We’re lucky. It’s IPA season in Bogota.
Pronounced here as “eepa”, the IPAs don’t have quite the bitter, sucking-on-a-pine-cone quality Greg and I crave in the Sweetwaters or Coronado Islanders back home, but they are among the tastiest beers we’ve tried outside the States.
Colombian brewers tell you they would love to make their IPAs more robust, but first they have to expand the palette of a population used to drinking sub-par lagers. For years Bavaria, the largest brewery in Colombia, was the only brand available. Bavaria’s beers taste like mass-produced lager anywhere: starts sweet, never goes anywhere, finishes with an aluminum aftertaste.
The brand makes Colombia’s Aguila and Poker, as well as Coors Light and Milwaukee’s Best.
“Bavaria has about 99 percent of the market with its five not-very-good lagers,” said Alex Owen, a partner at Cerveceria Artesanal De Los Andes, whose Sierra Del Tigre IPA is one of the most popular in Bogota. “Thus, the market for craft beer is very much in its youth.”
Youthful, but growing.
Everyone in Bogota is quick to credit the developing beer scene to the Bogota Beer Company, the city’s first successful brewpub. Founder Berny Silberwasser started the BBC, as it’s called down here, in 2002 after a trip to England. He was inspired by the country’s beer culture and believed he could mimic it in Colombia, where only bottled beer was available at stores, nightclubs and restaurants.
“Beer on tap was a mystery then,” said Alejandra Avendaño, a PR representative for the BBC.
In its first year, the BBC sold about five barrels of beer a day in one pub. Now it sells more than 1,200 to 16 pubs throughout the city and is the second largest brewer in Colombia.
Berny Silberwasser’s experiment worked.
“Everyone making beer in Colombia has him to thank,” said Juan Camilo Rivieros, a Bogota chef and microbrewery adviser.
Video: Alejandra Avendaño explains the Bogota Beer Company’s tasting menu
Today, there’s something vaguely familiar about the half dozen pubs that sit within a five minute walk of each other in the swanky Zona Rosa district. Twentysomethings with Louis Vuitton bags perch under the Celtic font of the Irish Pub’s sign. Fashion ads flash on a TV screen outside Beer Station.
Squint your eyes and it feels like you’re at the Hard Rock Cafe. Until you notice the guards standing with machine guns and muzzled dogs at every corner.
Don’t worry. They’re just there to keep you safe.
The Best Bogota Beers, Pubs and Bars
Don’t get stuck drinking boring old lager. Here’s a round up of my favorite bars and brews in Bogota.
- Britannia Pub Co-run by Alex Owen, a passionate beer snob. Order the Sierra del Tigre IPA and dark Belgium ale.
- Monkey House Oodles of brands. Try the Apostol Tropical and Tres Cordilleras Negra, both Medellin breweries.
- Bogota Beer Company The first Colombia brewpub to make craft beers popular. The Septimazo IPA is delicious. I also liked the porter. Multiple locations.
- Chelarte Brews four beers. The Zenaida oatmeal stout was my favorite.
Big thanks to Alex Owen, a partner at the Britannia Pub, and Alejandra Avendaño from the Bogota Beer Company. Both answered tons of emails in advance of our trip to help me find the city’s best stouts, porters, IPAs and pale ales. They also bought us a few rounds. All opinions expressed here are our own.