Before we get into the detail of beer in Argentina, a bit of background. Argentina – and especially Buenos Aires – has managed to retain much of its conquistadores’ European flair. Colourful and vibrant everywhere you go, Argentina is the birthplace of the tango; and dancing plays a big role in both people’s lifestyle and partying habits.
Partying is serious business here. Whereas at times you might feel a little limited in choice in Uruguay, this certainly is not the case in Argentina. With sprawling cities containing entire barrios trending effortlessly towards a hipster or bohemian feel; you might be fooled into thinking you are in Paris or London did the metro not cost a mere 30p a ride. Also, the party scene in Argentina happens LATE. Especially in the capital, it’s not hard to find bars and pubs open until beyond 5/6am and clubs open until unthinkable hours – in addition to the garden parties and day festivals too. It really doesn’t stop in Buenos Aires.
Quilmes: the symbol of Argentina
Despite now being owned by the Brazilian company AmBev, Quilmes is still somewhat of a national jewel, sporting the Argentine colours of blue and white. The beer was founded by a German immigrant Otto Emberg in 1888, taking the name from the town of its inception, famed for its water quality. It is the only truly national ‘local’ beer you can find, with many other smaller regional beers now beginning to expand into other parts of the country, such as Patagonia and Andes.
The number one seller – unsurprisingly for a Latam market – is the 1L bottle of Quilmes Cristal, a refreshingly simple lager. Though the brand also boasts a Light version, a stout, red lager and bock variety, these play a smaller role in the brand’s portfolio. The Brazilian beer Brahma can also be found in large parts of the country and tends to be an either-or with Quilmes for those looking for a lager in can or 1L bottle format.
German influence in Argentinian beers
As I referenced above, the most well-known beer brand in the country was set up by a German immigrant, so it will come as no surprise to hear of the massive German influence in Argentina. In various parts of the country you can find entire towns that replicate a cartoon version of rural Germany, littered with pubs serving Warsteiner or other authentic German beers and even a permanent Oktoberfest themed archway in the central square of some. On top of this, there are an overwhelming number of ‘German’ beers originating from Argentina such as Schneider, Isenbeck and Berlina. Synonymous with good beer, the nation of Germany certainly carries some weight when it comes to consumer beer preferences in Argentina.
All craft everything
If Uruguay was seeing a subtle emergence of the craft scene, then with a quick ferry over the river to Buenos Aires you will see that the Porteños are certainly making up for the lack of ‘craft’ in their eastern neighbour. Palermo is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the city – BA’s answer to Madrid’s Malasaña district or London’s Shoreditch – and one in which you can’t walk more than 5 steps without seeing a sign for craft something, more often than not beer.
Whilst the sheer volume of establishments in Buenos Aires was unique to the capital, the craft beer revolution spreads well across the country, from the large student cities of Rosario and Córdoba, to the small towns such as Chacras de Coria (a town with only 6,000 inhabitants and home of perhaps the coolest craft beer garden I’ve ever been to) on the outskirts of Mendoza. Even the wine capital of Argentina was laden with craft beer pubs – although they have to make use of all those grapes somehow, which led to a strangely tasty Grape IPA.
What’s the story?
Unlike how craft is positioned in most markets as having a great depth of story behind it and education being a key part of the craft experience, there was a distinct lack of this in the majority of craft beer pubs across Argentina. Especially so in the capital, you could walk from bar to bar to see the same offering of often unbranded, unnamed (and incredibly strong) Golden, Honey, Scotch, English or Kölsch beer. Whilst this isn’t true of all establishments, with sizeable breweries such as Antares and Temple having a number of outlets, it certainly didn’t marry up with the craft feel I am used to. Despite this, however, the level of education around beer seemed high, with it not uncommon to see tasting notes and IBUs listed alongside every beer on offer.
A friendly growler
A term that caused a little confusion upon touching down in Argentina was ‘growler’, however, by the end of the first week it had become my new favourite word. A growler is a large retro-style glass bottle which is designed for sharing among friends. In a number of on-trade outlets, it was possible to buy a growler of the beer of your choice, although just as common was the usage of growlers at home. You could quite often find yourself in a bar in which a number of people came in to top up their growler and return home to enjoy the rest of their evening.
By bridging the gap between the on-trade and off-trade, growlers are opening up craft beer to the in-home market – and whilst craft beer can increasingly be found in supermarkets, a more cost-effective, straight-from-the-tap offer has caught the imagination of the consumer. Whilst most growlers were are unbranded or designed by a craft beer pub itself, it could yet be an opportunity for breweries large and small to open up this new slice of the market.
Aperitifs in Argentina
Whilst not strictly beer-related, it seemed incomplete to not talk about Argentina’s love of the aperitif. In recent years, across Europe there has been a bit of a renaissance of the likes of Aperol Spritz in the large metropolitan cities and to some extent Campari, especially in Southern Europe. However, Argentina has fully bought into the Aperitif market with the most popular drinks across the country falling firmly in this category – in fact in 1864, Hesperidina (similar to Cointreau) became Argentina’s first ever registered brand. Fernet & Cola is the most widely drunk party beverage across the country (leading to Argentina being the world’s greatest consumer of the brand).
Second to this come the likes of Campari, Aperol, Cynar and Cinzano; which all have real traction in the market and are very much viewed as party drinks for before or during a night out. In stark contrast to the much more low-tempo and sophisticated after-dinner occasion for which these brands were originally intended, they typically come mixed in large plastic jugs or glasses to be shared in order to get you into the party spirit. And if that is not enough, you can even get these in smaller RTD formats.
Favourite beer in Argentina:
Having been somewhat spoiled for choice for great beers across Argentina, it was difficult to narrow down to a favourite beer. Antares craft brews offered some interesting and delicious choices, however, the one that edged in front of the pack for me was the Patagonia 24-7 Session IPA. Balancing the scale of a fairly national beer with the great taste and feeling of craft, the aptly named ‘24-7’ Session IPA delivered an easy-drinking beer yet with a more complex taste than the widely available Quilmes.
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