off to the kitchen to get started, which was the signal for Gustavo to call for the beer to be delivered to our table: bottles of Cardos’ beers (pilsener, cream stout, Scottish ale and barley wine) were uncapped and prepared for tasting (our wine glasses had been quickly replaced by more chunky and appropriate beer ones) and the moment I’d been waiting for had arrived!
I’d sampled the cream stout in Cossab during my previous visit and it had impressed me greatly, scoring four out of five, so I was particularly enthusiastic to sample the complete Cardos range and here, in a restaurant to which I could probably count the number of English who had visited previously on one hand, surrounded by brewers and fellow beer lovers seemed a particularly opportune moment to do so. I began with the pilsener (6%) and it was a stunner; a deep golden brew with a herby hop aroma, rich malty body with plenty of biscuity sweetness then a dry, bitter, hoppy yet still full-bodied and grainy taste which reminded me quite a bit of the better Czech 12° beers I’ve tried – it was a distinctly Moravian brew with it’s full malt taste overlain with herby, bitter hops and certainly could pass for one in a blind tasting – quite an achievement considering the Czech republic was over 7,000 miles away!
Scottish ale (6%) was next and I wasn’t as impressed by this one, although it’s the whole “style” of phenolically-smoked beers (as opposed to the smokey bacon Franconian ones) that just misses me totally… smoked malt in whisky is fine, beechwood-smoked in beer is delicious, but for me peat-smoked malt in beer is a very hit-or-miss affair with the misses far outweighing the hits in my experience. I conveyed to Gustavo that I thought it was a well-brewed beer, true to style, but I just didn’t like peatsmoke and then went on to explain that there are no Scottish beers tasting anything like this – I really hope I didn’t shatter his illusions about Scotland!
Before I could embark on the stout our starters arrived and we all tucked in after much clinking of glasses and bellowing of “cheers” in a wide variety of languages – I think we managed a dozen between us including Spanish, Portuguese, English, Welsh, French, Italian, German, Danish, Czech and a few others I forget! I can’t remember all the starters although I was amazed by their quality and flavour with a gooey baked cheese and lovely spinachy potato cake being the outstanding dishes, although all were impressive to me; Jim was sat at the far end of the table and he seemed to be enjoying himself, discussing travel with one of the Cardos team, so I figured he didn’t need me interrupting and so settled back to enjoy some more beer and food!
The stout was next up and I was happy to say that this particular example exceeded my previous score by half a point! A well-balanced and dry black beer with a distinctive chalky roastiness in the mouth, very well balanced and constructed, then it turned dry, slightly bitter yet still soft and with a “burnt matches” and coffee in the finish; very Cork in style with it’s chalky roast rather than the dry, burnt grain of Dublin and Gustavo seemed particularly pleased by my opinion of this one. Now I don’t want anyone to think I’m one of these beer writers who goes off on loads of jollies funded by brewers (although this one was…!) and gives everything – no matter how dire – top marks just to curry favour; anyone who knows me well will know this isn’t the case, but you’ll just have to believe me that these beers were really good and that it wasn’t just the excellent food and company bumping up the scores…
I had time for a quick snifter of the barley wine (12%) before my steak arrived but I wasn’t prepared for a beer like this one! Most barley wines are huge, strong, palate-blasters and a glass of that is generally enough for me (although the Argentines seem good at stronger beers) but this was a stunner! It was an amber brew with a gorgeously inviting hue of ruby shot through it, the aroma was beguilingly winey and malty with just a hint of fruitiness but the real surprise was the subtle and complex flavour; a full maltiness, without being too heavy, was joined by a strawberry fruitiness, Madeira, toffee, some dryness and a hint of alcohol burn although all the flavours were integrated into one smooth wholeness rather than milling around the tongue causing mischief as is common in such strong beers. To get a 12% beer so balanced and subtle yet still very drinkable is an artform – and this beer is a masterpiece!
Five out of five then for the Barley wine (almost my top score, although only 3 beers have scored higher than five!) although my enthusiastic imbibing of lethally strong beers mid-afternoon was cut short by the arrival of my lomo disco; there was nothing obviously tuneful about it and so I cut off a piece for sensory evaluation; this didn’t take long and at that moment, eating the best steak of my life (yes, even better than Desnivel!) and with three 4 to 5 scoring beers on the table, I suddenly felt that life didn’t get much better than it was at that moment.
I munched my way through the superb steak and marvelled at how Argentine beef can be succulent, tender, fibrous yet melt-in-the-mouth and tasty all at the same time – we’re lucky in Worcester to have some excellent butchers around who sell very good, properly hung, local Herefordshire beef but it’s just not quite up to the standards of Argentina! Five minutes later I had a huge smile on my face as I pushed the plate away and picked up my glass of barley wine; “cheers!” I said, and tried to take a mental sensory snapshot of that moment to keep with me for many years to come – one of my best meals ever, surrounded by sociable beer-lovers, drinking superb artesanal beers in a village far off the tourist map… that’s what I call enjoyment!
I explained to Gustavo, with help from the others who patched up my atrocious Spanish, that I was a really big fan of his barley wine and said that to get all the flavours integrated rather than bouncing off each other was a massive achievement and he should be very proud of this beer; once again he was extremely pleased although I really hope he didn’t think I was just saying all this because he was there! We stayed on for at least another hour, talking about beer, politics, sport (well, some of them did) and other things whilst drinking more and more of the excellent beers until the owners began clearing the plates away and we felt as if we’d been there long enough and made moves to leave. As we visited the outside facilities the owner was anxious to explain to me the secret of my “disco” lomo – he showed me the disc from a plough which had been modified to cook steaks over the stove and he proudly said that he used “little salt but many herbs” to flavour the meat; I replied that whatever he’d used it had been superb – and I wasn’t just saying that, it really had been the best steak I’d ever eaten!
We said our goodbyes to the eminently gregarious Cardos people who seemed genuinely pleased that we had enjoyed their beers, so much so that Lucas the salesman promised to deliver some beers to our hotel for us to take home! I’d worked out how much our food had cost (plus a contribution to the beer consumption) and offered Gustavo a 100 peso note but he waved it away; “On me!” he said, despite my efforts to persuade him to take at least some money from us… just how sociable is that?
Back in Luís’ car the atmosphere was one of comradely bonhomie as we set off for our next stop, the Stone brewpub at Pilar, where we had a brewery tour arranged as well as the opportunity to sample some of the brewery’s hoppy and tasty beers. A mere half an hour later we pulled up outside Stone, situated just off a busy dual carriageway, to find the doors securely locked and what looked like some of the staff sitting outside… this was a strange situation, as the place should have been open by this time! Suddenly, a battered car squealed to a halt, and out jumped a bloke who actually did look like he’d lived in America (the owners apparently worked at Stone before returning home) and so in we went.
There was bad news, however, as Luís was told they weren’t open for an hour and – even worse – the guy who’d promised us a tour of the brewery was a mystery to the staff! We decided to nip off for a swift drink and return an hour later and so we drove over to what I can only describe as a themed restaurant enclave a mile or so away where I scored Isenbeck, one of the local industrial lagers, and sure enough it was a golden, gassy, dry and almost tasteless fluid despite it’s claims to be “100% malt”… excuse my cynicism, but doesn’t malt generally taste of – well – malt? Ah well, another scoop in the book, and we were soon back in the car and heading back towards Stone in the hope of securing the tour and tasting some beers on our second attempt.
This time we were in luck; the front door was open and so we quickly bagged ourselves a good table and examined the menus. I’d scooped four of their beers on my last trip and wasn’t sure how many I’d need here, if any, but it turned out that I required another four although – to all our dismay as apparently it’s their best beer – the porter was off! Luís secured a brewery tour for us in half an hour’s time and so, with matters sorted, we began to sample the beers.
The golden ale wasn’t a good start being a reasonably thin, dry and only slightly hoppy brew with little to get excited about in it’s makeup. Red was next and this was in the same mould of beer; nothing too interesting, a decent if plain toffee flavour and despite being a decent try at the Irish Red style – which is notoriously difficult to do well and with a bit of taste – it was ultimately rather boring. Pale ale came last and at least this one had a touch of the citrussy, zingy hop taste I’d appreciated with the beers in the centre of the city during the previous year, but stopped short of giving the proper hop blast we’d all been hoping for.
