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Published: December 19th 2009
Villa General Belgrano was founded as a German settlement around 80 years ago in the hills of the state of Córdoba. It has become a tourist spot for Argentinians, similar to campy Midwestern towns with German themes such as Frankenmuth MI back home in the States. This town is the annual setting for Argentina's National Oktoberfest, and we made it here for the last day, hoping to try some of the famed artesanal beers from around the country and meet some brewers.
We arrived Sunday evening and arrived to our cute hostel in the countryside, a small family farm and well planned hotel filled with beautiful woodwork. We rested, explored the town a little bit for dinner (it is overrun with tourists like us here for the festival), and prepared for a long day at the beer fest come morning.
In the morning we made our way up to town. The main road was filled with people, stands, and flags from around the world were strung up between buildings. After a little bit of confusion we found the gate to the official festival and went in to explore. To our surprise, there were very few breweries there. The grounds
were small. To the right were food stands, the center the stage, and the left the brewery stands. The large corporate brewery that makes Quilmes and a number of foreign named brews in Argentina was the stronghold, but alongside was Antares, the only nearly national craft brewery, and a number of local breweries. Not many others traveled the distance to the festival.
We tried tastes of the beers from small breweries during the day and were surprised to find that many of them were flawed, and nearly all of them had a flavor and smell in common - we found that those all used only one variety Argentine grown hops - cascade, and they all used the same strain of dry yeast. The best known and perhaps largest of the Argentine craft brews is a company called Antares. Their offerings were pretty good, although they were out of nearly everything. We were surprised and a bit disheartened now that we had sampled a variety of artesanal beers from the Spanish speaking South American country with the most hop production and the longest and strongest history of artesanal brewing. This was our first glimpse at what we came to realize
is the fact that, through a funny definition of "artesanal" (here used to explain that the basic flaws and poor hygiene give artesanal tastes and used as a marketing term for everything including many non food products), a lack of information sharing (unlike in America or Chile, as we later found, brewers do not want to disclose any information at all about their special secret processes), and a lack of education in beer and brewing, most of the artesanal breweries in Argentina do not produce a product that is consumable, let alone good.
Even so, we spent time talking to any of the brewers we could and eventually sat down to watch the folk dances from various European countries on stage - the highlight was an amazing dance troop who flew in from Ukraine. All and all we were happy to have come, happier that we were here for only one day (Pablo was upset about the timing and worried we wouldn't have time to talk to the brewers enough, but everything worked out perfectly), and certainly more interested than ever in making our way down south to see the more famous brewing area centered around El Bolson, the
town I will spend a month in on a farm.
We spent the rest of the week resting at the hostel on the farm and wandering the town, talking at more ease with some of the local brewers, and enjoying our time together. The most notable local brewery is Waffebier (which Pablo and I initially remembered as sounding like waffle-beer and still like to call it). I was not represented at the festival but we tried it at a local cafe, then went to meet the brewer and his wife, who make it at home, use an assortment of imported hops, and do have a pretty good idea of what they are doing. They were friendly and happy to talk beer!
During the week a swarm of school children from Rosario came to visit the farm hostel. I love the idea of bringing city kids to farms to educate them a bit about how to produce food and how other people live in other environments! These kids though, were out of control, and their teachers hardly tried anything to reign them in. They were certainly old enough - ages 10 to 13 and came from a
private school - to understand that they should not slam doors and move beds and scream all night long (i.e. 3am), they should not disappear in the woods until 4am, and they should pay at least a little bit of attention to their teachers in at out of class time (class time was just as messy). They stayed the whole week, leaving Friday. I am used to kids! I like kids! But these kids were out of control! Pablo had some luck yelling for the kids to stop, which prompted the teachers to have a group meeting and suggest to the kids that they need to calm down a little bit... the calm did last a good 30 minutes at least! We talked one evening with one of the teachers, the oldest of them all, a woman in her late 40's who knew discipline was a problem but said that it rooted in the parents and without reeducating the parents, there was nothing that could be done with the kids - a sad but common resignation to the egoism that seems not to be uncommon in Argentina culture (not true of everyone by any means!, there are good people everywhere,
but not uncommon here - a great and telling example is watching friends talk to each other... there have been plenty of times where we have seen exchanges of monologues between people with no actual dialogue!). We had one night free of noisy children, only to find as we were leaving a "new mother's" club was arriving, newborns in sling, the mothers louder than the babies! It was certainly time to leave. This made the week more difficult, but with beautiful surroundings and good books we managed.
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