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Discovering Craft Beer in…Peru!

  • Chaqchao-Arequipa
  • Chaqchao Cafe
    A barrista delivers a latte at Chaqchao's cafe. Image courtesy of Chaqchao.
  • Arequipa Beer Club
    The beer board at the Arequipa Beer Club in Arequipa, Peru. The selection always changes, and he four beers on tap are complimented by a huge number of bottled beers. Image courtesy of Chaqchao.
  • Chaqchao Chocolate Shop
  • Chaqchao Arequipa Beer Club
  • Magdalena Muertecita Double IPA
    Magdalena Muertecita Double IPA. Image courtesy of Chaqchao.
  • Chaqchao Chocolate Class
    One of the daily chocolate classes in the chocolate shop. Image courtesy of Chaqchao.


Part 1:  Arequipa, PEru

The Wandering is the Search

Arequipa is hot. The sun beats down in heavy, hot rays and I finally understand the practicality of the wide-brimmed, traditional hats that older Arequipeños wear. We’ve been walking for 3 hours, up and down through the narrow, twisted streets of the historic center. We’re wandering without a purpose, which is both Andréanne and my preferred method to discovering this new city.

Seated in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes at 7,638 feet above sea level, you can easily get lost in Arequipa, even though it’s laid out on a grid. Apparently spring is the hottest season of the year, so with midday lunch fast approaching, the thought of a $5 menu of the day (featuring ceviche, obviously) sounds ever more appetizing. But we still need a trinket, something we’d discussed buying to exchange as a memory of traveling together. We haven’t seen anything yet, though, and with only 1 more day traveling, time is running out.

Chaqchao Arequipa Beer Club

The unassuming entrance to the Chaqchao Cafe.

And then there it is:  a 6 foot plate glass window peering into the darkness of an antiques shop, held captive by rusted metal security bars. The dull patina of the copies of Inca relics sized to pendants and the faded paintings of conquistadors call us to the window:  maybe this place will have something. We wander through the rectangular entryway of a courtyard where presumably the entrance to the antiques shop can be found.

There are multiple entryways in this courtyard and another, more tantalizing one lures us with the wafting perfume of dark chocolate highlighted by muted orange light reflecting off terra cotta tiles. At this point, we are so enraptured by this mysterious courtyard chocolate shop that we don’t even notice that its neighbor, the antique shop, smells like chemical mothballs.

The Scent of Chocolate

It turns out this chocolate shop is also a candy factory of sorts:  there are the huge steel vats, worktables, and utensils of a professional kitchen, and then I see them:  the trays for moulding the chocolate. Behind a plate glass wall, you’re only granted access to this miniature workshop if you sign up for the chocolate making class, which costs 60 soles (about USD$18.50). Obviously, I’m going to sign up, but I can only do it “upstairs, in the bar,” as the woman at the counter says. Chaqchao Chocolate Shop

Andréanne and I paw more cacao-based products—including everything from straightforwardly pure chocolate bars to organic body creams to iPhone covers shaped like chocolate bricks—until she buys a bar and I get ready to hike upstairs to sign up for the next available class.

Up the steep brick stairs, the first thing I notice as we walk into the airy, light space is a huge espresso machine…..in front of which are perhaps 10 craft beers. My head swivels around as I take everything in, and I spot a sight for sore eyes:  a long wooden bar flanked with bottled beers of unknown origin, plus a chalkboard with their descriptions.

Andréanne is the coffee drinker here, so she orders her cappuccino as per usual, tout suite.

I, on the other hand, stare dumbly at the beer, then at the gleaming espresso machine, then at the hipster staring back at me, then back at the beer. I’m getting hipster shamed at not knowing which coffee I want; the last time this happened was in Portland….weird. I decide, though, that I don’t care that it’s only 1 p.m.

I’m ordering a beer.

Dusting Off the Hidden Gem

As coincidence would have it, this coffee shop cum craft beer bar is a second home for expats with a taste for both organic, locally roasted coffee and chocolate, as well as a hub for artisanal Peruvian beer. And I get why:  its owners have brought both local and international influences under literally one roof.

Peruvian Javier and Australian Imogen met in 2009 when Javier was studying for his international MBA in Oz, and they kept in touch over the next few years after they returned to their respective countries. At some point, Javier visited Dandelion Chocolates in San Francisco, and noticed that the Peruvian bean-to-bar movement had already gone international. And yet, it wasn’t being done at home? In Imogen’s words:

As a child, Javier had grown up just around the corner from the La Iberica chocolate factory (the first Arequipa-owned chocolate company) so he remembers the smells and his auntie giving him lots of dark chocolate treats. So after coming back from his trip to the States he was thinking, why doesn’t he start a bean to bar chocolate [business] in Arequipa with the organic cacao beans basically growing in his own back yard (being Peru!)?

