CAFAYATE — Torrontés, that fragrant white grape, immediately springs to mind when you think of Cafayate.
The belle of already beautiful Salta, it’s a good thing there isn’t a direct flight to this gem because you’d miss out on the all stunning terroir and canyons from another galaxy in the quest to reach this unique wineland.
With around 30 wineries in this neck of the Calchaquí Valley – small fry in comparison with Mendoza’s almost-1,000 and most producing that white that’s ideal for steamy Cafayate summers, there’s a new pretender to cool you down in town: La Cervecería Cafayateña.
With the world going crazy for craft beer, it’s hardly surprising that the fad has now reached this part of the valley – nearby San Carlos is already home to Me echó la burra – and La Cervecería Cafayateña opened in March on a prominent Cafayate corner.
Despite the vast sign outside, entering is a little confusing: you have to work your way through Torrontés and Malbec ice-cream, hand-knit woollies and a wine store before reaching this bar space nestled at the back and surrounded by fermentation tanks. Under a ceiling of recycled railway tracks, beer is being brewed under your nose while you kick back on a converted oak barrel seat with a glass of something cool.
The brainchild of José Ignacio Marchesini, he’s teamed up with buddy Andrés López and master brewer Bernardo Huber. The key? José Ignacio wanting to make lager that he likes, plus Bernardo’s experience, naturally, combined with an urge to create something new.
The German-born brewer already makes Ruta 40 craft beer in his adopted home of Catamarca, a unique brew thanks to for its quinoa base instead of barley but this bid for change transpires for something more suited to Cafayate’s climes.
José Ignacio says: “If you drink a beer with too much alcohol in summer here, you’ll die! Our idea is to produce something lighter and lower in alcohol.”
At just five percent and six percent in alcohol, the other principal ingredient is water, something that Cafayate has in relative abundance: the town’s very name means “water box” in Quechua, and the local H2O’s PH is naturally 2.7. The technical part coming up: water needs to have a PH of 3 in order to make beer successfully, so the raw material requires little help from man.
For the time being, the team has a three-member cast, brewing up pale, red and dark lagers, the latter two using caramel malt. Bottled in 500ml label-less recipients – the team is waiting for the final word on their trademark before printing them off – they gave birth to the first batch of beer, which takes about two weeks to produce, in March.
The lightest of the batch is a mere five percent, a mellow drinking companion in comparison with a 14-percent Torrontés. A little cloudy, this pale yellow lager has a refreshing maritime nose, a little salty if you will, and a light texture in the mouth with a little foam. It’s refreshing and while it’s chilly in Cafayate right now, this will be a veritable hit come summer.
While the red takes on light amber hues, it has a strange yet pleasant nutty hit at the back of the throat. That airy texture is also present in the mouth without losing the flavour: that’s the caramel malt in play.
My hit, however, was the dark lager. Its nutty, caramel aromas translated into a powerful coffee-like mouth. Robust and sturdy, this was a beefy brew that was light in the mouth without losing its masculinity.
When it’s time to take a break from Torrontés, this craft beer parlour should hit the spot.
La Cervecería Cafayateña
Güemes and Plaza 20 de Febrero
Buenos Aires Herald, May 10, 2015