Our tour of the brewery showed me that this wasn’t a small outfit such as Cardos but a much larger and, presumably, far more expensive installation by virtue of much copper having been used to create the large kettles. The fermenters were full and bubbling away yet, being conicals, we couldn’t see anything apart from what was tagged the “yeast overflow” pipes which bubbled away in buckets of water below the tanks. That was that, and so now it was time to head back into Buenos Aires proper for our final visit of the evening, the Ceres brewpub in San Fernando, situated in one of the city’s posher suburbs.
Not worth the wait…
Having said our goodbyes to Martín, the remaining four of us carried on along the busy motorway towards the city centre and, half an hour later, we parked up outside the Ceres brewpub at around 22:30 where it was clear that the English members of the party were flagging a little! The place was packed and so we had to wait for a table for around twenty minutes; I hoped it would be worth standing around in the entrance as I was getting more and more tired and would have hated to have nodded off in the queue…
Eventually we took our places and, by this point incredibly hungry, we ordered a huge pizza to stave off starvation for a few hours. Three beers were available on draught – the usual suspects of rubia (called helles here), roja and negra – so we immediately made a start with the rubia which was obviously infected and we all decided shouldn’t have been on sale; not a very auspicious beginning, then! The pizza arrived with our second beer, roja, so we munched on wedges of admittedly delicious and quite authentic pizza whilst supping the brownish beer; this one wasn’t infected and actually possessed a decent toasty-sweet and grainy flavour before a very slight bitterness, yet was lacking the guts and flavour required of a good beer.
With our pizza demolished in record time and everyone reaching beer overload (we’d been out for over 14 hours by this point!) the final scoop was delivered to our table by the brewer who, thankfully, didn’t ask me what I thought of his beer (although we did all smile and raise a glass – how spineless of us!) but engaged Luís in conversation as we supped. Thankfully, and predictably, the negra was by far the best beer of the evening with a good, sweetish caramel-toffee taste, some liquorice hints, then a short toasty finish which ended quite abruptly… but at least it wasn’t infected, so that was fine by me!
With the day’s festivities at an end – and what a day it had been! – Luís dropped us back at the Central Cordoba where we thanked him and Nicolás profusely for what had been an amazing day; I doubt many English speaking beer lovers have been to the places we’d visited before and we were greatly indebted for the generosity and selflessness of our companions for such a superb day’s beer scooping – but now we needed some sleep!
Monday 15th October 2007.
As can be expected after such a monumental day of beer drinking we didn’t surface too early the next morning and so, at around 11:00, we emerged into a bright morning for a stroll down to the dock area, Puerto Madero, where I hoped to be able to scoop Buenos Aires’ new tramway. We walked down through Retiro, crossed the 8-lane racetrack of Avenida Davila, before getting into the docks proper where we passed the ferry terminal, looking like some Victorian rail station, before the “Diques” came into view. Buenos Aires has done a good job in revitalising it’s docklands in much the same way as Liverpool and where once was dereliction and drug addiction now stands posh apartments and restaurants; the drug addiction is still around but nowadays it’s more money than hard drugs as far as the eye could see.
We trolled along the waterfront, allowing the breeze to blow the final cobwebs of yesterday from our heads, as we basked in the increasingly warm sun; the difference from grey, miserable England couldn’t have been more different as we soaked up the rays, leaning on the railings, watching the locals go about their business – this was relaxation! After a good dose of sunshine it was time to scoop the tram which had already been spotted gliding back and fore behind the docks, so to the end station it was where we paid the ludicrous ARG$1 fare and settled down in the plastic vehicle to see what the journey would entail.
Very little, it turned out, as the tram is basically a demonstrator – it runs along the back of the docks and terminates nowhere useful to anyone – but it was the scooping of the thing that mattered, and so after the obligatory seminars at the arrival point we traipsed back into Retiro. One thing to point out here is that I attempted to withdraw ARG$1000 from several ATM’s to pay our hotel bill but the most I could withdraw in one go seemed to be ARG$300 (about £50); I’ve no idea why this should be the case but I must have tried ten ATM’s around the city with the same result and so I settled for multiple withdrawals of ARG$300!
A new brewpub – at the 3rd attempt.
We took Subte E down to Pichincha for the five-minute walk along quiet suburban streets to De Cao. I’d done this walk twice during my last trip but both times there had been no beer available and so had turned around and walked back, so at least I knew the way! We were soon there and once again I was impressed by the bar’s calmness and strange resemblance to a whole melange of UK pubs; I can’t really put my finger on it but I think it’s more of an Edinburgh influence, must be all that wood and high ceilings…
I asked if any homebrewed beer was available to which the cheery reply came, in English, “Yes, black and white!” – I wasn't sure what this meant, but at least we had a good chance of scooping something and so we bagged a table until the admittedly gorgeous waitress came round to see what we wanted. She soon arrived and spoke in Spanish of which I made out some of the words so, having a guess at what she meant, replied that we were there on holiday attempting to try all the artesanal beers in the city! This brought a laugh from her and she told us she’d not seen any other English in there before! She continued that she was planning to visit England to learn the language, to which I replied that her English was a lot better than my Spanish!
We ordered two glasses of rubia plus a picada to quell the rumbling in our stomachs. For those who don’t know what a picada is, imagine a wooden board crammed full of all sorts of snacks such as different cheeses, sausages, cold meats, olives and suchlike served with bread and breadsticks… for around £4 it was plenty for us to share and, although Jim wasn't sure about the cured pickled beef, it all vanished with exceptional haste.
The beers arrived and the rubia was very cloudy; this was most certainly artesanal beer! Sadly it had a slight infection with some sourness masking the other flavours but, as I got down the glass, I began to pick up bitterness, rich malt and even some citrussy hops – a shame it wasn't right as this would have been a good supping beer indeed! Jim liked it more than me and so he got another glass whilst I went for the other scoop, the negra. Incidentally, the glasses were large, heavy pots with handles and looked like UK beer festival handled glasses which used to be the norm before the companies making them went bust!
I took a sniff and was relived that this one wasn't infected, in fact, it smelt very nice indeed! A murky brown colour, it had a rich chocolate malt flavour with a developing coffee, malt and bitter finish which I found very agreeable indeed, so much so that it didn’t last very long and the smiling waitress brought me another one before walking back to the bar with what I thought was an unnecessarily wiggling of her delicious Latino arse. So, there we were, in a homebrew bar on a main road out of town, drinking decent beer, trying to read a newspaper (actually, we just looked at the pictures and guessed a few words), admiring Latino arses and relaxing… excellent!
A few bottles in the room...
A couple of rounds later and it was time to leave and so, thanking the sociable staff for their patience in dealing with my stumbling Spanish, off we went back towards the centre but not before we’d noticed, in the doorway next to the bar, a very heritage-looking car and bags of malt stacked up alongside; surely proof that brewing was being done here! Feeling very pleased with myself with this evidence of production, we trolled along the quiet streets before taking Subte E down to the end of the line and then the cute little “premetro” tram to Presidente Illia where a quick out-and-back on the very old (and very loud) little engines on the metre-gauge line to fill in a bit of time and to show Jim the other side of the city – and the premetro journey is certainly the “other side”!
We took the chugging and smoky little beast all the way into Buenos Aires station, a small corrugated iron construction hidden out in the wilds of the city, where we connected with bus 59 to the city centre where we alighted for a wander around the central area. We took in as many sights as possible as we wound our way back towards the hotel and I was pleased that Jim thought as much of the city as I did; it’s a fascinating place and well worth a ramble.
Back at the hotel we cracked open a few more bottles from the stash we’d acquired in Chile and around. Barba Roja Trigo (3%) was first and this promptly went down the sink as it was one of the sweetest, most artificial-tasting concoctions I’ve had for quite a while… not a good start, then! Next up, on the premise that we may as well get the crap over with first, another Barba Roja product called Morena Negra (4.5%); this was at least drinkable if not particularly pleasant with a decent liquoricey and treacly taste over a thin, sweet grain body.
