Beer-lovers in Peru do not have a lot of choices. While Europe is awash in small, artisanal breweries and North America is experiencing its own microbrewery revolution, Peru’s beer market is dominated by a few brands of lager. Ted Alexander is hoping to change that by offering some variety; his Sierra Andina Brewing Company, based in Huaraz, aims to bring some of the microbrew culture down here to Peru. He was kind enough to answer some questions for Peru this Week.
Where are you from? What brought you to Huaraz, and when?
I was born in Hastings, England but moved to Pennsylvania, USA at the ripe age of 2 years old where I spend my formative years. I left home at a young age to seek my fortune and eventually ended up working for an outdoor organization called Outward Bound – a school dedicated to providing life enriching outdoor adventures.
During the off season of my first year with Outward Bound, I made it down to Peru to explore some of the climbing options and arrived in Huaraz one rainy evening in October of 1998. After a few climbs I had run out of the very small amount of money I had and needed to find a job – I bumped into some Italians who ran a school and volunteered for them for 6 months. As a thank you, they bought me my plane ticket back to the States.
I returned a few months later and then again in 2000; I saved up $7,000 to return to Huaraz and start a very small guiding company called Skyline Adventures. My wife and I still run Skyline Adventures today, and it has been an amazing way to bring people to some of the most spectacular alpine places on the world.
In 2008 after 15 years in the outdoor industry, I was ready for a change and began home brewing – soon, what started out as a hobby got completely out of hand and I was brewing up to two or three batches a week and began fiddling around with the idea to make this a bigger operation. It took two years to write the business plan and then another year to raise the money needed to start the Sierra Andina Brewing Company
When did Sierra Andina start operations? Who else is part of the Sierra Andina team?
Sierra Andina was founded officially in January 2011; then on May 15 we poured our first grains into the mash tun and started brewing beer – our goal was and still is to provide Peru with four distinct, classy ales and we started with brewing our Alpamayo Amber Ale – named after one of the perfect peaks in the Cordillera Blanca – however, we were unable to get our bottler machine to function well at 3100m and spent almost 4 months working out the kinks before we could get the beer to bottle.
In the midst of these problems, we were running very low on money and decided to open our tasting room as a way of serving our beer without needing to bottle it, so on September 1st we opened our doors to the good people of Huaraz. Our inauguration was nothing shy of a booming success, as hundreds of thirsty souls poured into our brewery. It was a proud moment for all of us.
It was only in October that we finally got the bottler to work after literally rebuilding the machine from the ground up. We brought in the expert services of Chris Leonard from Copper Crow brewing in the States to help us over this final hurdle. Chris had worked with us in May as our advisor and helped us design our recipe,s and his help was invaluable. So finally – after almost 6 months we were able to sell our beer in bottles to restaurants, bars and stores throughout Huaraz.
As of now the Sierra Andina team is made up of 3 main people – Matt Morrill is part owner and the brew master, Paul Shultze is the Tap room manager and I am the guy that makes sure these guys don’t run out of anything. In addition we have several delivery guys and 2 people that work part time.
Where can one purchase Sierra Andina in Huaraz, and where in Lima? Can we expect more availability soon?
We have our beers available in almost 40 locations throughout Huaraz, in almost all of the tourist restaurants, most of the grocery stores, and some of the bars. It should not be hard to find!
In Lima we are working with a distributor to get the ball rolling. It has taken longer than we expected to get the actual sales rolling but you will soon find Sierra Andina beer for sale in Vivandas, Plaza Vea, Tottus and of course in many of the fine restaurants throughout the fair city. It is our goal to have Sierra Andina available to as many people throughout Peru as possible and we are working very hard to realize that goal.
The best way to stay current with what is going on and where Sierra Andina beer is for sale is finding us on Facebook.
So much of a beer’s flavor is derived from the ingredients that go into it. Where do you get the hops and other ingredients?
Yes this is certainly true.
The water is what provides the beer with many of its character and we have the good fortune of having very, very good water from the slopes of Vallunaraju mountain.
The malt – which provides the beer with its body, alcohol, color and much of its flavor we get from the closest maltster which is Maltexco; they are based in Chile. Unfortunately Peru does not operate a malting company so we have to go abroad for this.
The hops – which provide the classic beer bitterness and aroma- are plants that need to grow where there are long days and short days, and are the happiest growing in the 40s and 50s latitudes, so being so close to the equator, we have to bring in the hops from the northern USA, Germany and Argentina.
Adjunct grains – barley and oats – we get from farmers in the Huaraz area.
It seems like Sierra Andina is modeled after microbreweries in the U.S. Is there any one in particular that inspires you guys or that you especially admire?
There are so many terrific breweries throughout the States, but none in particular provided more inspiration then others. I think in the end, what we wanted to create was a brewery that makes fun, classy, full-flavored ales for Peru – to bring the microbrewery movement here to a country we love, that is still completely dominated by giant tasteless mega breweries.
We have a long way to go still we still have large obstacles and challenges to overcome between where we are now and where we want to be in 5 years. Peru has the third highest beer tax in the world, we have to train the servers at restaurants how to sell and serve our beer, and we have to convince many people to try something new.
That said, we have a stellar team of people, and we are doing something that we feel completely excited about – bottle by bottle we will make Peru a better country.