By Patrick Hieger

[Patrick Hieger]

Heads rolled last year when Claus Meyer, the former co-owner of Copenhagen’s Noma, opened a high-end, ultra-modern restaurant on top of a mountain in La Paz, Bolivia.  It was the first and still the only restaurant of its kind in Bolivia, and the first time anyone had paid attention to one of the most poverty-stricken nations in South America.  Reviews began to roll in, though, and on the whole they were positive.  A young team of chefs, with backing from Danish non-profit Ibis, were making a delicious change in Bolivia.

What visitors to Gustu soon found was that there was a whole treasure trove of unknown products just waiting for their day in the spotlight.  From Singani–kind of like Bolivia’s answer to Pisco–to high altitude wines, incredible coffee, exotic fruits and vegetables, and so much more that has yet to be discovered, Gustu quickly became the showcase for all that Bolivia had to offer.  And, oh yeah, there was beer.  Really damn good beer, in fact.

La Paz’s craft brew scene is currently being proliferated by both Bolivians and ex-pats.  With flavors ranging from the typical golden and red ales, all the way to ultra-heady, ultra-refreshing beers brewed with quinoa, there’s a great variety to choose from, and nothing tastes standard.  What’s better is that you don’t simply have to go to Gustu to get them.  Supermarkets, various bars around town, and other outlets have La Paz’s craft brews available at all times.  Below, find our picks for the brews you must try, should you find yourself high on the mountain in La Paz.

Chala is a quinoa-based beer that comes from Ted’s brewery in Sucre, Bolivia.  This is more than just a microbrew–it’s 100% handcrafted.  Ted’s produces about 200 bottles of the brew a month, delivering an impossibly dense, yet exquisitely light head (think cotton candy) that makes way for the crisp, golden brew that drinks almost like a lambic.  While base notes include nuttiness from the quinoa, you’ll find more fruit and acid than terroir.  If the altitude has you down, this a great place to start.

Bolivian Alejandra Saavedra produces her small line of beers from a garage located about three blocks from Gustu.  All smiles and small in stature, she embodies none of the pot-belly, beard-wearing traits that we’ve come to expect from many a craft brewers.  Her lineup includes the golden Aleksandra, crisp and laden with fruit; La Coqueta, a robust porter that drinks more like a lager than the black color might have you expect; and El Salar, her homage to the quinoa brew, that’s just as crisp, but not quite as heady as Chala.  Find yourself a bottle of each at the local grocer.

This is one of La Paz’s oldest functioning micro breweries, around since 1997.  They produce around six different beers, including amber, golden and a negra, which is the standout.  What makes Bolivian beers so particularly special is that their crispness–which could be due to the altitude playing tricks on your tastebuds–is remarkable, and makes the beers taste exceptionally fresh.  Saya’s negra is light and refreshing, an atypical dark beer that will linger on your tastebuds.

Coming out of Cochabamba, Stier produces five different types of brews: strong ale, stout, weisse, pilsner and, lastly, a strawberry brew.  Now while you might be inclined to say that a strawberry brew is the worst of both products, you’d be delightfully surprised that this brew involving fresh strawberries and honey is exceptional.  Yes, you might need to pound a few to get a buzz on, especially if you’ve gotten used to the altitude, but for pure flavor, it’s like getting a proper dose of Bolivia in a 335 ml bottle.

If entered into a label contest, Cochabamba’s Blumental wouldn’t be winning any awards.  Basic labels look more like a grocery store knock-off beer, but what’s inside is anything but ordinary.  Their Andean black ale brewed with natural herbs gives off black pepper notes, which when paired with the saltiness of Bolivian food, makes a delicious combination.  There’s also their red Amaranto beer which, as you might expect, gives off some Amaranth notes for an all-natural flavor you certainly won’t find anywhere else in South America.

The Beers You Should Be Drinking: La Paz