Bogota Brews: Parte Uno
Standing in front of Dos Carreras, the first brewpub on our list in Bogota, I saw a Georgian-styled, brick building with dark green ivy weaving behind the rot iron fence and up along the trellises marking the sector left and right, through the cracks in the arbor above, thatching the roof. The earthy patio framed the entrance, and, above, the ivy ascended the brick in verdant arabesques. The building resembled the same I saw in blurry, shuffling droves from a taxicab window while riding on the right in complete disorientation through the wet March streets of Dublin. No different than that Gaelic city of the Black Pool, the late afternoon clouds amassed over Bogota. The gray sky dripped into the gray streets and, from above, broke the uniform lake of equatorial green. High in the Andes, characterized by seasonal sameness, this city felt out of place. I felt out of place. And yet, the golden light from within the pub, reflecting upon the damp sidewalk and my yearning, traveled eyes, tugged on something within: like a trance, I fell under its spell to bring me home.
Heavily wooden and narrow, whitewashed in brick, the interior radiated cozy warmth. The owner, Javier, greeted and walked us past the bar where we skirted along the wall to avoid the bar stools. Reaching the end of the corridor, we turned right - still tracking the wall - and into an open air room with a white fiberglass roof, metal deck chairs, and shrubbery. This was the widest part of the taproom. Javier led us back into the bar where we scanned their board listing the available beers. Dos Carreras features a rotating selection of local Bogota craft brews determined by Javier, Daniela (his wife and a Certified Beer Judge), and their staff. Additionally, Javier and Daniela operate a brewery named Cerveceria Rustica closer to their home - the beers frequently run from the taps at Dos Carreras. Having traveled throughout Germany, Belgium, and the Czech Republic searching for fermented inspiration, they returned to Bogota to brew their own craft beer and showcase the worthy representations of other breweries. Straw, golden, amber, and brown nectar flowed from tap to tulip glass and glided across the sleek wooden bar as we imbibed. Of the five or six beers I sampled the Saison from La Llorona stood out: fresh banana bread on the front with a spicy, coriander finish. Although enjoying the diverse beer selection, it was the ambiance assembled and curated by Javier and Daniela which made Dos Carreras exceptional: a local artist dressed the timbered walls with at least 10 etched wooden engravings produced miraculously in a single month; a diverse tapas menu illustrated how the kitchen could enhance the libations behind the bar; poets, rockers, jammers, Rastas, and dancers all graced their tiny stage weekly with intoxicating performance. Like a streaked mirror in dim incandescent light, everything reflected upon the lens of my eye in the way I always imagined and wanted.
Walking onto the cold street, elation deflated and we returned to reality. What started as a casual stroll west along Calle 67 devolved into a red-light district tableau of scantly clad, voluptuous Colombian prostitutes. My naivety prevented this realization for about two blocks, and Sara was the one to point out that they were advertising in front of conspicuously labeled, "by the hour" establishments. The street lights dimmed simultaneously; faces became unglued and suspicious; I was the fucking Gringo; people were following us; everything was broken; and strangers sublimated from the chilling mist fogging our perception. Was it real? I do not know, but we both increased our pace and made it so. From the opposite side of the street a Colombian man sitting in a metal foldout chair caught our attention with some random Spanglish phrase. I glanced at Google Maps, confirmed we were in front of Cerveceria Gigante, and walked with Sara through the door and up the stainless steel staircase with oval holes punched into the steps. My shoes gripped stiffly as I projected my feet back and my body up.
Curry swirled about the chef working in concentric circles. Between stirring a wok of vegetables and plating completed curry dishes he meditatively kneaded dough. Two sous chefs took turns on the dough as well. Hearing some American sounding English (a welcomed sound), I looked up and over the bar to see a man pulling the tap handle, pouring a beer, and answering multiple questions. He looked and sounded like the Californian brewery owner, Will, we were here to talk to. Upon inspection, we must have looked like the American couple traveling around to drink beer because he approached us and introduced himself. Incredibly friendly and hospitable, Will poured us each a flight of his beers on tap: a Citra Pale Ale, a Red IPA, and a Porter. Over the beer we listened to his story.
Having left San Francisco five years ago, he planned to venture around the world. He started in Bogota, Colombia, traveled around the country, returned to Bogota, and never left. The cost of living and relative ease of starting a business convinced him to stay here. Brewing since 15 (in an effort to avoid the costs of buying finished product), studying small business operations in college, and starting a restaurant in Bogota, he was ready to translate his passion for brewing into action in 2015. Two years later he is standing behind the bar in his taproom above his brewery, explaining his philosophy on life, beer, and how it all ties together in the Nautilus on his company's brand. "I'm not really selling beer as much as I am philosophy." Gigante, for him, serves as a guiding light. As humans we are small creatures trapped in a body and contained by the limit of our physical capabilities, but our ideas have the ability to grow beyond ourselves. Inspiring others, they reach into the space around us that our bodies and ego will not allow. Will summed it up best: "Like the Nautilus, we start very small and defenseless. But in time, as we spiral out, we grow into our space and become bigger than we are." Needless to say, at Cerveceria Gigante you'll get more than just beer.
Walking downstairs into the brewery I saw the translation of his philosophy in the physical space of his brewery. Upstairs 20 to 30 people filled his taproom drinking and eating beyond contentment; supporting all this was a small, one barrel system and countless plastic fermentation jugs. It was amazing to see the simplicity of his tools. He only used four hops in his beer because access was extremely limited. Despite all this, Will produced outstanding craft beer in the middle of a "beer vacuum." In his words he's developing the "frame of reference" for craft beer in Bogota. He's accomplishing a task far larger than the space of one man and plans to expand further into his space next year with a larger brew house.
Back upstairs in the taproom Sara and I drank a pint: a Cloudkicker Porter for me and a Sequoia Roja IPA for Sara. Both had two inches of creamy head - one inch of which floated lightly above the rim of the glass. The combination of excellent brewing technique, proper beer-clean glassware, and superior pouring technique resulted in one of the joys of beer drinking: sipping quality beer through the tiny concentrated bubbles and licking it off your lips. The porter produced a darkly toasted bread aroma. Being unfiltered, flavors and mouthfeel conquered the palate, lining the inside of my mouth with a clean, unaggressive bitterness balanced by slightly milk chocolate sweetness, and finishing with a subtle, cleansing bitterness. The Sequoia Roja IPA proved equally as balanced. Starting with a juicy, piney aroma, the flavor balanced toasted graham cracker with citrus, grassy bitterness. Once again, the finish was clean and refreshing.
To compliment the beers, Will brought over some house-made sausages and mustard (the perfect dish). The fatty, salty goodness foiled perfectly with the two beers before us. The soundtrack changed from reggae to Busta Rhymes while people thanked Will for the invite (he only opens the taproom for events right now). The lights seemed to shine a little brighter and a halo formed around the center. Smoke from the cooking amplified the rings and the mood became larger than life. The taproom occupied a small space with low ceilings. On the second floor there was additional seating, but the life was in the taproom below. Cerveceria Gigante reflected the attitude of its owner: no pretension, ample resourcefulness, and magnetism. I could see him drawing people in, bringing them together, providing them with good craft beer and food, and allowing everyone to grow into the space between so that we weren't always so far apart.