United States-based craft breweries started to make their mark in the mid-1980s, but it’s only in recent times that the industry has exploded. The Brewers Association noted that the number of microbreweries – those creating fewer than six million barrels per year – jumped from 1,521 in 2008 to 3,200 in 2014. And in 2015, these smaller companies not only saw a 13 percent rise in sales, they also accounted for 12 percent of the “market share of the total beer market.” But it’s not just the US where the industry has flourished. It’s extended to all corners of the world, including Latin America.
Though the craft beer industry remains small in Latin America, it’s certainly making an impression and growing quickly. “Sales of craft beer in Latin America are growing at between 20 percent and 40 percent a year, depending on which country you’re in,” Daniel Trivelli, president of Copa Cervezas de America, told the BBC.
In Chile, for example, craft beers make up only two percent of the market, but sales recently grew by 25 percent. In Brazil, at 0.8 percent, these small businesses account for even less of the total market, but it’s still impressive. “In a country of 220 million people who consume [2,333.17 ounces] of beer per capita each year, that’s still significant.”
And because this niche industry lends itself to more experimentation, craft breweries are also expanding the region’s tastes and preferences. Latin Americans have typically gone for more “light low-alcohol lagers” partially because of the warm weather, but craft breweries are also pushing them to go for stronger beers.
So if you need a break from Presidente, Victoria, and Pilsen, here are nine Latin American craft breweries you should check out:
Nearly two years ago, Maestra Cervecera Ceci Cruz Palma brought Santo Coraje to El Salvador. The beer connoisseur took a chance when she enrolled in a brewing academy in Berlin. Out of the 40 people who made up her class, only four were women. The experience closely mirrored the male-dominated beer industry, even though women invented beer. As Ceci said in a video promoting her brand, “men had nothing to do with it.”
In 2014, she returned to El Salvador to put these lessons into practice. Not long after establishing her small craft brewery, she had developed her own recipes – inspired by Germany’s traditions but with a Salvadoran spin.
As the name suggests, courage – not necessarily of the liquid variety – is at the center of the brand. “Santo Coraje was born out of the idea that you can’t do something without courage,” she told ElSalvador.com. “It’s our philosophy.”
Santo Coraje – available at Finca San Ernesto in La Libertad, Rooster in Nuevo Cuscatlán, Smash Burger in San Salvador, and a few other locations – is made following the Bavarian purity law of 1516. Originally, the law said that only water, barley, and hops could be used to brew beer. Eventually yeast and malt were included as approved ingredients. Though this method is now associated with Germany’s top-notch beers, Bavarian nobleman enacted that law as a way to keep beer makers from using crops intended for making bread.
Ceci’s Santo Coraje offers five different kinds of beers. Check them out here.
When Juanchi Vélez lived in the United States about two decades ago, he first tried craft beer – which tasted unlike any other beer he had tried before. He knew then that he wanted to be in the craft beer business back in Colombia. “When I came to the country on vacation, I told my friends and everyone else my idea,” he told El Tiempo. “But they told me I was dumb, asked how I could possibly think that and said it was nonsense.”
Despite the lack of support, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head. He looked for a job at an Atlanta brewery, so he learn the trade. Upon learning that the company had no openings, Juanchi offered to work for free. For six months he toiled without any compensation until offered a salaried position. He put aside his own dreams for some time, but eventually knew he had to pursue it. He eventually told his wife that he was set on opening a brewery in Medellin. He went back to look for investment to start the business, and this time, others took him seriously.
In 2007, he returned to Colombia to open his microbrewery, 3 Cordilleras. The first two years, business was slow. Regardless, his company didn’t stop producing beer in the company’s first few years. 40 places sold the beer in the beginning; by 2012, that number grew to 600 around Antioquia. The kinds of beers offered has also grown. The company started with three, and it now offers six types about a decade later. (Check them out here.) Meanwhile, Juanchi is living his dream. “I feel very happy,” he said. “I contribute to the country, and I do what I want.”
Carlos Pérez has brewed beer since 2009, but his brand, Charley Horse, didn’t come to exist until July 4, 2015. His friends, who got to taste his creations before anyone else, encouraged him to start his own business of high quality beers. And it’s his perfectionist ways that has propelled the brand forward.
“I work with Homebrew equipment,” he told Humo & Birra. “It’s not easy. I have to dedicate a lot of time to it, and this isn’t even taking into consideration that I’m very demanding about the quality. I can tell you that I have discarded boxes of beer because they didn’t meet the standards I demand.”
Despite having another job, Pérez dedicates 40 hours a week preparing, labeling, and packing beers. After lots of trials and error and growing pains, Carlos has decided on three types of beers he feels comfortable selling the general public: summer ale, copper ale, and Belgian bliss. Summer ale is sort of bitter and the brand’s most popular drink. Copper ale features a toasted malt and is a bit more intense. And Belgian bliss is the last drink introduced and has a sweetness that the other two don’t have.
The name for the brand came out of a few things. Carlos, whose friends call him Charley, though the phrase Charley horse had a humorous touch. But the name also made sense because his grandfather originally owned Dicayagua, a horse that raced against horses owned by the Trujillo family. Every time Dicayagua defeated one of the Trujillo’s horses, it brought joy to Dominicans. “Even though my grandpa didn’t want this, [Dicayagua] became a symbol of rebellion against [Rafael] Trujillo’s government,” he said. “So I wanted to include something personal that referenced this horse on my label.”
