Mix together three parts international beer competition, two parts craft beer conference, a handful of female activism, a pinch of tourism of Cusco and the Sacred Valley and a generous portion of beer industry camaraderie.
Finish it off with an incredible night of cumbia dancing madness to celebrate all the medals Peru took home and you get the latest and greatest Peruvian craft beer event: the Copa Latinoamericana de Cervezas Artesanales.
Held February 27-March 5, the Copa Latinoamericana was a week-long friendly international craft beer competition put on by the union of Cerveceros Artesanales del Perú (CAP) to see who makes the best beers from the regions of Mexico, South and Central America. This was decided by 25 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) certified judges from all over the world. Most were from South America, though representatives from Spain, Italy, Mexico, England, and the United States were also present.
Spanning the region of Cusco all the way to Ollantaytambo, the first four days of the Copa were spent in the Sacred Valley to sort and judge the beers. Activities then moved on to Cusco, with the craft beer conferences, awards ceremony, and closing ceremony bash held at the Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar overlooking Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.
In the Valley (Photo: Copa Latinoamericana de Cervezas Artesanales Facebook)
The week started out innocently enough. Around 9 a.m. I arrived at the Posada del Inca in the small town of Yucay, Sacred Valley to carry out my duties as a steward. Following strict instructions, I wore all black so as not to interfere with the judge's concentration. Ready to go and be the best steward they had ever seen! Problem was, I was the only one in black. Some people had fun though. I kept being asked what time I needed to leave for the funeral.
Being one of the stewards was a fun experience, and a great responsibility that I shared with others from Peru, Columbia, Brazil, and Ecuador. First we checked in and sorted the over 400 different beer entries and got them ready for judging. At five bottles per entry, the footprint was quite impressive! We had to take over the eight banquet tables set up for the judges in order to sort and mark the army of delicious brews. I don't think I have ever seen that many Latin American craft beers in one place. Incredible art work on some, though most had no labels.
Days 2, 3, and 4 were pure scrutiny from morning to evening as stewards served beer to the judges and waited as the officials they slurped, swirled, and swished through each offering. The judges meticulously went through the hundreds of bottles searching for that clean, delicious taste in each category that would set itself apart from the masses. There were the typical IPAs, Stouts, Pale Ales and Lagers, though the competition had its share of experimental beers. I served a Pre-Prohibition lager that had entered into the Historical Beer category. There was even a beer made with tuna. Not the fish, the Andean fruit, but still'¦
Judges in action (Photo: Copa Latinoamericana de Cervezas Artesanales Facebook)
Days 5 and 6 were full of conferences about, what else, beer. The talks were very interesting and put on by some of the best in the international industry. Matt Van Wyk of Alesong Brewing and Blending in Eugene, Oregon shared his barrel experience, the same experience that won him a gold medal in the Great American Beer Fest this last year.
John Palmer, renowned author of many of the industry's most read technical books, gave a talk on water quality and preparation for beer making. It was an info packed couple of days in English and Spanish.
On Thursday, Megan Garrity of Greenga Brewing spearheaded the Big Boots Brew for the Pink Boots Society, a collaboration beer made by over a dozen women from all over Latin America taking turns on Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado's brew deck. Appropriately titled Nuqanchis atinchis ('We can do it!' in Quechua), the Chicha Cream Ale that resulted is a beer made in celebration of 2017's International Women's Day. I tried the warm wort and it was very tasty with a beautiful reddish pink color. Look for this beer in your favorite craft beer watering hole in the next few weeks.
Chicha Cream Ale in process thanks to the ladies of Big Boots Brew (Photo: Casey Workman)
The results of the competition were very favorable to Peruvian breweries, as the nation with a beer culture that is often said to be way behind Argentina and Chile took one gold, five silvers, and seven bronze medals. Thirteen of the total 30 medals awarded to all the breweries spanning Uruguay to Mexico were awarded to Peru. A complete list of winners can be seen here.
What about the best brewery of Peru 2016? Oh, Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado? They had medals falling out of their pockets on the way out the door. Not only did they take home three bronze and three silvers, but they won best brewery of Peru (2017) for the second year in a row and were recognized as the best brewery of the competition. A salud to the del Valle crew!
What did this competition mean for Peru and its budding craft beer scene? This competition showed the rest of the Latin American craft beer scene that Peru has great craft beer, passionate and welcoming brewers, and breathtaking landscapes to drink it in. All things considered for a competition of this magnitude, the CAP did an incredible job of presentation, execution, and representation of our quality and passion and I was proud to be a part of it.
A Portland, Oregon native, Casey Workman currently resides in Arequipa, Peru. Visit him at his pub, Chelawasi Public House, for great beer, food, and conversation.