I then opened Quilmes (InBev) stout (4.8%) as I suspected the worst but was intrigued to know if it was as bad as everyone had told me it was… well, it was, and must feature in my “worst beers ever” list by quite a margin! My tasting notes say “repulsive burnt sugary & sticky taste, loads of saccharin, undrinkable” and, again, most of it went down the sink – it’s a good job sinks can’t taste what gets put down them, that’s all I can say. Another dark beer next but this one, I fervently hoped, would be worth drinking… Del Puerto Stout (4.5%) from Chile was still a touch sweet, as seems to be common in South American beers, but was saved from sickliness by a bitter, burnt toastiness in the finish which was very pleasant (especially after the previous excuses for beer) and the whole bottle was drained – surely a sign of appreciation?
Another Chilean beer, Kross Amber (4.6%), came next and the beers were definitely improving… a good rich, malty beer, sociable and tasty, with a solid maltiness and some grassy hop in the finish. Szot Amber Lager (6%) followed the theme of improvement although I wasn’t prepared for how good this beer was! Quality was diffused all through it from the smooth, grainy malt flavour to the solid bitteness and nutty, complex finish and, overall, the beer’s flavour all came together excellently and impressed me greatly.
A few homebrews.
It was now time to get ourselves across to Nicolás’ house where he’d promised us an evening of his homebrew; usually this kind of invitation would result in me going the other way – quickly – but Per Samuelsson had advised me to accept any invitation to sample Nicolás’ homebrew as it was excellent so we decided to troll along there with a couple of our own in a blatant attempt to finish off the stash of bottle we still had lurking in our wardrobe. Nicolás had said that the best move would be to have some homebrew before nipping out to the nearby Antares bar to try some of the latest seasonal brew (I still required some of their ordinary ones but I neglected to mention this) and so, full of hope for a good night, off we went.
We took the Subte as close as we could get before walking along the road looking for sustenance; if this was to be a big tasting then we wanted some food beforehand! A likely venue soon appeared in the form of the Tranvia Café which provided us with a bagful of empanadas and, whilst we waited for them to be “caliente’d”, I examined a whole wall full of photos of the criminally destroyed Buenos Aires tram system, once one of the largest in the world, smashed by a government in the 1960’s on the advice, presumably, of a certain Dr Beeching? The trams looked very “Lisbon” in appearance and I was gutted that I’d missed one of the finest tram systems anywhere – but I suppose the locals were far more gutted when they lost their main form of public transport!
After munching on our empanadas we then walked the short distance to Nicolás’ apartment where we were treated to a rare case of homebrewing excellence; I’m not just saying that in case he reads this, honestly, his beers were superb! Out came Barley Wines, IPA’s, Pale Ales and a whole gamut of brews with each one right on the nail style-wise and, far more importantly, taste-wise. When the supply of homebrew was exhausted he treated us to commercial beer from a winning country for me, Brazil, courtesy of his dad who had brought a bottle of Baden Baden Red Ale (9.2%!) back from his travels. I’d no idea that Brazil possessed artesanal breweries and so didn’t know what to expect, so was amazed to find the beer was a good effort with a full, sweet malty taste followed by a rich yet not cloying toffee character which ended up strong, sweet and smooth without too much ethanol to ruin things.
It was almost time to go and so, with all three of us flagging, we supped a final bottle which we’d brought from our still considerable Chilean stash; Volcanes del Sur lager, a fruity and sweetish brew which tasted suspiciously like a Kölsch – brewed with an ale yeast – before leaving. Now I’m not naming names, but one of our party felt a little unwell in the lift down to the ground floor… what a waste of all that good beer!
Tuesday 16th October 2007.
The Malvinas memorial.
Tuesday dawned fine again and so after our croissant and coffee breakfast we were off down through San Martín park to the train station. San Martín park is a lush oasis and slopes gradually down to the so-called “English tower” opposite the rail station, so called as it was built with contributions from the English expats around 100 years ago. On the way down through the twisty trees, already providing us with shelter from the blazing sun, we passed the Malvinas memorial where the names of all Argentines killed in the conflict – memorably described by Jorge Luís Borges as “Two bald men fighting over a comb” – are carved on a map of the islands and soldiers in dress uniforms stand guard along with one of the biggest flags I’ve ever seen.
Now I’m not wishing to start any anti-Thatcher or anti-war rant or anything, but the Falklands war wasn’t just about defeating a particularly nasty dictatorship who had decided to take back the Islands which, just 2 years previously, our own Government had been considering “leasing” back to Argentina – and let’s not forget these Islands are a lot closer to Argentina than they are to the UK! No, it was about the unfathomable mineral and oil riches of Antarctica which, even more so now than then, the government knew would be squabbled over when the rest of the world began to run out of such things. Keep the Falklands and we kept our springboard to this prospective wealth… no matter than the 3,000 Islanders cost almost that in casualties and, perhaps more ludicrously, way over 2 million pounds each to keep them “British” – for fuck’s sake, we could have saved all those lives, given ‘em a million quid each and a massive house back in Blighty, and saved a lot of bother if it hadn’t been for those pesky Argies… oh and not forgetting the massive prospective mineral/oil wealth of Antarctica…
Sorry about that, it just kind of slipped out… anyway, past the Malvinas monument we went, before waiting for the traffic lights to cross the Avenida del Libertador which is always a good idea when faced with eight lanes – at least – it may be a lot more! – of clag-belching, speeding traffic of all shapes and sizes. Once over the road (the lights have a very useful count-down timer to inform you how much time you have left to live if you don’t get a move on) we passed the first two rail stations, both large impressive monuments to the British Victoriana who built them, before arriving at the corrugated iron shack which is the San Martín line’s terminus and which feels a lot more down at heel than the other two stations not 100 metres away.
Ask the Army.
We were soon in possession of tickets to El Palomar at the silly price of around 20p return and so waited for a decent engine to appear on an outwards train. This may go right over the head of some readers but, for those who understand such things, we’d unluckily struck a patch where three consecutive departures were rancid turbopiffle GM’s! Eventually a large ALCo appeared and so we boarded the slightly shabby train for the 40-minute thrash along to the suburbs with huge throbbing beast B819 at the helm of our train.
The line passes through the leafy suburb of Palermo with it’s expensive shops and suchlike but, just a mile or so further out at Chacarita, the landscape changes suddenly and the sidings and lineside are covered in shanty towns of that lower class of Buenos Aires’ society which scratches a living from collecting cardboard, paper, plastic, glass or anything which they can sell for a few pesos. Okay so they’re not as bad as the slums I saw in Johannesburg, South Africa, but it’s still a little unnerving to see the transition from wealthy Palermo with it’s polo pitches and tennis courts to wood and plastic shacks on the railway in such a short space of time and begs the question as to whether a little redistribution of wealth might be a good thing.
We alighted at El Palomar and wandered around to find a bus stop. I’d received some info as to which bus we should catch to the pub and, no sooner had we found the stop, than one arrived. We boarded and I attempted to convey to the driver, in my best Spanish, where we wanted to go but he has having none of it and was adamant the bus went nowhere near our target! We got off at a roundabout just behind the station where road signs seemed to have been deemed unnecessary; what was the plan now? I had a map of sorts, but without a bit of a point in the right direction we might end up anywhere… although at least it seemed to be a reasonably safe and wealthy area of the city as the Ciudad Jardín (garden city) name kind of gave away.
Across the road was an imposing archway to what looked like some kind of army base and so, with no better option available, we headed over there to see if we could get some directions to the brewpub. On reaching the arch a sign announced that we’d reached the entrance to Argentina’s Colegio Militar de la Nación (National Military College) and also the HQ of the 1st Air Brigade so, hoping they would be helpful, we attracted the attention of a machine gun-toting soldier on gate duty and, brandishing my piss-poor map, I enquired whether he knew how to get to our destination.
The solider studied the map carefully but, deciding he needed backup, called to what I presume were some officers who trotted over to see what was going on. I explained that we were English tourists looking for the Graf Zeppelin brewpub on San Martín to much amusement; all three suddenly wore huge smiles as they pointed at the map and laughed heartily. One of the newcomers, who looked to be the most important of the three judging by the size of his hat and pistol, explained in halting English that if we carried on along the road by the side of his base we’d soon see where we were on the map and it wasn’t that far and so, with a handshake and gracias all round, we bid our friends goodbye and set off along Matienzo (for it was so, even if no sign would admit to it) towards the brewpub under an increasingly ferocious sun.
Graf Zeppelin or burn.
