Anne van Kesteren

The Brewery

The day after K arrived he and his friends signed up for beer tasting at the hostel. A few taxis were rounded up and off they went. K had done a fair amount of beer tasting and was expecting the usual. A bar with a special collection of draft beer from the area. Or maybe just some bottles. While K thought South America to be awesome, he knew it was not known for its beer. Well, one town in Argentina was, but he was a long way from there still.

When K sat down on the front seat of the small yellow cab he slammed the door and the driver yelled at him. “Claro,” K said, somewhat indifferent to what was happening and eager to get going. The driver was still in distress, afraid his car would fall apart from all that might. One in the back spoke a resemblance of Spanish and calmed the driver.

A hundred blocks of up and down, left and right. Neon signs, churches, colorful homes, parks, and places so dark not even the dim lights of the car helped shape an image of what it was like. Further and further from the central part of the city. Into the suburbs, into the industrial bit. Or one of them, anyway. Home appliances, used cars, a garage full of huge tires, an out of place sushi restaurant — way out, if you thought about it — and some kids fooling around. In front of a white wall with a door made for a midget the crowd of the hostel was waiting. Someone signed to the driver. K and company were the last to arrive.

One by one the crowd disappeared into the hole, as if never to return. The other side brought a moderately sized room, with high ceilings, and as K noticed, lots of metal beer-making equipment. Not what he and his friends used to make beer. No, high quality stuff for large batches. No bar, no cafe, no, they had entered the heart of the operation, the brewery. The Brewer and The Entrepreneur were waiting inside, welcoming them from behind a table representing the bar. With no place to sit the group made small groups and discourse followed. Two visibly home-assembled taps were present on the bar. Both connected to a high-pressure metal can via a tube. One for their Pale Ale and one for their Brown Ale, The Brewer explained.

K chatted with The American, who arrived in a different taxi and told K he had quite his job for his four-week rampage through the South of the Americas. Snorting cocaine in Medellin on the grave of Pablo Escobar, making love on the beaches in the Tayrona national park near Santa Marta. He had a blast and was ready to find a new job in the States. Give his everything for six months and quit again. Moving to Europe for more vacation days was not an option. In return K told about the door incident to which The American shrugged and told K he was lucky. The American knew someone on which the cabbie had pulled a big fucking pistol for such an act.

India Pale Ale was K’s favorite. He talked about it with the guy running the bar at the hostel. Well, as far as the Colombian government is concerned that is what he did. In practice he also ran the hostel part time. According to K, relaying what he learned from friends, the India Pale Ale originates in Britain, where they brew a stronger beer with extra hops so that it would last all the way to India, in colonial times. It was not just his favorite beer, K loved IPAs — as they are commonly known. A little bitter, lots of hops, some herbs. Pretty unique in its taste. Among the IPAs — there is a ton of them — K really liked those coming from Scandinavia. Nøgne Ø from Norway and Mikkeller from Denmark. Unfortunately pretty hard to get elsewhere. The guy K was pitching to did not care much. “Beer is beer.” The Brewer though was amused by the history and asked K’s preference of their two beers. K thought the Brown Ale did not have enough of a taste. It was watery, had not enough substance. To The Brewer he said that the Pale Ale was great. It was hoppy, bit bitter. Good beer.

The Entrepreneur explained they just started. In fact, this was the first group of people visiting. They ship the beer to a few bars and restaurants around town. And sometimes did a last minute for a party. Slowly building momentum. Colombia drinks lager, ales are not really known, he continued. Nevertheless, feedback had been positive thus far. With those that prefer the Brown, and those that prefer the Pale. To K in particular he added they might do an IPA one day. He wanted certainty first, get his investment back. After that scale up, play around again.

As they drank, bantered, and laughed, tiredness came and went. When tiredness was in the room, the muscles lost control and the laughing went on and on, hurting. When it left, the group build up towards the next joke. Converted, a beer there cost less than two US dollar. On average people drank four. K had two Pale Ales, one Brown, and a last-minute free Pale Ale from “beer is beer.” Just before the taxis arrived.

The hole was located and off they went, no idea where they were or where they were going. They stopped at the prior conferred location and then they danced, mixed vodka and whisky, until it all got silly and tiredness came and would not leave. They were beat. As they wandered off into the night, searching for their hostel, K’s mind was racing. Buzzed and intoxicated he tried to process the events to date. Booking the trip, saying goodbyes, flying, impressions of the city. It was too much. The soul travels by horse. (De ziel gaat te paard. From Het stenen bruidsbed by Harry Mullisch.) As they rang the bell of the hostel K moved his lips. “Great first night.”