Obviously the decision made sense, and after initially investing in making all his own chocolate, and after selling out at all the local markets, he and Imogen moved to open the Chaqchao Cafe. With all the open space that their new venture afforded, they were able to accompany the cafe’s sweet and caffeinated offerings with homebrewed beers that a few friends provided. And after those too sold out, they moved to stock some of the more known Peruvian breweries like Barbarian and Cumbres.

…One and a half years ago, we had around 4 Peruvian craft beer brands that were pretty well known; now it’s almost uncountable how many new craft brewers are popping up – and not only from Lima, we now stock brands from all over including Tacna, Cusco, Huaraz, Sacred Valley and Arequipa. We do feel as if there are the brands who have a passion and knowledge for brewing great quality craft beer and they have been from the start and seem like they always will.

Imogen relates how she’s seen the industry grow and change, not only in her own shop, but also across the country. Knowing that locals and foreigners are helping to drive the thirst for craft brews, she looked at their experience at the inaugural CAPFEST 2014, musing upon whether or not the market has reached a saturation point yet. (Note:  the next installment covers CAPFEST 2015).

Regardless, the most important impact they’ve seen is at home.

The growing number of craft beers has really turned our Chaqchao cafe into more of a bar so that’s why we created the Arequipa Beer Club. Chaqchao was previously known as a organic coffee, cakes and chocolate place but we needed a way to make the locals and tourists realize that we are the place to be if you wanted to drink and support local Peruvian brewers.

So Pick OnE

Now it’s my turn. I’m staring at the big chalkboard of beer, and the beer connoisseur in me is like:  “Whoa, hold up. Pick something good. Don’t rush this. Ask questions.” And it’s a challenge, because there might only be 2 beers on tap (for the momentnormally there are up to 4)  but today there are two fully stocked fridges with at least 28 different beers. I’m literally astounded; I had no idea Peru had a craft beer scene! There are at least 5 brands represented, each with at least four varieties available.

Jen, a Canadian from Toronto, is kind enough to guide me through some of the options and give me a few recommendations. (Sidebar:  she tells me about Despegar.com.pe, a flight deal aggregator I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t chatted her up about beer. The point is that being friendly and talking to locals, especially expats, is always a good idea when you’re traveling solo. Expats can be extra helpful because they’ve literally and figuratively been where you are:  sitting in your seat, and with little information, they’ll often share what they’ve learned in their own time traveling.)

Arequipa Beer Club, Peru

The beer board at the Arequipa Beer Club in Arequipa, Peru. The selection always changes, and he four beers on tap are complimented by a huge number of bottled beers. Image courtesy of Chaqchao.

Anyways, because it’s hot and sunny and I’m in a San Diego kind-of-mood, I go with the Muertecita Double IPA from Magdalena. We sit out on the narrow street-facing balcony with the view of the Chachani volcano to bask in the sun. I cannot imagine a better beer for the moment.

It pours a hazy copper, and perhaps because we’re at altitude, has a heavy white head that threatens to topple over the slender stange/pint glass in which it’s served. But that doesn’t matter, because it is everything a perfect beer in the perfect moment should be.

Mildly resinous hops with a tangy grassy finish strike my palate. Its citric bouquet is balanced out by the strong—but not overwhelming—hops, because it’s that kick of an aftertaste that makes it perfect for the day. It’s an accessible double IPA, perhaps more the Oregon level rather than in the San Diego style (where I find some IPAs are so heavily hopped that I’m turned off from drinking them).

We spent the next hour savoring our respective beverages, gazing up at the volcano, and discussing next steps. Andréanne will return to Chile, then return Canada, while I plan to continue north through Peru.

This afternoon, though, is just about staring at that majestic volcano, reveling in our thoughts, and enjoying where we are now. Because who would have imagined we’d be here??! Four months after meeting in a tiny mountain town in Chile, we had reunited for a weeklong roadtrip to Peru. Paragliding, surfing, moped-ing, and ceviche-ing our way up from Santiago de Chile, our adventures had reminded me of the best part of traveling alone:  you’re never really alone. The friends you meet along the way will always prove that to you.

So even as I waved goodbye to Andréanne as she dashed off to catch her bus to Puno, Bolivia (the base of Lake Titicaca), I was a bit sad, but not by much. My friend and I would be reunited somewhere else, perhaps during the North American winter. And after all, now I had an exciting opportunity:  to travel alone again.

Want to learn more about craft beer in Peru? Start here and stay tuned for the next installment of Discovering Craft Beer in Peru.

* Please note this is an unsponsored, unpaid trip report. I really did just enjoy Chaqchao, traveling with Andréanne, stumbling upon random but cool finds in Arequipa, and finding craft beer in when I least expected it.

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