Beer 511

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

Category: Beer History

A bit of Peru beer history

This is an image that I came across online.  It’s an early advertising poster from the Backus & Johnston Brewery Company in Lima, from back when telephone numbers in the city could be counted in the double-digits.

The poster remarks that the brewery -which started as an ice company- possessed a “magnificent” ice facility imported from the U.S.A., and that it’s beer-making equipment was “the best and largest in South America.”

Most notable, however, from a consumer standpoint is the variety of beers made by Backus & Johnston back then: Pilsen, export, lager, märzen, stout, and a dark beer labeled “Gato Negro” (black cat).

Decades later, their production had grown massively, and the company itself had expanded into a near brewing monopoly -the Unión de Cerverías Peruanas Backus & Johnston- having absorbed other breweries throughout the country.   At the same time, despite the expansion in the number of the company’s brands and volume, the beer variety shrank. By the turn of the century the only ones that had survived were the pale lager and a dark lager.

In the past decade, however, the company has started to break out of that straight jacket, albeit cautiously.  It has used its Cusqueña brand to float a few “special” beers: Cusqueña Trigo (pale lager made with a percentage of wheat), Cusqueña Quinoa (made, obviously, with some quinoa), and Cusqueña Red Lager.  It has also dipped its toe into the “top shelf” market with Abraxas, a beer it describes as a “super premium” and sells for 400% of the price point of its regular beers.

Why do we celebrate National Beer Day on April 7th?

Why is April 7th “National Beer Day”? Well, it’s because it was on that date in 1933 that the production and distribution of beer became once again legal in the United States.

On March 14, 1933, Representative Thomas H. Cullen introduced House Resolution 3341, which would amend parts of the Volstead Act, which was the legal basis for Prohibition. The bill passed the House it that same day, and made its way to the Senate, where it was introduced by Senator Pat Harris, and passed on March 16.

The final, amended, version of HR 3341 was approved by the Senate on March 20, by a vote of 43 to 35 (with 15 abstentions) and agreed to by the House on March 21.
On March 22, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed HR 3341 into law, with his famous –though perhaps aprocryphal- quip that “I think this would be a good time for a beer!”

The Cullen–Harrison Act, as it became known, after its sponsors, made it legal in the United States to sell beer with an alcohol content of 3.2% (by weight), and wine of similarly low alcohol content, which were thought to be too low to be intoxicating, effective April 7, 1933. The Act, however, did not in itself end Prohibition when it came to beer or wine, as it was still illegal to produce or transport such beverages into any state or territory, or into the District of Columbia, unless it had passed similar legislation to legalize sale of those low alcohol beverages in its jurisdiction.

Nonetheless, throngs gathered at breweries and taverns for their first legal beer since 1918.

April 7, 1933, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Arequipa’s “Cerveceria Alemana”

Another piece of brewing memorabilia that I recently acquired is a 111-year old cancelled invoice from the Cervecería Alemana (lit. “German Brewery”), which was located in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa.

The attached voucher is dated 23 August of 1905, and is for 1 dozen bottles of Märzen beer, 1 dozen bottles of Pilsner beer, and the deposit on two dozen bottles. The voucher was issued by Donato Lister, and was made out to José S. Monje.

The cancelled invoice itself is dated 31 August 1905. The price for the beer is listed as s/. 6.40 and the price for “2 dozen boxed bottles” is s/. 5.60, but either through a math error or giving a customer a break, the price charged to Mr. Monje was just s/. 10.

The Cervecería Alemana was one of Peru’s earliest large-scale breweries. It was established in 1898 by Ernesto -or Ernst- Gunther, a German immigrant, recently arrived from Bolivia.

When Gunther and and his business partner, Franz Rehder, opened the Cervecería Alemana there were several other small breweries in Arequipa: Cervecería Germania, Cervecería Arequipa, Cervecería Gambrinus, Cervecería Teutonia, Cervecería Francesa, and one other.

The brewery was originally located on Mercaderes street, but in 1900 Gunther travelled to Germany, returned with new German equipment, and moved the expanding brewery to 177 Calle de La Merced, into the plant of the closed Cervecería Francesa. The Cervecería Alemana soon outpaced competitors, and in 1908 a second brewery was established in Cuzco.

The Cervecería Alemana was renamed Companía Cervecera del Sur, S.A., in 1935, and consolidated as the CERVESUR corporation in 1954. For years it dominated the beer market in southern Peru, with its two flagship brands: Cerveza Arequipeña and Cerveza Cusqueña.

The company was finally acquired by the Union de Cervecerías Backus & Johnston brewing empire in 2000. However, both, Arequipeña and Cusqueña continue to be made, and the latter can sometimes be found in US markets.

Beer History: Backus & Johnston Brewery, Lima

A view of the Backus & Johnston Brewery and ice factory in Lima’s Rimac disctric, near the turn of the last century

 

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