Like many 20-somethings, Diego Rodriguez, Juan Diego Vasquez, and Ignacio Schwalb frequented bars on the weekend. But after growing tired of drinking the same old brands, they decided to make their own. With the help of a Chilean friend, they got their hands on malt, hops, and yeast. Their first batch – while not perfect – gave them hope that they could do this. So using Vasquez and Schwalb’s industrial engineering background, they began to build their own equipment, according to Peru this Week.
At the end of 2011, they had their first beer: Barbarian Red Ale. Rodriguez, who studied business and financing in college, persuaded the owner of Cañas y Tapas Bar to sell the beer – which sold out the first night. “We think this is the best option for the Peruvian consumer to be introduced to the craft beer market,” Rodriguez said. “It’s less bitter than our other selection and it’s perfect for the consumer to adapt.”
Currently, Barbarian has a total of five beers. (Learn more here.) Initially, the trio brewed three liters of Red Ale, but eventually upped that number to 1,000 liters a month. By 2016, they could make as make as much as 18,000 liters. Just last year, they decided to take the next step and opened their own bar.
Just recently, Sajonia Brewing Company turned five years old. The brainchild of Jorge Biedermann, Guillermo Biedermann, and Hugo Camperchioli, Sajonia is an award-winning craft beer company based in Paraguay. Unlike other similar companies, Sajonia produces a large number of alcohol, but it’s the process they employ and their dedication to quality that keeps them in this category.
Just last year, the company’s beers were sold in more locations – going from an initial 10 to 50. It also almost produced 10,000 of alcohol a month. By the end of the year, they hoped to increase that number dramatically to 60,000 liters a month after having purchased a new machine from the United States, according to La Nación.
Cerveza Rothhammer is a family affair. In 2010, after becoming tired of drinking bad beer – the only kind they say they found in Chile – brothers Francisco, Matías, Sebastían Rothhammer, along with Duncan McPhee, decided to give it a go. The idea first came from Francisco, who invited Matías to join him. Matías was interest in the production of alcoholic beverages, but he planned to become an expert in wines. After successfully crafting their first beer, the brothers continued, and Sebastían eventually decided to join them. “I slowly began to take an interest in the subject, and left the snowboarding competitions aside,” he told Alma Cerveza. “I wanted to obtain practical laboratory knowledge about chemistry and such that I had no idea about.”
They pooled their money together to buy the equipment they needed, and each lent their distinct talents to help the brand grow. Matías, an engineer in biotechnology, handles the brewing. Sebastían, the youngest, is in charge of operations and logistics. And the oldest Rothhammer, who owns an advertising firm, deals with sales.
After crafting the perfect first beer, named R, they decided to make the jump from a completely handcrafted production to more of a microbrewery. But they needed help to take the next step. “Everything had to be built from scratch,” Matías said. “Each of us had capital, but not enough. As we began to plan what was needed to accomplish our goal, we realized we had to set up a corporation and seek out new partners. To this effect, we turned to our friend Duncan, who had supported u from the beginning and is currently in charge of administration and finance.”
Their beers contain no preservatives, giving it a shelf life of about four months. This is necessary because unlike large breweries, their product may stay on shelves for a longer period of time. Currently, Cerveza Rothhammer offers eight different types of beer. Learn more about them here.
Moropotente bills itself as Nicaragua’s first craft beer. While Victoria and Toña are old favorites in the Central American country, microbiologist José Marcel Sanchez wanted to create something different for Nicaraguans. Along with his brother-in-law, Eduardo Mendieta, he set out to shake up the Nicaraguan beer market. Inspired by the variety of beers he saw while attending school in Seattle, Sanchez began Moropotente in 2014. But the idea for a microbrewery began to sprout in 2012.
“We proposed creating our own beer,” Sanchez told El Nuevo Diario. “As a microbiologist, this was easy for me. We began creating the recipes and we started by making our beers in our home kitchen. We saw how positively our friends responded to it. They were receptive and in time, we realized that this was a business opportunity.”
Because the kind of equipment they needed wasn’t readily available in Nicaragua, the two had to get creative. And it’s not just that they had to start from scratch, the duo also faced difficulties importing ingredients from countries like Belgium, England, Germany, and Chile.
It was also slow going at first. At the beginning, only one client bought Moropotente. Then, the brand expanded to just the Pacific Coast side of the country. Now, it’s available at more than 20 places across Nicaragua. Check out their beer selection here.
About 12 years ago, Jesús Briseño set out to create a craft beer that would sell for a reasonable price. So in his own house, he began brewing beer – without ever imagining the success he would find. Just last year, Briseño chose Pabst as his company’s importer in the United States.
Lidia Jauregui, the brand’s marketing director, explains that Minerva is still one of a kind in the country. “Mexico produces 55 million hectoliters of beer, and 1 percent is considered artesanal.” Though the last decade or so has seen Minerva go from a homegrown operation to one of Mexico’s biggest craft breweries, Briseño maintains that the brand is still – by definition – artisanal. According to him, craft breweries cannot be part of a transnational corporation, may only use four ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, and water), and produce less than five million hectoliters of beer.
And like many other companies on this list, Briseño’s company allows him to experiment. As Récord notes, every year, Minerva surprises its customers with three new flavors. Learn more about the beers here.
Part of the appeal of Caguas-based FOK – an acronym for Fresh of Keg – Brewery is the ability to tour the company’s brewery. “We want people to have a firsthand look at how we produce beer, and for visitors to have the opportunity to learn about local products,” Jerry Badillo Rodríguez, who’s in charge of sales and helped start the company alongside Greg Santiago in 2012, told El Nuevo Día. “Especially now that there are more companies creating their own beverages, there’s no reason to be envious of foreign products.”
One of their star products is their coffee-infused beer – made with beans from Hacienda San Pedro.