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My Search for a Truly Argentine Beer

The Bubble tries to figure out which beer works best with your Albiceleste.

By | [email protected] | June 6, 2019 10:42am

elevate-755022-unsplashPhoto via Unsplash
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As Argentines (or those pretending to be Argentines), we need beer for patriotic occasions. Sometimes a foreign beer simply won’t do. A soccer game, celebrating independence on July 9th. You need a cerveza that doesn’t clash with the albiceleste. As a half-Argentine who lives abroad, when I’m back in Buenos Aires I am always looking for ways to feel Argentine. So I decided to find out which beer is the most patriotic, and authentically Argentine, to relax and enjoy during the upcoming Copa America.

Of course, the first beer that came to mind was Quilmes. It’s cheap, it’s a good drink, and there are Argentine flags on the bottle. Founded in Quilmes in 1890, it’s Argentina’s oldest beer, and it feels like one of those unshakeable pillars of the national identity, like fútbol, or the paro general. It was the first beer I ever drank in Argentina, right before my first Fernet. 

Quilmes leans into this position, emblazoning “Cerveza Argentina” (Argentine Beer) on all of its blue and white bottles and running advertising campaigns that lean heavily on its Argentine identity. The brand has been Argentina’s best selling beer for decades, probably as Argentine as choripan or an asado. Speaking of which:

But, the answer is not so simple. While reading about the charming and seemingly Argentine history of Quilmes, I found a number of articles about the ownership of the brand. In 2006, Inbev bought a 91 percent stake in Quilmes S.A. making it, effectively, its owner. Now, here at The Bubble, we’re not necessarily anti-globalization, and don’t think that foreign ownership should necessarily disqualify Quilmes from being our national beer.

The real problem arises when you look at exactly who owns Inbev. While its site claims its roots trace back to Belgium, if you look closely, Inbev was formed through a merger between Interbrew and Ambev, and Ambev was a Brazilian company, which made its fortunes through Brahma, a Brazilian beer. Their CEO is Brazilian, and so I am forced to accept that Quilmes is owned by a company that is at least half Brazilian (one half too many).

To purchase a Brazilian-owned beer for a patriotic occasion and feel good about it is, well, problematic. A patriotic beer simply must be drinkable during an Argentina-Brazil match, and I’m not going to feel very patriotic knowing my Argentine beer is really Brazilian. The flags on the bottle don’t shine quite the same when you know you’re lining some Brazilian executive’s pocket, as opposed to a good, honest, hardworking Argentine executive’s pocket.

The ad campaigns run incessantly by Quilmes every World Cup now seem a little off. The “Cerveza Argentina” printed on all its bottles, cans and website feel like Quilmes overcompensating, insecure about its Argentine-ness. The situation is all the more depressing when you realize that in Argentina in 2018, Brahma, a Brazilian beer, outsold Quilmes after decades of dominance, only highlighting the fact that the Brazilians are dominating the market.

From a 2018 Quilmes Commercial. Misleading at best.

Fine then, Quilmes isn’t Argentine, but Argentina has plenty of beers. I looked into Imperial and Schneider, two slightly more off-beat brands from Santa Fe, but both are owned by Compañía de las Cervecerías Unidas, a company based in Santiago de Chile. Some would argue that’s better than Brazil, but while Brazil is a hated rival, Chile is like a little brother. We won them their independence and are twice the size; we’re not having them own our national beer. That’s close to humiliating. 

Heineken, Stella Artois, Brahma, and Budweiser are not remotely Argentine. Patagonia is owned by Anheusur-Busch Inbev, and my search was getting more and more desperate. I concluded that there is no beer available nationwide that is actually owned by Argentines.

Taken at my (large) local Carrefour. Not an Argentine beer in sight.

I considered turning to the growing craft beer scene for my game-day and 9 de julio needs, and why not? Cerveza artesanal is so popular in Argentina now that the large brands, like Imperial, have been forced to copy it, releasing IPAs, stouts, and more. Craft beer is certainly more flavorful than Quilmes or Schneider, and significantly more alcoholic (perfect for the Argentine soccer fan or anyone looking to kick off their weekend).

Good examples are Schaferhund, Buller, and Darwin. Despite their names, which sound German or English, craft beers are also almost entirely Argentine. Locally-owned and brewed, craft beer is available in most of Argentina’s largest cities: while the trend started in Buenos Aires, the movement has reached Córdoba, Mendoza, Salta, and others.

But, it can be a bit of a pain to get your hands on it, as it’s usually only available at specific bars or outlets, and practically impossible if you live in the countryside or the suburbs. Very few have grown into nationwide brands at this stage in the game.

So, while niche may be great for some, craft beers lack the national unity that I crave in my game-day beer. Knowing that my Argentine cousins are drinking the same birra, while cussing out the same referee, as we all cheer on La Selección is a large part of the appeal. It is impossible to get the Porteño Schaferhund in Mendoza, just as it is impossible to get craft Mendocino in Buenos Aires. The beauty of Quilmes was that it was the beer all Argentines could drink patriotically, and share in this drinking; the limitations of craft seem to make that impossible.

Craft is generally drunk at local bars and beer gardens like this one, not easily purchaseable to bring home. (via alafresca.com.ar)

Then, just when I was about to accept that this Independence Day I would be forced to drink Malbec, like a friend inside the club appearing at the door to tell the bouncer you’re “with him”, my answer appeared before my eyes. I walked out of a Carrefour in Recoleta that hadn’t had a single Argentine beer inside, accepting that I was never going to feel Argentine while drinking, when I saw a faded, rusty sign reading Antares. I’d seen the brand on Wikipedia but hadn’t done much research. After a 15-minute conversation with the bartender, and a few Antares, I jogged (stumbled) home, and immediately began research to ensure the brand’s authenticity.

The Antares I walked into. Inconspicuous, but charming inside.

And what the barman told me held up: airtight. Antares was founded in Mar del Plata in 1998, and since then, this craft beer has grown from a small, local novelty into a nationwide phenomenon. It has beer gardens in over 17 cities in Argentina (from as large as Capital Federal to as small as Tucumán), and it is available in many supermarkets as well. While it is a bit more expensive than Quilmes or Schneider (a 500 ml bottle cost me AR $110), it is also more alcoholic (score!). And, finally, most crucially, it is privately owned by the three Argentines who founded it, Leo Ferrari, Mariana Rodriguez and Pablo Rodriguez.

Four of the 20 Antares varieties. All Argentine. (via Mercado Libre)

Antares’ reach is less promising: 50,000 liters a month isn’t enough to satisfy 40 million soccer fans, but it should be enough Argentines for me to feel a sense of community, and get me through the Copa America. Antares is a beer that you can get your hands on in most major cities in Argentina; it’s brewed in Mar del Plata; it’s owned by Argentines; it tastes pretty good, it says “Cerveza Argentina” on the bottle, its name doesn’t sound aggressively German or English; and, above all, it is in no way affiliated with Chile or Brazil.

The subtle, secure, authentic patriotism of Antares. A photo from inside their Mar del Plata factory. (via cervecería Antares Instagram)

So, I conclude my search, confident that I will be drinking guilt-free through the Copa America and 9 de Julio, relieved that there is a beer that I can drink as a proud Argentine while watching La Selección, head held higher than Maradona after the infamous Mano de Dios.