After five minutes following the road, passing squads of cadets dressed in white running around the leafy expanse of the colegio, we’d ascertained where we were and so pressed on into the quiet and cool heart of El Palomar. The almost deserted streets make up a kind of fan-shaped explosion from an area near the station, just the way you’d expect streamers from a party popper to go, and so it was with relative ease we found our brewpub although I was quietly concerned that, the time being only 13:00, it may not be open – after all, very few bars seemed to open before 18:00 and so it would have been a long hot slog for very little if the bar were indeed closed…
Thankfully the door was open and the reassuring clinking of glasses came from inside and so, happy for respite from the sun, in we went and bagged a table. The waiter seemed surprised to see us enter but over he came with the menus in which I saw, with great joy, several scoops were available on draught along with more in bottle and a couple of other huge winners as backup on the bar too. I must admit to being not entirely sure of this place’s provenance as a brewpub as I’d heard convincing gen that the bottled stuff was made at Secreterios del Monje, yet I was still pretty certain that their draught beer could be from their own brewery and so, hoping to find out somehow from the slightly strange waiter who spoke only Spanish, we ordered the three draught beers, roja, rubia and negra.
The first sip of the rubia showed me that I’d done the unmentionable and not asked where the beers were from and we’d been sold a half of Isenbeck! Thankfully, we’d worked up quite a thirst walking from the station (via the Military academy) and so it didn’t last long and was actually quite welcome as a thirst-quencher. Roja came next and this was obviously a micro-brewed beer as it had a hefty dose of phenols to go with the fruitiness and malt character; not particularly good then, but at least it tasted micro and nothing like the Secreterios del Monje beers I’d had previously! The Negra followed in the same vein with some cardboardy hints over the phenols but, with thirsts still raging, this wasn’t seen by either of us as a major issue!
Right then, time for some bottles! We got stuck into Graf Zeppelin Dorada and this was the best thus far with a lack of the TCP tastes which had plagued the previous two which consequently revealed the fruity, malty and reasonably bitter flavours of the beer – not bad – and almost certainly a different brewer as the draught and bottled beers tasted totally different! Marrón (6.5%, brown ale) was next and this was an unusual beast with a strong winey, sherried flavour which I’m not convinced was intentional but wasn’t unpleasant. With capacity for scoops remaining I convinced the barman to fetch us a bottle of Salvattore Negra (6%) despite his protestations that it was “caliente” (hot) as it hadn’t been in the fridge – bollocks to that, it’s a winner, get it over here was our sentiments to that although we phrased our request slightly more diplomatically!
The beer itself was a slight anticlimax being of the the usual Argentine negra style with a dryish, liquorice and toasty malt taste but all rather restrained… not bad and not particularly exciting either, but it was another brewery in the book! We had one last beer, Graf Zeppelin Abadia (6.5%), which turned out to be the best beer of the visit with a lovely sweetish, fruity and grassy character over the solid malty body and both of us agreed that this was a delicious brew and we were even tempted with another bottle…
The train was calling, however, so I paid up and off we went back into the blazing mid-day sun, mad dogs and Englishmen and all that. Thankfully the garden city’s tall trees and sheltered us most of the way back to the station so we arrived hot but not toasted. We passed the Military college before taking a short-cut to the platforms of El Palomar station where we festered for half an hour as the first two trains were filthy GM’s; I really don’t have a lot of luck on this line! Eventually we arrived back in Buenos Aires proper and so returned to the hotel for a quick wash and lie down before venturing into San Telmo in search of some winners; it’s a never-ending quest this beer scooping lark!
After the required de-rance we took the subte down to Indepencia and then walked along the characterful yet downbeat Estados Unidos towards the centre of San Telmo. This road is lined with crumbling old mansions and is definitely atmospheric and, as a bonus, all of the area’s decent bars are a short stroll from it or are actually on it! We passed the Bohemia Bar, once a brewpub called the Brewhouse club, and then the amazing Gibraltar bar which has one of only two handpulls in the entire city, before indulging in a bit of exploration around the cobbled streets of this old quarter of the city. We stuck our noses into the Patio Cervecero with the aim of having a beer to quench our thirsts but were thwarted by the crappy list (they used to have a much better list than they have now!) and the prices which were well above average and so, thinking better of it, we didn’t bother and carried on with our exploration, discovering that the promising Beer Museum bar I’d seen last time was now a steak restaurant…
Eventually, after thoroughly examining the indoor market and the roads around (some of which which still have tramlines embedded in the cobbles…) we decided enough was enough for the touristy bit and retired to the Territorio Bar for a few beers. I found this place quite by accident on my last visit and I was pleased to see it was still as sociable as before with a good range of beer; we went with the Antares IPA, a good attempt at the style with a good rich, bitter, floral aroma and taste and then an increasingly bitter and spicily hopped finish, just what we needed to wash the dust from our throats! Next came Koala Roja, a deep amber brew with a richly malty and fairly spicy taste, maybe a touch sweet and cloying but an enjoyable brew overall. Finally, after a dish of olives to fortify us, we finished with Antares Kölsch which I liked and Jim didn’t – so I drank his too! A sweetish and very fruity beer, it was very suppable in a sessiony kind of way with a characterful finish… maybe not a real Kölsch but it was very nice!
As a side here, when we began the trip in Madrid and we received our first plate of olives Jim was adamant he hated the things but, as we’d progressed around the pubs, he’d developed quite a taste for them and I now had to make sure I got my share before he wolfed the lot! So, with our beers scooped and a relaxed feel from sitting in the comfy chairs watching the world pass by outside, we reluctantly paid up and left for yet another wander along Estados Unidos which brought us back to the Gibraltar bar with it’s huge Stella sign outside.
Cask ale in the Southern Hemisphere…
Now I’d agree with you and say that, 99% of the time, a British-styled bar with a large illuminated Stella sign wouldn’t be my first choice of bar, but Gibraltar is different. It’s not a lot like a British bar for starters and they serve some cracking food, plus they also pull one of only two examples of cask ale in Buenos Aires – if not the whole of South America, although I’m obviously taking liberties and guessing here. The house beers are from Stone at Pilar and include their IPA on handpull, stout and XB on tap, plus there are generally a few guest bottles on the shelves; Gülmen Trigo (5.8%) did the honours for me whilst Big Feller indulged in a frothy pint of IPA and, unsurprisingly, he was as withered at seeing a handpump in action 6,000 miles away from home as a I’d been during my first visit!
My trigo (wheat beer) was as I’d guessed; spicy, spritzy, wheaty, but actually not too bad considering I don’t like wheat beers and was only drinking it for the scoop value! I had a quick sup of Jim’s IPA and that was as deliciously malty, fruity and bursting with juicy hops as I remembered it although it did taste a touch oxidised in the finish. Jim was very impressed with the pub crawl thus far and said he never thought Buenos Aires would be like this; I agreed, and told him I’d said exactly the same thing the previous year! Even better, we still had Untertürkheim to come and then – which had me salivating with scooping frenzy – out first visit to the ticker’s delight of Cruzat Ale House later on…
Wandering up Tacuari towards Untertürkheim we chanced upon an empanada shop which looked the business and so, feeling a little peckish by this point, we stopped off to indulge our mini-pasty urges! Las Leñas (Tacuari 996) proved to be an excellent little pit-stop and we munched on meat, chicken, ham & cheese, cheese & onion and Roquefort empanadas whilst trudging towards our next beer visit; I’d not realised how hungry I was until now!
Soon we reached Untertürkheim where we were soon in possession of a couple of Del Castillo beers, both scoops obviously! The Porter (5.2%) had a dark brown maltiness, some earthy notes then a decent caramel, toffee and malty finish with a somewhat oily texture whilst the Bok (6.8%) had a strange lagery and dry taste with some caramel and wasn’t as good as I expect from Del Castillo. The customary basket of free peanuts topped up our protein levels for the evening ahead, although I suddenly remembered how good the Germanic food had been on my last visit and wished we’d eaten here rather than gorging on empanadas… ah well, they’d been good and, even better, winners…!
