Paraguay arrived relatively late to the craft beer scene. It’s a challenging country – a climate ranging between sub-tropical and tropical means it’s difficult, if not impossible, to grow hops, and at the end of a long day sweating through 40C heat, the last thing you want is a punchy imperial stout.
But craft beer has arrived in Paraguay, in spite of these challenges. Many of the bars and taprooms we tapped up had only opened their doors in the last twelve months. With a bit of luck, the market here will continue to grow and thrive as demand for flavourful, creative, and exciting beer rises.
I’ve seen this advertised everywhere as Paraguay’s top beer. Given how cheap it is (£2 for 750ml) I’m not holding out much hope for the quality, but I’m willing to be convinced.
My first impressions are strong, though, once I realise these big bottles of lager come served on ice, like champagne. Finally, the star treatment I deserve.
Pilsen is pale yellow gold and clear, with a healthy serving of bubbles. The aroma is subtle, putting it kindly: buttered sweetcorn. The flavour is more corn and butter.
“I like it! It doesn’t taste of anything!” cries my partner, who still only likes beers that don’t taste like beer. I can understand why this beer is so popular – when it’s 40C outside, this is just what you need. But we’ll have to go further to find something with a little flavour.
Patagonia, Amber Lager
In the hopes of getting something with a more robust flavour, I ordered this amber lager. Strictly, Patagonia is an Argentinian brand rather than Paraguayan, but it’s available so widely here I thought it should be eligible for comparison.
This amber lager is bronze in colour and clear, with a cream head. The aroma is caramel, sweet and a little soapy. That caramel, cola sweetness continues onto the palate, but overall it’s very light on flavour. “All talk and no trousers,” as my partner delicately puts it.
Again: this is a beer for rapidly reducing body temperature, not for enjoying on its own merits.
Sacramento Brewing, Centennial IPA
One upshot of the USA’s influence in the craft beer world is that you end up with places like this: a Paraguayan brewery making Paraguayan beer named after a city in California. Still, given the selection of beers on offer here, I’ll call this place whatever it likes.
One thing to note for beer aficionados thinking of coming here on their travels: Sacramento imposes a differential cover charge in the evenings of 20,000 Gy for women and 30,000 Gy for men. Given this amounts to around £3-4 a head, it’s not too bad. The even gender split inside seems to suggest the policy is working.
The multi-award winning Centennial IPA is my first stop. It’s difficult to assess colour given the school disco-inspired lighting, but I think it’s copper, clear, and with a generous, frothy head.
It doesn’t smell a great deal. But the flavour has so much going on: strawberry sherbet, bubblegum, but bitter. It’s not fantastic, but good enough that I’m sorry I only bought a half.
Sacramento Brewing, Churro Campaña Golden Ale
Obviously given the name I had to give this beer a go. Sadly, I quickly discovered that Churro beer does not taste like churros.
A little like a churro, this beer is pale gold and a little cloudy, as if dusted through with icing sugar. The white head fades to a skin and lingers.
Unlike the Centennial, the aroma on this one is fairly pungent. It’s grassy and a bit dank. Beyond that I pick up pale malts, corn, and perhaps some wheat. The mouthfeel leads us further towards wheaty conclusions, with a sweet, mouth-coating stickiness. Sadly, it doesn’t taste of very much at all, other than perhaps corn.
This ale feels like a stepping stone between the Pilsens that Paraguayan beer drinkers are more familiar with and the more exotic craft beers on offer. It’s cold, wet, and largely flavourless, but does at least have a slightly different mouthfeel. I’ve never been convinced by this stepping stone business, however. The flavour of craft beer is a core part of the appeal. Lose that, and you’re just drinking a sticky Pilsen at four times the price.
Palo Santo Brewing, Nitsuga Preludio
Another evening, we make our way to another craft brewery with an American name. That follows through into the surroundings – this feels more like a bar (or, I imagine, an American brewery taproom) than the taprooms I’m used to drinking in back in the UK.
To start, I go for the Nitsuga Preludio, an American-style IPA. There’s a story behind the name of this series: Nitsuga spelled backwards is Agustin, a reference to Paraguayan classical guitarist Agustín Pío Barrios. Our bartender is very keen to let us know he once played for the Queen Mother.
The Preludio is golden and light, with a lively white head. Hops lead on the aroma, with some lighter strawberry notes dancing overhead.
The taste is where things start to get really interesting. Preludio has a sherbet, chamomile mouthfeel; hoppy bitterness leading into blueberry bubblegum sweetness, then back to bitterness for a crisp, dry finish. It’s not dissimilar to the Centennial IPA (above), but in just about every respect it’s at least slightly better.
Palo Santo Brewing, Nitsuga Capricho
Another beer in the Nitsuga series, this time I’ve gone for something darker. The Capricho is a porter laced with both cocoa and cacao. On its own it’s fine: Cadbury’s Options. 1/5. However…
This all changes when you drink the Capricho as part of a cocktail: 50% Capricho, 50% champagne, cinnamon smoke.
With my limited creativity and emotional depth, it’s little wonder I’d never considered the possibilities available with beer cocktails before. Giving it some more thought, though, I’ve always felt critical of brewers who mix orange juice and other additions and sell the resulting product as beer. Perhaps this is the solution: rebranding such concoctions as cocktails instead.
This particular cocktail has a lot going on. The cinnamon brings a massive amount of depth and complexity to the mix. The bubbles and dryness of the champagne complement the otherwise excessive chocolatey sweetness of the beer.
It’s not perfect. I’d rather have a great beer. But as an option for salvaging Cadbury Options beer, it’s good to know.