Beer 511

Exploring the Craft Beer and Homebrew Scenes in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

Author: juan (Page 2 of 15)

“Celebrator” turns 30!

Wow! The Celebrator is turning thirty!

Established in 1988 as the California Celebrator, and now officially titled Celebrator Beer News, it has indeed been a fixture of the California craft beer community.

I have personal fondness for the Celebrator going back to the mid- to late-1990s, when I started homebrewing.   The local homebrew supply store –the now long-defunct Fantastic Fermentations in Pacheco, CA– always had copies on hand.

In those days when the internet was barely getting going and websites were mostly hosted by universities and government institutions, the Celebrator was about the only way a regular guy like me could find out about and keep up with the craft beer scene, read interviews with brewers, or read features about breweries.

Much of it was almost incomprehensible to me –I had yet to have tried many of the styles mentioned and had little idea of where the breweries talked about were located– but I read every issue cover to cover and soaked it all in.

The folks at the Celebrator are marking this occasion with a 30th anniversary bash during SF Beer Week, on Feb, 17th.

Cheers to them! To the Celebrator! And, thank you!

SF Beer Week

It’s February, and February in the Bay Area means SF Beer Week!

SF Beer Week is California’s premier beer festival.  Over the course of a week it features hundreds of official beer-centered events (623 at last count for this year!) and dozens of unofficial and “warm up” events, throughout the nine Bay Area counties, and beyond.

This year’s Opening Gala –which officially opens Beer Week on February 9th– alone has more than 12o breweries confirmed to pour their best, most special, and rarest beers.

With this being it’s 10th anniversary, the organizers predict that this will be the most epic Beer Week thus far.

For full schedule of events click HERE or visit

On what is “craft” beer?

Watching Entre lúpulo y malta brought to mind the now-notorious video released last year by AbInBev in response to the Brewers Association’s introduction of its “Independent Craft Brewer” seal for use by breweries.

In that video the founders of breweries recently acquired by AbInBev’s The High End division –10 Barrel, Wicked Weed, Elysian, Four Peaks, and Devil’s Backbone—expound on why the label is a bad idea, even though they themselves are excluded from using it, and so on. Part of the way they do that is to argue that there is no difference between what they do and what BA member breweries do. While, from a technical standpoint, that may be true, they deliberately muddy the waters when it comes to what defines a “craft” brewer, and thus “craft” beer.

That they can do that raises the issue that, while for a long time what defined a craft brewery seemed pretty clear-cut, with an increasing number small breweries being acquired by brewing industry giants like AbInBev, Sapporo, Heineken, that definition is being blurred. (There is also the BA’s own continual expansion of the upper-bbl limit, but that is a matter for another time.)

In Peru there is the same sort of discussion going on as to what makes a beer a “craft” beer? But, there, the discussion is being approached from the other end.

Unlike the US, Peru has a living artisanal tradition and millions of people make their living from an artisanal economy, but until just a few years ago there was no history of small, independent brewers. Even those very few regional brands that existed tried to compete with the big brewers on their own terms, brewing the same kinds of beers, and as far as I can tell, all were either absorbed or went out of business. There was no equivalent to a Yakima Brewing, New Albion, or Anchor Brewing, to serve as a reference point.

So, Peruvian consumers, with no experience of small-batch, locally-produced beer, and no experience of beer styles other than big boy’s pilsners, are encountering an as yet small, and fairly localized (to Lima), but booming craft beer industry without a reference to what is a craft beer. But, they are trying to figure it out.

In so doing, many look to what they have in their hand: What makes this beer a craft beer and not that one? And, that’s where things get tricky.

As Peruvian craft brewers crank out a variety of very tasty ales –stouts, porters, weizens, fruited beers, etc.—consumers sometimes think that a craft beers is defined by “being in a different style” or by simply having “more flavor” than Backus & Johnston’s mass-produced lagers.

Another stumbling block is in the language itself. In Spanish, “artisanal” and “craft” are both expressed by the same word: artesanal. Now, because of Peru’s living artisan economy, everyone pretty much has an idea of what artesanal means. And, of course, what it means in most instances is things made at home, or in small home-based workshops, by hand or with minimal technology, without the refinements and standardization available to industrial producers.

Thus, I’ve had people in Lima ask me whether filtering would take away a beer’s artisanal quality. The working supposition being that an craft/artisanal product is less “finished” than an industrial one.

Naturally, there are those who argue –and with whom I agree—that what makes a beer “artesanal” or not is not the beer itself, but the brewer. However, even on that point, there is confusion. In discussions online with Peruvian homebrewers, some have expressed that they consider themselves cerveceros artesanales because their beer is home-made.

The lack of clarity on this point shows up in Entre lúpulo y malta, where the first cervecero artesanal that is presented is Christian Zapata, a dedicated homebrewer and president of the Peruvian homebrewers’ association, Asociación de Cerveceros Caseros del Perú (ACECAS).

Does it matter? Probably not that much. Not yet at any rate, while the Peruvian craft beer market is still quite small (in 2016 production was only 10k hectoliters, or 6.3k bbl), but as it expands and legislation and taxation begins to catch up and the Backus & Johnston conglomerate (itself owned by AbInBev) begins to feel threatened, a working definition of craft beer could well become quite important.

As it is in the US.

Documentary on Peruvian Craft Brewers

(Sorry about the poor quality of the English-language captioning.)

Five Suns Brewing (Martinez, CA)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to check out the digs for Five Suns Brewing in downtown Martinez (California).

Five Suns is the brainchild of five friends (though I think a couple of ’em might be brothers) who decided to open a brewery together. By putting in a great deal of “sweat equity” into their space they’ve managed to put together what is already a pleasant, welcoming, comfy-feeling place, with a nice bar, vintage sofas paired with modern tables, set in a modern “industrial” space with pleasing interplay between cement, wood, old brick work, and exposed pipes.

They are set up as a 3-bbl. nano brewery, and the plan is to initially be open only on weekends (I presume that means Fri. evening through Sunday), until they can develop enough of a following to be able to afford to increase their brewing capacity.

 A big regulatory hurdle has been surpassed with the granting of their ABC license this week, which clears the way for Five Suns to produce and sell beer on premises. Other local and state permits still need to be cleared, however.  Thus, an opening date has not been set –they wouldn’t even speculate on it– but the owners told me they expected to launch some soft-opening events for friends and backers early in the coming year.


Five Suns Brewing
701 Escobar St Unit C
Martinez, CA


Update (12/19/2017):   Five Suns Brewing is now open!  Check their website for the hours.

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