That was San Telmo covered and so off we went to what I believed would be the Argentinean equivalent of a Belgian multi-beer bar… the whole premise of the place – which had opened less than a year previous to our visit – was of a medieval hall (no, I don’t know why either) on the 1st floor of a modern shopping centre just across the countless lanes of traffic of the Avenida 9 de Julio. Sounds strange? It may be that, in ordinary beery circumstances, we’d never give such a place even a merest of glances but the thing that swung a visit way past the “necessary” mark was that this bar stocked over 100 Argentine beers in bottle and a dozen on draught shooting it way ahead of Cossab in the “beers stocked” stakes although, to be fair, Cossab does have it’s own brewery!
As we’d arrived before most locals come out to drink we had the pick of any table and opted for the comfy leather sofas at the back which would give us enough space for when Luís and Martín arrived later. The menu (which was indeed like something from Belgium, bound in a very Monk-esque way) was brought and I opened the weighty tome to see page after page of scoops arranged in province order; this was just too much, I fretted, how was I ever going to do the place justice? Indecision was definitely something to avoid with such a huge choice of beer and so I ordered a Valle de Tafi Negra and Cerro Wank Rubia from the list… Now I know non-English people may wonder why I chose the Cerro Wank, but let’s just say it means something entirely different to beer in my native tongue and I’d dreamed of scooping it ever since I saw the label a couple of years back!
The beer soon arrived and we suppressed sniggers as the Cerro Wank was opened, although I was wondering why we’d received two bottles… it was soon explained that a “Wank offer” was available whereupon for every bottle bought a free one was also given – I wish I’d seen that first so I could have blagged the negra as well, I thought, although simply having one of their huge beers was reward enough at that moment! The Tafi was a deep red, thin and dry brew with the usual Argentine roast, liquorice and maltiness and actually resembled Brains Dark vaguely, although this may have been the Welsh name conjuring up this correlation whilst my Cerro Wank was a very good sweetish golden brew with a creamy maltiness and a rich grainy finish and a hint of grassy hops to round it off... and no saltiness whatsoever, just to nail that one.
The Murray’s contingent soon arrived and we settled into the comfy sofas, periodically ordering beers, and continuing the good-natured banter we’d enjoyed on Sunday. During the evening I got through Stauffen negra, Valhalla porter, Montecristo negra, Quarryman’s porter, Murray’s nut brown and Rupestre rubia with hardly a dud in the whole bunch and a couple of stand-outs in the form of the Valhalla and Murrays (no surprise there!). I’ll not bore you – as if I haven’t already after 25 pages – with descriptions of the beers and our ranting during the evening except to say that, as we were on our last beers, I suddenly noticed a growling noise from alongside me… thinking a wolf or maybe a bear had entered the premises I swung around, but it was only Big Feller who had fallen asleep on the admittedly very welcoming couch!
Luís had very nobly offered to drive us back to the hotel despite my remonstrations that we could easily catch a bus back to Retiro – or even walk – and so, with the final beers drained and Big Feller woken up, we paid the bill (which was fairly hefty, it must be said) and vanished into the night aboard the Peugeot 406 yet again. Ten minutes later, after waking Jim up once more, it was hugs and thanks all round as we parted outside the Central Cordoba; I’ve no idea what the receptionist must think we get up to but I bet he’d never guess we’re beer tourists!
Wednesday 17th October 2007.
The yellow corrugated iron shed.
A long lie-in was required the next morning owing to our lengthy drinking session the previous day (and long march in the sun) so it wasn’t until 10:00 or so that we emerged blinking into the dazzling morning and wandered over to the Subte station as part of my plan to snare yet another brewery for the big orange book. This particular brewery was one I’d discovered only days before the trip and seemed to have started very recently but, best of all, their beer seemed to be available in a peculiar-looking place called “El Galpón” – which looked just like a yellow-painted corrugated iron shed – that seemed to double as a kind of farmer’s market a few days a week. It was slightly out of the centre at Frederico Lacroze, but once I’d found out it was next to the Urquiza line rail station the move was on and it was a simple matter of taking the Subte there are then finding it; easy!
Emerging at Frederico Lacroze subte station you are immediately disorientated by the fact you’ve emerged into a slightly tatty market selling everything you probably don’t want or need, but I’d done this on my last trip (on my ill-fated trek out to Peor Para el Sol) so knew exactly how to escape the frenetic market area. We were soon wandering along the road on the lookout for this mythical yellow shed; I knew it was around the station area somewhere, but wasn’t sure exactly where… just past the station a dusty track led down past some garages and there, at the end of the track in what seemed to be the middle of a railway yard, was our target and it was obvious, even from this range, that it was indeed a corrugated iron shed which someone had decided to paint the most garish yellow you’ve ever seen.
Down the parched path we stomped, stirring up the dust in our wake, already aware that we’d left it too late yet again to go wandering about in the midday sun… but hey, we were English, so it’s expected of us! The shed was soon reached and once inside the smells of cheese, fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs crowded my nose; this was definitely what I’d term a farmer’s market and it seemed as if we’d struck gold as there, just three tables down on the right, was a stall stacked with bottles of beer just waiting to be scratched in!
Leaving Jim to bag one of the two tables outside to give us the means of drinking the beers on-site (I wasn’t sure if this was allowed, but hey – the table was there!) I approached the stand which was manned by two charming ladies. Using my best Spanish – and best is definitely not a fair description of my talents in that department – I asked for two small bottles of each beer (one for us, one for Nicolás) which, predictably, was the Argentine holy trinity of negra, roja and rubia although the golden brew was called dorada here.
Within a minute six bottles were lined up for me but then, when I reached into my wallet, disaster – I only had a 100 peso note and the bill was a mere 24 pesos – and so the ladies went off scrabbling around the other stallholders for change. Suddenly Jim arrived to see what was transpiring and, when I’d explained the situation of my huge note, he handed me a 20 peso note from his pocket and shuffled off back outside; problem solved! The ladies looked relieved that they didn’t have to use up all their change on this one customer but, before I could take the bottles, I was interrogated (in a very good-natured way!) as to why a pair of Englishmen were in this place which probably rarely sees European tourists! I replied, truthfully, that we were in Argentina to see the country and taste the beers which pleased them no end – “You’ve come here especially for our beer!” they said in turn, shaking their heads but smiling in a way which let on that they were quite pleased I had…
Beers on the patio.
I returned to the patio where Jim had commandeered one of the tables there and so, happy to have shelter from the increasingly ferocious sun if only under a corrugated iron roof, we cracked open the first of the beers, the Roja… oh dear, immediately I could smell the infection and hoped this wasn’t going to be one of those days with all beers undrinkable! A quick taste was all I needed to see that this first beer was a drain pour; or it would have been had we a convenient drain but needs must and it went over the edge of the balcony in an infected blast of acidified beery foam…
I must admit to not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the next beer, the Dorada, but cracked it open anyway and took a careful swig so as to not disturb the sediment too much and – wow! A lovely honeyed maltiness, fairly sweet as in many Argentine beers, with a balanced and tasty body then grassy but still honeyed finish; this was a lovely thirst-quencher with a load of juicy maltiness to maintain interest and so, immediately, I went back inside in order to percure another one! I was quickly in possession of another bottle of Dorada, a cold one this time, from the highly amused ladies on the Monte Castro stand (I’m not sure if they were laughing at me for my atrocious Spanish or with me at the surrealism of an English tourist in a place like this but I felt they were pleased with my compliments of their beer) and a huge hunk of cheese from another stall which, again, cost very little but looked just the thing to soak up some of this beer. Back outside Jim was raving about the Dorada and how suppable it was – I noticed that in the few minutes I’d been inside most of the original bottle had vanished – and so we opened the negra to see how that fared against it.
Pretty well was our opinion, although it was more formulaic in the Argentinean dry, toasty, slightly charcoal-tasting way than the delicious dorada which was easily the best of the three. So, there we were, drinking beers and munching on the gorgeous, creamy Emmenthal-like cheese as the sun blazed down outside and trains came and went in the station opposite… as an amusing aside here, the abandoned railway yards all around the shed were scattered with cast-off carriages and the like, one of which obviously had inhabitants, where most amusingly a satellite dish had sprouted from the roof! Obviously not expecting a shunter to come and move it, then…
The hotdog stand from heaven.
