By Stephen Beaumont
You can credit Nathan Keffer for this column. Nathan is the American ex-pat who is one half of Quito’s Bandido Brewing, a brewery with two locations in the Ecuador capital, and an ardent booster of Ecuador craft beer. He began pestering me to visit when first I met him at a Mexican beer event a few years back and has kept it up since. In July, I finally took him up on the offer.
Admittedly, my motive was more than just getting Nathan off my back. As Tim Webb and I are now hard at work developing the third edition of The World Atlas of Beer, and since my responsibilities include all the Americas from northern Canada to the tip of Argentina, it behooved me to pay attention to what was developing in one of the few significant Latin American beer markets I had not yet visited.
I was very glad I did. After Brazil, the undisputed (for now!) craft beer leader in Latin America, close second Mexico, and a resurgent Argentina, the last up to a reported 1000 breweries, Ecuador might very well be the region’s fourth most important beer culture.
But before we get to the beer, a bit about Quito.
At close to two miles above sea level, Quito is the world’s highest national capital, and being geographically long and narrow, sandwiched between mountains, traversing from Point A to Point B invariably consists of a series of spectacular climbs and descents. All of which makes Quito singularly one of the most dramatic cities I have yet visited.
Counterintuitively, however, getting around is comparatively easy, thanks to a compact downtown and a quasi-legal Uber service that in off-peak hours will transport you more than 20 km for barely more than $10. (Ecuador uses the US dollar as its official currency.) In dense traffic, which is to say much of the time, a 30-minute trip can be taken for about $5.
On the beer side, over my six days there, I was thoroughly impressed by what the city had to offer. Beginning with Bandido – at their original downtown taproom and the La Paz location they share with Cerveza Páramo – I was struck by both the technical proficiency of the Honey Ginger Saison and the creativity behind La GUA.P.A, an IPA partially ‘hopped’ with a native tea leaf. Neither assessment was influenced at all by Nathan’s role in bringing me to Quito.
Closer to where I was staying in La Paz was the taproom of Santa Rosa, a brewery with a particularly deft touch in the sour beer department, even coaxing a grudgingly good review out of me for their smoothie-like Mas Mango Sour. Still, the non-sour side didn’t disappoint at all, particularly the highly ‘more-ish’ and 6% alcohol Extra Stout, a mocha-ish, walnutty black ale I could easily enjoy all night.
Taking a more scattergun approach, which included beers judged blind and revealed only later, I found myself repeatedly enthralled by brews like: Sabai Beer’s Guayusa, named after and seasoned with a local leaf high in caffeine and flavour; Páramo’s convincingly Bavarian Helles and almost as good Weissbier; the Belgian-inspired ales of both Los 3 Monjes and Derijcke Belgian Brew; the Mounds Bar-like Rumiñahui from El Artesano; several ales, but especially the Irish Red, from Santana, located steps from the actual equator; and a surprising number of textbook, old school IPAs from across the country.
What the city is currently lacking, at least to my experience, is a decent circuit of quality beer bars. Providing that the brewers keep up the quality and creativity they are currently exhibiting, however, that is sure to follow, perhaps even by the time you get there, or I return.