Over the last decade, there’s been a revolution in the beer industry. Beer drinkers have increasingly sought out alternatives to mainstream lager beers, and embraced small-batch craft beers—flavorful brews inspired by Old World recipes and experimentation with ingredients.
Before my recent trip to Peru, I had heard a little about the craft beer there. But nothing could have prepared me for what I discovered as I toured the southern city of Arequipa, ancient Cusco, the picturesque Sacred Valley, and the sprawling capital, Lima.
Everywhere I went there were craft-beer bars, craft beer for sale in stores, craft breweries, and craft beers on restaurant menus. With virtually no representation just three years ago, there are now more than 40 microbreweries around the country.
One of my favorite places to enjoy a craft brew was down a side street in the historic mountain city of Cusco, where part of a crumbling old colonial home had been converted to a bustling craft-beer bar. There I watched knowledgeable bartenders offering classes in discerning the different beer styles, including a brown ale and a golden ale, to neophyte customers.
“We mostly target Peruvians,” says brewer and bar owner Ted Alexander. “We are a Peruvian brewery, for Peruvians. The vast majority of our customers are Peruvians, although expats enjoy it as well.”
Ted, who grew up in Pittsburgh, started up the Sierra Andina Brewing Company in 2011 in his adopted hometown of Huaraz. “At that point there was really nothing,” says Ted.
Ted had originally come to Huaraz, which is high in the Andes Mountains, to indulge in his love of adventure sports like alpine climbing and white-water rafting (Huarez is a center for adventure sports—especially rock climbing and alpine climbing).
He had been home brewing for a while, seeking new flavors in a landscape where somewhat bland national beers reigned. His first efforts were hit or miss. Sometimes he gathered bitter herbs in the mountains as a substitute for hops, which had to be imported. But as he brewed up a new batch every week, it got better and better. So when he decided to start a new business, a brewery seemed like a good fit, especially with the lack of craft beer in the country.
They started small, producing just 12 bottles a day for the first six months, slowly adding capacity to their brewery as things took off and they reached their current level of production. Today, Sierra Andina is one of the top breweries in the country and the most successful. They have between 600 and 700 points of sale throughout Peru and last month sold 37 cases of beer per day, according to Ted.
“I can definitively say that the craft-beer revolution is happening right now,” says Yann Lemaire, the General Manager of Cerveceria Nuevo Mundo microbrewery in Peru’s capital, Lima. “When we started, nothing was available here in Peru, no malt distribution, no hops, no gear. The total lack of resources to build a brewery and get access to ingredients lead to a necessary solidarity between brewers. We shared information, knowledge, providers, shipping containers for importation…and of course a great adventure.”
“The craft beer scene has totally changed in less than two years,” says Yann. “Cerveceria Nuevo Mundo started in June 2014, with my friend Alain Schneider, and six fermenters of 160 gallons. We are now producing 2,115 gallons a month and expanding our brewery. And we are about to open our second Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar in Cusco.”
That ease of doing business—signs of maturing industry in which you no longer have to be a pioneer—means it’s never been easier to start a craft-beer focused business in Peru. And with the growing thirst for beer beyond the mainstream, coupled with demand from travelers and expats, there is a ready market in Peru. You could start a brewery or open a craft-brew pub, although staying in the larger cities where more people have a disposable income is probably the best route.
“It’s definitely growing in all ways,” says Ted. “You can measure it by the number of people buying it, by the number of mainstream outlets selling it, and the number of different breweries.”
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