With all our beer and cheese soon gone it was time to make a move back into town and so, pausing only to recommend the dorada to a passing local who asked what we thought of the beers, we trudged off along the hot and dusty lane back to the Subte station where we caught a train back Pellegrini in order to try a recommendation from Per Samuelsson. This was the surreal-sounding Frankfurt panchos stall which apparently served up huge hotdogs along with a fridge full of artesanal beer – this I just had to see!
We soon located the place down an alleyway and were surprised to see that it wasn’t a stall at all, more a small shop (only around 5m long by 3m wide or so) unit in a row of other shops, and by the looks of things it was popular too; we literally couldn’t get inside owing to a crowd of normals eagerly munching away on hotdogs and had to wait five minutes until the queue subsided! Once inside we ordered our panchos and agonised over the choice of 20+ toppings before I lithely sidled through the throng to the fridges to see what was available; Cardos Barley Wine was tempting, it being my beer of the trip thus far, but in the end we went for a winning brewery – Viejo Munich – with their Doppelbock (8%) and Negra (5.4%) and so, having found some space along a shelf to lurk, we began our munching and, more importantly, scooping!
The Negra was a plain, treacly and fairly undistinguished beer although it certainly wasn’t a bad brew by any account, but the Doppelbock was much better as it possessed a fairly sweet and rich malt character with demerera sugar, treacle and a decent amount of complexity in the finish. As for the hotdog, I was so hungry that I had another and may have even been tempted with another had Jim not pulled me away…! this was a shame as I had my eye on a bottle of Cardos barley wine - just to test out it’s ability to pair with food, obviously!
With the days slowly ticking by I was realising that I wouldn’t manage my target of 100 scoops for the trip, mainly thanks to British Airway’s inability to run flights on time, and so settled for getting as many as possible without killing myself in the process. One way to build up a large score was to visit Cruzat again and so that’s what we did, straight from Frankfurt panchos! We found it quiet, having missed the lunchtime rush, and so ensconced ourselves inside to avoid the overbearing heat out on the patio.
We began with a refreshing Murray’s golden (4.7%) which was just what we needed after the dust and heat of the morning; very pale, it had a strong bitterness with a good solid dry malty body and was overall an excellent drinking beer which I could have happily supped all day had I not required most of the beer list! Next up was a local brewery which I’d not heard of, La Reserva, whose Rubia (5%) was a decent enough golden beer without the class or breeding of the Murray’s beer although it did have some nice flowery hoppiness in the aftertaste.
Kraken Ambar (5.8%) came next and despite a promising colour and aroma this brew was too simple with a standard bill of sweetish maltiness and some balancing bitter dryness coming through in the finish. Heberling Cobriza (5%) was billed as an IPA but most certainly wasn’t anything of the sort although it’s deep russet colour did give some impression of the toffee maltiness within and some hops were detectable in the finish, albeit nowhere near enough to be able to call the beer an IPA – unless you like Greede Kerching IPA that is! Cortesana Kölsch (5.6%) was delivered by the lovely waitress and proved to be a hazy pale beer with a fair bit of sweet fruitiness in the vague Kölsch style although, if anything, it had too much flavour for one!
Koala barley wine (10%) was risked now, all care thrown to the winds, although it didn’t live up to the high promise I had for it being a relatively simple sweet and very toffeeish amber beer which could have become sickly had I drunk any more. Dowel pale ale (4.5%) followed which was rather bland with some unpleasant phenols in the flavour and, finally, we finished with Colonia Esperanza brown ale (5.5%) and this was a fitting last beer possessing a good coffee and chocolate maltiness, a plain chocolate taste then a good dry, malty, toasted grain finish which was most agreeable.
Off to Cossab.
It was all too soon time to leave as we’d promised to meet Nicolás in Cossab that evening so off we went back to the hotel for a quick wash and brush up and, whilst we were there, a couple of the worryingly large stash of bottles which still lurked in our wardrobe. Chimango Rubia (4.5%) was a very phenolic brew with nothing really able to get above the sea of TCP so that went down the sink and I poured Cork Golden Ale instead; this was much better and had a dry, hoppy, well-balanced flavour with lots of malt, hop and bitterness in the very moreish finish and I was glad there were more Cork beers to come from our capacious wardrobe… such as their American pale ale which had a full, malty flavour and an interesting fruit/hop overlay giving a complex and appealing brew.
With three more scoops safely in the book we took the Subte down to Avenida La Plata. A quick stop in an empanada shop was deemed in order to line our stomachs before drinking any more beer, but Mamá Flora wasn’t the best of choices with the empanadas coming from freezers then being passed through a huge oven on a moving conveyor belt to cook them! Our hunger satiated for the meantime, off we went for the quick walk uphill to Cossab where I hoped to scoop a good few beers to bolster my acceptable yet still lacklustre tally of 68 scoops; I was very aware that I had just one more full day plus half another to go and wanted to have scratched at least 80 for the trip!
The interior was as dark as the last time I’d visited and so we settled into a table as far from the tableful of loud Americans as we could and viewed the menu; I chose a new Cossab beer from the brewery clearly visible in the back room, honey beer (6%), whilst Jim had Aracauna Rojiza triple fuerte (9.2%). As with all Cossab beers the honey was pretty decent with a good full, malty and distinctly honeyed flavour before the malt took over into the thick grainy mash-like finish, whilst the Aracauna was – as the name suggested – quite strong in alcohol with some sweet maltiness and toffee notes although not really enough to support the ABV.
Nicolás soon arrived and we surprised him with a gift of the three Monte Castro beers we’d acquired from El Galpón earlier in the day. A picada of cheese was quickly ordered along with some more beers in the form of Bersaglier Scotch (6%) which completed my collection of this brewer’s beers plus Blest Bock and we recommenced our discussions from the previous evening whilst munching on the delicious cheeses which included a wide variety of types including blue, goat, rinded, soft and all stops inbetween!
Time for a slight soapbox here; “Scotch ale” is widely brewed in Argentina – and elsewhere in the world – although I’m not quite sure where the brewers get the idea from to add smoked malt to the beer; I can probably count on one hand (maybe even one finger) the number of times I’ve had smoked beer in Scotland and it’s certainly not a style I’m familiar with. Research I’ve read suggests that old-fashioned Scotch ale wasn’t smokey either (although there’s no discounting brewers borrowing malt from distillers) although pre-coke drying of grain probably would have been as I suppose they would have used heather or peat so maybe it would have been as smokey as Islay whisky… but there’s no proof I’ve read so, at the moment, I remain of the opinion that smoked “Scotch ale” is a style purely from someone’s imagination who loves Islay whisky and beer and, for some reason, thought that combining the two would be a good idea!
Bersaglier’s Scotch was nowhere near as smokey as the style can be and was more in the Irish red style to my tastebuds with a rich ruby colour, sweet and smooth toffee-malt taste followed by a decent dose of bitterness allied with yet more toffee apples in the finish. The Bock was slightly infected yet showed some promise with a decent solid chocolate maltiness although it was difficult to judge it fairly under the layer of sourness and acetic acid. One final beer was tried as Jim and I were by now feeling the pace of our punishing scoop schedule and Secreterios de Monje Marrón brown (5.1%) was a nice enough brew with toasty malt, some sweetness and liquorice in the body and a full, crunchy toasted grain aftertaste which delivered on the brown ale style pretty well.
We then headed off in search of a bus back to Retiro but ended up taking a taxi back to Nicolás’ house and then a bus from there back home as we seemed to have hit a black hole for buses out at Cossab! As we walked up through San Martín park it was obvious that we were nearing the end of a very frantic trip and both of us were exhausted; I was pretty gutted at only scooping five beers in Cossab although, to be fair, the list seemed to have shrunk a fair bit from my last visit with the main casualty being Argentine micros… although I’m willing to accept I just might not have seen them being so knackered from our scooping frenzy!
Thursday 18th October 2007.
First train to shacksville.
Our final full day dawned and we allowed ourselves the luxury of a lie-in after the previous evening’s desperation. I’d planned a trip out into the wilds of the pampas to show Jim a journey through all of the city’s diverse environments from affluence to destitution via all stops in-between and so, making our way to Retiro station, we took a train out to Merlo and then connected with one of the hellfire little ALCo-hauled trains - which are rather shabby, to say the least – out to Hornos which looked to be right out in the wilds! Well, I did want to show him the vast expanses of grassland out there…
Our journey ended out at Hornos which, as expected, was absolutely out in the wilds with a single house and a road (which had no traffic for the 20 minutes we were there!) but more interesting to me was the “Railway signal company, Liverpool” points lever, now redundant, rusting abandoned on the platform and some kind of bird of prey which wheeled and swooped overhead and occasionally plummeted to the ground before flapping heavily off again. The temperature had risen above even the lofty heights of the previous day and so we took shelter under the very colonial-style station canopy to wait for our return journey; you may wonder why we went all the way out here only to come back straight away, but isn’t the journey the whole point of travel?
