Brewpubs! One of the few beery things I'll go out of my way for when I'm abroad. In Buenos Aires out of my way meant a lot out of my way: the city sprawls like none other I know, with good bars and restaurants scattered far across the suburbs, and transport links which range from awkward to none. Standard Argentine opening hours make it all even harder, with most pubs closed until 6pm, restaurants to 8 or after, and the metro closing up at 10.45. The drink-eat-get-home window is rather small if you don't want to taxi everywhere.
We were lucky then (and it was pure dumb luck) that one of the city's brewpubs was a three minute stroll from our hotel in Recoleta. Buller is squeezed in to a narrow plot on a strip of restaurants but stretches back from its front door to a wide back room and upper mezzanine. The substantial brewkit sits on display at the entrance, something I always like to see. Six beers grace the laminated menu, with a seasonal on the blackboard behind the bar. Let's take it from the top:
Buller Light Lager (yes really) was actually the last one of the set I tried, for obvious reasons. As with Porterhouse Chiller (the only other craft-brewed version of the style I can think of) I surprised myself at how much I liked it. It's crisp, it's clear, it's very easy drinking and properly refreshing. In fact it's a hell of a lot better than most of the Argentine macro lagers I tasted.
The Hefeweizen is a small step up: translucent and anaemic, with hints of orange blossom and dry grain it's almost more witbier than weizen. But it's tasty and thirst-quenching and does the job. And the Oktoberfest is in the same vein. Pouring the dark amber of an American Oktoberfestbier it has more of those lightly sweet oranges from whatever hops they're using. Unlike most American Oktoberfests I've met it's entirely uncloying, keeping things light and breezy throughout.
Yet more oranges in the India Pale Ale, giving it an air of Englishness. However, it's far too sweet, neglecting the bittering hops and piling on sticky toffee where it doesn't belong. Served cold to be consumed cold, I guess. The real oddity in the house line-up was the Honey Beer: an 8.5% ABV stonker with a waxy aroma and loads of honey flavour in amongst the heavy sticky malt. It's Sugar Puffs in beer form, and not at all easy on a by-the-pint basis.
Buller Dry Stout completes the regulars. Quite a simple one this, with a little bit of roasted grain complicated by some mild dark fruit flavours, shading towards plum sourness at the finish and just catching the back of the throat with its acridity. I felt somewhat shortchanged by the whopping 5.8% ABV strength: a better brewery could do this kind of thing well under the 5% mark, I reckon.
The seasonal beer was another dark one, a Porter. Pulled straight from the homebrew handbook this was loaded with brown malt for a gorgeous smooth and rich espresso flavour, finishing with a similar fruity tang as the stout. No points for innovation, but full marks for making a top notch beer, and one of my favourites of the trip.
On to another far-flung district of the city and I'm really not sure if I should be counting Bar De Cao for this post. It's a bit of a mystery whether or not it's a brewpub, a mystery largely of my own devising due to my inability to articulate "Here, do youse actually make this stuff here?" in Spanish. On Scoopergen, Gazza says De Cao has a brewery attached, and elsewhere I've seen one of the company's other bars -- La Poesía -- listed as the brewery site. Anyway, I've been to both and saw no brewing equipment, but I did get to try the house beers. (Also, a tip of the glass at this point to Gazza for his Argentina beer guide which provided a couple of great pointers for bars in Buenos Aires. Much appreciated.)
De Cao itself is a lovely pub, being largely unspoilt since its founding in 1915 and reminding me lots of the Irish spirit grocer style of boozer, only with a bit more of a colourful Latin flourish. Their brewery, wherever it actually is, turns out three brews. De Cao Negra is the good one: very close to quality Irish stout with its light roast and hints of chocolate, but once again showing signs of mild sourness that add to its complexity. I could have stayed drinking this. I should have stayed drinking this.
De Cao Rubia is orangey-amber, hazy and looking to me more like a weissbier than a blonde ale. There must have been a complete failure on the hop utilisation front, because it's horribly porridgey: a little bit sweet and grainy and then just watery afterwards. But hey, at least it wasn't infected. De Cao Colorada, on the other hand, was. It looked so promising, with a loose-bubbled cask-like head over a hazy red body. The carbonation is very low, but that merely serves to accentuate the vinegar and the overall impression of a glass of cold runny sick. As you usually get with infected beers, somewhere underneath there were traces of what it should have been: some lightly toasted grain, a bit of gentle roast, but they were very hard to find.
"Ack! What the hell happened with this one?!" is also missing from my Spanish vocabulary, alas.