The latest edition of my ranting and raving from the paper:
When I first arrived in Ecuador, I was immediately smitten with Pilsner. It’s cold, cheap, fresh from the factory, and they serve it by the glass-boot-full in the Ghoz Bar. Within weeks I had bought my own haba, a crate of 12 empty, liter-sized bottles, and I was recharging them for less than I’d pay for two pints back in beer-snob-Boulder. Then a friend offered me a Budweiser, and I uttered words I thought would never exit my mouth: wow, now, this is some good beer!
You see, as cheap and cold as Pilsner is, it really isn’t anywhere near being classified as good beer. And drinking too much of it may have you forgetting that fact. What’s more, Pilsner and its close cousins, Club and Brahma, are our only options in Ecuador. I recently counted 13 different flavors, sizes, and types of marshmallows in a small corner-store near my house. But the beer selection? Well, let’s just say I didn’t need a calculator to add up the offering.
The problem, of course, is import laws. Ecuador, with good reason, wants to protect its local industries, and certainly Pilsner has some political capital to keep it that way. El Griego and El Espanol both have a small selection of European import beers; but the real gold mine is at Santa Espuma. This Ecuadorian enterprise has ripped the carpet from underneath Pilsner and Club. The owner, Andres, learned his craft in Australia, and his methods are meticulous. His brewery is spotlessly clean, and his ingredients are imported from Europe. His selection always involves a Scottish Strong, a Golden Ale, and a Porter. Additionally, he rotates in seasonal specialties such as an Oktoberfest or a Stout for St. Patty’s Day. So far, the only method to get his beers out of the door is in a pony-keg, but after recently purchasing a six pack of Ukranian beer as my only alternative to Pilsner, I think it might be time to start pricing kegerators.
In truth, I’m not sure if I really dislike Pilsner, or am just tired of having it as my only option. But there is one thing I know for sure: Ecuadorian wine is truly horrible. It sells for around $1.50 to $2.00 a bottle, and I’m not quite sure who buys it. Every guidebook spends at least three sentences trashing it, and so it was with great reluctance that I accepted the idea that the Ecuador Reporter should go tour a vineyard last weekend. First of all, I wasn’t sure if we could all get up early enough to catch the bus (I was right.) However, by 11AM we were happily cruising along in the back of a pick-up, drinking Pilsner of course, heading towards Chaupi Estancia Vineyards. The owner wasn’t available for our tour, but his long-time assistant vintner, Jorge, graciously opened the 6 hectares of grapes to our motley crew. Jorge led us through fields of grapes, explaining the varieties, and their methods of harvesting. The grapes are extremely sensitive, and must be harvested during precise times of sun, water, and temperature. They are then brought to a fermentation room, where the bottles are meticulously produced—six at a time. The winery has been producing commercially since 2002, and has won an award for its distinctive Palomino Fino.
All of this was great information, but honestly, Jorge had us at the word wine. We were eager to crack a bottle and get to the real test of any good wine: how many bottles could we drink before someone started rolling down the freshly mowed hill outside the wine cellar? Our new writer, Yancey, won that game, and as we laughed at his antics, we all came to the conclusion that a day spent at a Chapui Estancia was a day well invested. Next time though, I think we’ll bring some cheese…then again, maybe we shouldn’t get me started on Queso Fresco.
The Blue Footed Booby is soliciting care packages of Colorado Micro-Brews at www.esteecuador.blogspot.com
The Blue Footed Booby’s Alcohol Gift Guide:
- Chaupi Estancia Wine can be found at Mega Maxi
- Santa Espuma will sell you a pony keg for about $100, Whymper and Orellana
- Chicha, fermented jungle root spit is widely available in The Oriente
- Punta, fermented sugar cane liquor is under the counter at every Banos sugar cane stand
- Zhumir, widely available, comes in lovely flavors like Peach and Chocolate
- Finally, The Spirit of Ecuador, which tastes like it is straight out of Willy Wonka’s factory, can be found in overpriced commemorative Mitad Del Mundo bottles as you leave the country