Our train back into the city soon arrived and we boarded the luggage van at the front so I could gauge the amount of smoke coming from the loco, ALCos being particularly noted for their high clag quotient. This won’t be of any interest to 99% of readers so let me simply say that 659 was an absolute monster and darkened the clear skies at every opportunity with inky black clag which billowed in through the open door! We connected into a city-bound train at a baking hot Merlo and so, mid-afternoon, you find us back in Buenos Aires wondering what to do now… how about a beer?
A few beers in the park.
After purchasing a whole load of empanadas from Torre de Retiro we returned to the hotel to shelter from the searing sun and to begin the arduous task of sorting out our belongings for our departure in the morning. We still had a fair few beers remaining from the generosity of our Chilean friends plus some Nicolás had given us and so we decided, given the splendid weather, to go down to San Martín park and relax in the sun with some of our bottles. I wasn’t sure if public drinking was allowed and so we took our ceramic cups – gifts from the superb Había Una Vez Fonda restaurant in Capilla del Señor way back on Sunday – and my rucksack surreptitiously loaded with bottles for our pleasure.
We bagged a convenient bench and settled down for some serious people watching whilst supping our beers; well, people watching maybe the official term, but we agreed that “latino arse letching” would be a more honest appraisal of our activities! First beer opened was Guttmann Oceanik Dark (4.5%) which was a decent caramelly mid-brown brew with some dryness later on in the taste and a hint of lacticity in the malty finish – I don’t know if this was intentional but, if it was, it certainly hit the spot with me!
Cork IPA came next and this, as expected, was a very hoppy beer, rare for Argentina, with lots of dry, sappy bitterness and a rather astringently hoppy and bitter finish with hop resins everywhere – a good attempt at the style and notably hoppier than most beers with that name sold elsewhere! I was beginning to enjoy our alfresco scooping session as Jim and I relaxed on our bench and watched the locals go about their business; dog walkers in charge of countless hounds deftly avoided canine confrontations, businessmen in suits hurried along shouting into mobiles, young couples smooched past – we could have been anywhere in the world but we were undoubtedly in one of my favourite cities and one which I am so glad to have visited twice thus far.
It was time to open the 75cl bottles from Chimango brewery of Mendoza which Nicolás had warned us might not be up to much (and indeed the first one we’d opened the previous night had been infected) but, if I were judging by the labels, these beers would have accrued a high mark for the striking design thereon although I was hoping these two weren’t like the Rubia we’d poured away the previous afternoon... sadly, this proved to be the case with the Amber (4.5%) being obviously infected with a phenolic blast drowning out everything else. Negra (4.5%) was dark and liquioricey yet ruined by more phenols although this was the best of the three simply on account of the dark malty being able to stand up to the phenols better than the pale beers which were simply swamped by them.
Szot Amber ale (6%) was a welcome return to form with a firm, balanced and fruity taste over a solid sweetish (very South American!) body – very nice indeed. As we supped the sun had been working it’s way across the evening sky and now, finally, it had vanished behind the buildings to our rear and so, with our fellow park users heading off home, we squeezed in one more scoop in the form of Del Castillo Ahumada smoked stout and I was pleased that one of the breweries I can generally trust to come up with something interesting hadn’t let me down; rich and sweet, it had mounds of roast malt and some balancing sweetish toffee and caramel with some obvious smokiness although not of the phenolic peat type, more of a woodsmoke character, yet this gave the beer lots of interest and character although Jim hated it!
The best steak - ever.
I’d promised Jim that I’d take him to the Desnivel restaurant in San Telmo which I’d visited on my previous trip and been blown away by the quality of everything in the place so, with the trip uncannily mirroring the last one by waiting until the last night to visit, we headed off for San Telmo again for a slap-up steak feast. As an aside here, if anyone doesn’t believe that Argentine steaks are some of the best in the world then you’ve never had one – in the UK we get some steaks which are tender and some which are full of flavour but rarely do the two combine as they do in Argentina… honestly, the steaks really are superb there and I’ve just short-circuited my keyboard by salivating onto it simply by thinking about them!
We walked along Estados Unidos as many of the bars were opening for the evening and even went into one brand-new one (I know it was new, it still smelt of paint!) but they didn’t sell artesanal beer so out we went again. Soon we’d arrived at Desnivel and the cheery waiter sat us down and took the order of two lomos, a plate of chips, a chori and a bottle of Norton’s basic red wine which was immediately uncorked and brought over – well, it was a choice of wine or Quilmes! The wine was pretty decent and Jim was impressed with the “realness” of the restaurant as it still has a good percentage of locals amongst the tourists and is renowned locally for it’s steaks.
Our food soon arrived and Jim’s face was a picture (should have got one, really) as he saw the size of the steaks and plate of chips! As I’d said, however, eating such large portions isn’t a problem when it tastes as good as the food as Desnivel and so we munched our way through the meal aided by copious swigs from our wine – so copious that it soon ran out and we had to order a half-litre of the juicy, plumy house wine as well! I can happily report that the steak was as gorgeously tender, tasty and perfectly cooked (i.e. rare) as on my last visit and I can’t recommend the place highly enough if you want a good meal in Buenos Aires, especially with the house wine coming in at around £1.50 a half-litre! (bloody lovely it was too, pure Merlot would be my guess…)
Finally, stuffed with the amazing food and relaxed from the wine, we paid the very reasonable bill and wandered off into the evening with the intention of having a couple of beers before heading back to the hotel for an early night as we figured that we’d need the sleep before our flight back the following evening. We resisted the call of Territorio’s beer range and instead went for the Bohemia Bar at Estados Unidos 745; this used to be the “Brewhouse Club”, a brewpub which closed in 2005, but now is a trendy bar with bare-brick walls and a lively atmosphere. So, you may wonder, why did we go in? Well, a sign proclaiming Antares Tripel (9%) dragged us in…
We were soon at a table with a bottle of the Antares before us which, I must say, had one of the nicest labels I’ve seen for a few years. The beer was a surprisingly good attempt at a Belgian Tripel, certainly far better than I’d expected, with a sweetish, malty taste and some spiciness with a residual candy and malt flavour and a hint of grassy dryness from hops in the finish. Whilst we supped this beer we chatted with a guy on the next table who was giving a talk on his recent travels around the middle east and, even in the short time we spoke to him, his tales were so interesting I paid up for a copy of his book which is very well written and paints a fascinating picture of travel around a region – which you’d never guess from the media’s bad portrayal - would be worth travelling around or even safe to do so.
We took the Subte back to our hotel where an emergency piss was in order before we decided on one final beer. I went for the Buller pub not far from the hotel as we’d not sampled any of their beers thus far and there might be a seasonal available… no such luck and I must admit that the pub was about as far from my kind of thing as could be, with thumping crap music, garish lighting, very expensive beer (higher than average UK prices!) and hordes of normals doused in cheap aftershave – just like being back home, we realised! Both beers were fine if nothing exciting (stout and IPA) but the atmosphere didn’t really lend itself to contemplation of good beers and so that was that, our final evening in Buenos Aires over, but I’m sure that it won’t be my last as I was already planning a return visit with Jim well up for the idea too!
Friday 19th October 2007.
“Photo with Maradona, yes?”
Our final day dawned even hotter than we’d expected and we were very relieved when the cheerful management at the hotel said we could leave our heavy bags there until the afternoon. We walked down to Plaza de Mayo, enjoying the shade the tall buildings gave, before taking a bus down to La Boca to see what we’d find there. For those who don’t know La Boca is the home of Buenos Aires football and also Maradona who used to play for Boca Juniors (the other main team in town is River Plate, supported mainly by richer people or so I’m told!) and my Rough Guide said the area could be dodgy in parts – but it had to be done!
We alighted in a deserted road by Boca Junior’s stadium, La Bonbonera (called the chocolate box on account of it’s shape), and basically wandered around the narrow streets until we happened upon the area with what the Rough Guide called the “colourful corrugated iron fisherman’s houses”. This may seem like some seedy area where you have to watch your back but, basically, it’s now a huge tourist magnet with coachloads of “safe” tourists being bussed in, ushered around the sites with cameras whirring, then bussed out again whilst never coming into contact with anything remotely non-mainstream or interesting…
The place was rammed with tourists and so, after a quick look around to see the famous painted houses (which looked more like some Disneyesque contrivance than real dwellings it must be said) we stomped off, by now sweltering in the heat, towards the transporter bridge as I’m very sad and like such things. On the way, however, our path was blocked by a very fat bloke wearing an Argentine football shirt who said “English, yes? Photo taken with Maradona, yes?” an offer which we politely refused… I mean, at least trying to look something like the bloke you’re trying to imitate would be a start…
Along the waterside we went, trying not to look at the rancid scum floating on the water, before we reached the transporter bridge. I’ll not try to explain what one is, I’m sure you can all use wikipedia or suchlike, but basically I wanted to see it as there aren’t many left in the world now and so imagine my delight when I read a notice affixed to it saying that it would be restored to working order… that definitely meant another trip was in order! After a while the heat was becoming unbearable so we caught the next bus back to Retiro for some food.
A swift few to quench the thirst.
A quick meal in our favourite Torre de Retiro (not empanadas for a change, but something more substantial!) was followed by a swift Subte journey down to Cruzat for our last visit of the trip if only for the reason I was determined to score at least a few more beers out of the dozens I still required on the list and therefore break 80 winners during the visit plus five bottles which I’d check in for home; I was acutely aware that had we got to Santiago on time then I’d almost certainly have cleared the magical ton, but hey ho…
This time we sat outside and, whilst Jim decided to continue supping wine as our session in Desnivel had given him a taste for it, I carried on with some beers. Templares Rubia (5%) was more of an amber in my opinion although it was reasonably malty with a good burst of toasty grain. Los Illegales Negra Fuerte (6%) was black, sweet and quite strong with a sweet caramel overtone – as expected – yet lacked a little complexity for a dark beer of the ABV. For my last beer of this superb trip I chose Serrana Calerado del Sur (5%) which was a fitting finale to this weeklong journey around South America; a surprisingly fruity and rose petal hoppy aroma led into a rich malty palate, full of fruit, bitterness, hops and with plenty of character, and then a well put-together complex finish rounded off a very impressive brew.
With time ticking to our check-in time it was time to say goodbye to Cruzat and return to the Central Cordoba to pick up our bags where we said our goodbyes to the sociable staff before taking the Subte to Constitucion station then the local train to Ezeiza where, after a short period of confusion and aided by a very helpful bus company bloke, we found the correct stop and took a bus to the airport. Having done this move the previous year I should have remembered just how long the bus takes to do such a short distance (you can see the airport on arrival into Ezeiza!) and took a taxi instead… no matter, we got seats and enjoyed the ride around various intersections, flyovers and the like – some of which we traversed multiple times – before eventually arriving at the airport.
Once there, a quick change into “flying clothes” (shorts and a non-odorous t-shirt and socks!) before we checked in, paid the airport taxes – the staff who take the money are so friendly that it’s almost a pleasure to pay it – then headed through security to airside where we waited for our flight, happy that we weren’t travelling with Aerolinas Argentinas whose flight to Madrid was showing as cancelled! Ezeiza airport is a typical large international airport and so we wandered around the shops where we were advised by the shop staff that we’d probably get jars of Dulce de Leche through customs but not to bother trying with wine – nice to see some honesty!
Our flight was on-time departing and, as we climbed away from a city which I have grown to love in just two visits, I looked down onto the grid of twinkling streetlights which seemed to stretch to the horizon with what I realised was a feeling of longing and, as the huge aircraft toiled into the evening sky and the lights slowly receded into the distance to be replaced by the bible black of the south Atlantic, I lay back in my seat happy in the knowledge that I’d be back…
Arrival at Madrid was slightly behind schedule and so we rushed through transfer security as quickly as possible, relieved that the scant attention paid to our bags allowed us to keep our Dulce de Leche, although we needn’t have rushed as our flight to Heathrow was also late. This left us with a very dicey connection at London which, had we missed it, may have entailed an overnight stop in London – something which, I’m sure you can appreciate, we would do almost anything to avoid – and so we were pretty pissed off to see a massive queue for transfer security.
About twenty minutes later we passed through the scanners and were both pulled over for our jars of Dulce de Leche although, to my absolute amazement, we were allowed to keep them by the harassed staff! Sprinting for our flight, we soon realised that this too was very late (spot a pattern here?) and in the end we could have crawled to the gate backwards and still made it… back in Manchester we just missed a bus to the car park and so waited outside in the near-freezing temperatures clad in shorts waiting for the next one; this was a shock after the high-20’s temperature back in Argentina!
That was that then, my second trip to Argentina over and gone, but as we headed back home all was contentment; I’d done so much more than I thought I would, met some great people, and further enhanced my knowledge of the country which I was already planning a return visit to, although the next time I planned to visit other areas such as Tierra del Fuego, but I knew that wherever I went I’d be back in one of my favourite cities in the world, Buenos Aires, within a couple of years – if I could wait that long!
Another amazing trip, but this one surpassed the previous one by so much more than by scoop tally; I’d met brewers, toured breweries and brewpubs, been driven around the city, talked about beer to brewers whose products I respected, had seen much more of the city and it’s surroundings than I had the previous time and enjoyed it all with an old friend who I think appreciated it as much as I had if for slightly different reasons and this last point alone was worth the £700 airfare alone to me.
The beer scene in Buenos Aires itself has contracted somewhat in the brewpub sense with quite a few having closed since my last visit, but the addition of Cruzat means that there’s now somewhere to explore the produce of the entire country under one roof, plus there’s still plenty of artesanal beer to be found in the city if you know where to look. The overall quality of beer hadn’t been quite as good as my first trip although this is in part down to drinking more beer from producers who haven’t yet realised how to use their ingredients and/or kit and I’m confident that, given a few years, I’ll find many more quality brews in Argentina from even more micro brewers than are in production now.
I don’t know what else to say apart from if you want to visit a fascinating city with an interesting beer culture (including cask ale!) then Buenos Aires could be just what you’re looking for and will tick all the boxes of beer, food, transport, safety and value as long as you don’t act like a mug! Without exception the people we met were friendly, sociable and extremely generous and English is widely spoken, although a smidgeon of Spanish goes a long way in asking for things and will almost always ensure a friendly response.
I didn’t reach my ambitious target of 100 scoops for the trip, no thanks to British Airways, but I look on this philosophically with the view that there will be more for me on my next visit and, as another bonus, I’ll definitely have to go back to Chile again as the beer culture there looks set to take off in the same way as Buenos Aires’ did in 2005.
So much to do, so little time…
© Gazza 09/03/08 v1.0
Some phots of the trip...
|Beer exchange in Santiago - Gazza Cristian and David!||Barba Roja brewery, Escobar||Cardos brewery, Los Cardales||Stone brewpub, Pilar||Luis and Martin from Murrays, Nicolas the BsAs scooper and Gazza at Stone, Pilar|
|Brewplant in Stone, Pilar||Ceres brewpub Punta Chica.||Gazza in De Cao, Buenos Aires, with chopp negra !||Graf Zeppelin brewpub - maybe? - El Palomar||Gibraltar pub San Telmo|
|Big Feller scooping Monte Castro winners at the El Galpon market, BsAs||Scooping Monte Castro beer by a yellow tin shed in suburban BsAs!||El Galpon market BsAs - one of the strangest places to scoop a beer!||Frankfurt Panchos BsAs||View inside Cruzat beer house, BsAs|
|Gazza with a Murrays brewery poster in Cruzat beer house BsAs||Inside the Cossab brewpub, BsAs||Big Feller with a lomo in the excellent Desnivel restaurant, BsAs||BsAs Transporter bridge||Scooping at Santiago airport, Chile|
|Buenos Aires Premetro (tram) map||Heritage tram location map||Buenos Aires metro map||Buenos Aires rail map (suburban trains)|