Until recently, Colombia wasn’t particularly well-known for having a craft beer scene. Certainly nothing on the scale of the exploding plethora of breweries now common place in the United States. But Medellin now boasts over 30 different craft breweries. So, you can find several nano/micro breweries in Medellín.
Since Berny Silberwasser founded the first craft brewery in the country in 2002 with the Bogotá Beer Company (BBC), there has been an entrepreneurial drive and passion that as swelled the marketplace with dozens of craft brewers.
This is especially prevalent in Medellín – one of Latin America’s most progressive cities. Now anyone living in Medellín who is a craft beer lover will probably be familiar with some of the bigger named local craft brewers in the city.
Craft Beer: The Nano Brewers? The Micro Brewers?
But what about the more obscure brewers? The nano brewers? The micro-brewers?
Shockingly, Medellín alone now boasts over 30 different craft breweries. Many of these though are one-man set-ups where their kitchens serve as labs and the brew houses are in their living rooms.
Just a few have some industrial sized stainless steel vats. Despite the variance in production, there is one thing for sure – Colombia is catching up with its neighbors to the North in the craft beer scene.
The problem with the craft beer scene in Medellín is that many individuals have started out brewing as a hobby. Few, have any formal brew master skills. They are learning their trade by reading books, taking online courses and experimenting.
This still tinkering with their craft has left a hit and miss quality to many of the nano- and micro- brewers you will come across in Medellín. They just haven’t honed their craft yet. Perfection and more importantly consistency in the finished bottle is some years off from achieving. What you get is unpredictable.
That is, bar a few!
Since arriving in Medellín, I have been scouting out all craft beers I can find. There have been many not so pleasant tastings and a rare few that have surpassed anything I’ve sipped back home.
So, after nearly six months of extensive research, I give to you my definitive list of the best tasting nano and micro brews to try in Medellín. This opinion is based on overall quality, consistency and complexity.
And more importantly I provide details of where you can find some of these ‘not in the store’ brews including details of two events happening soon where you can try some. So, here are my 5 best nano/micro breweries in Medellín:
1. Craft Beer: TorreAlta Brewing Project
Hands down, the best nano brewer in Medellín is TorreAlta Brewing Project. Each beer that I’ve had the pleasure of trying has consistently been of exceptional quality.
Brewing beer is a passion for TorreAlta’s brewmaster Pablo. In fact, the brand name says it all – ‘Brewing Project.’ For Pablo, brewing is a hobby, something he fits in around a full time job and his other obsession – cycling. And his love and passion for the craft shows in the end product.
His range of beers are European in style, inspired from his time living in France and taking weekend jaunts up to Belgium.
Where Colombians have typically gone for light, low-alcohol lagers in the past – partially because of the warm weather – TorreAlta is pushing the region to expand their tastes and preferences with some of his stronger beers.
My favorite in his range is the El Rey de Palmas, an 8.6%ABV Belgian Golden Strong Ale that has notes of ginger, coriander and African pepper.
One sip and I was transported back to my 20s back-packing through Europe getting tipsy in the low-roofed, dark wooden bars of Bruges. I’ve always preferred the higher alcohol content of the Belgian style beers and this offering from TorreAlta’s range packed the same level of punch I’d expect from the best Belgium breweries.
Coming in a close second is the La Clandestina, a 7.3% Abbey style dubbel. As you’d expect from this style of beer, the La Clandestina has a deep coppery color with notes of toasted dry malt and caramel.
It’s malty sweetness is perfectly balanced with its medium bitterness. It’s not nearly as intense as a Belgian-Style quadrupel, which my favorite, the Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, comes in at 11%ABV, but it still has a depth of flavor that surpasses most of the beers I’ve tried in Medellín
If you fancy something on the lighter side, then the La Justa, an organic Saison that he brews especially for Justo Restaurante located in Poblado, might be better for you.
Arguably the first 100% organic beer made in Colombia, it has a rustic, fruity spicy character that takes its inspiration from the beers traditionally produced on the farms of the Belgian Southwest. Golden honey in color, La Justa is one of TorreAlta’s lighter beers at 5.7%ABV and perfect for sipping in a hot afternoon in Medellín.
Other beers in his repertoire include the La Provinciana, a 6.8% French style Saison which is ruby colored and has citrus and herbal notes and the La Dama Alegre is his Belgian Tripel that is inspired by the monasteries of Belgium, with a lot of character and a strong alcohol content – 9%ABV. Sadly I haven’t had a chance to try these two yet.
Apart from the taste of the beers, TorreAlta’s branding caught my eye. Each of his labels has a personal back story. Take the red and white polka dot label of the El Rey De Palmas.
Anyone familiar with the Tour de France will know that red and white polka dots represent the King of the Mountains. Well, this label, which also includes the brands signature bicycle in its imagery, is in homage to Pablo’s brother who’s is the King of the Palmas in Medellín.
Just like the Belgians, Pablo at Torrealta believes in pairing great beers with exceptional food. To this end, you won’t find TorreAlta in traditional bars. To get a sip you’ll need to head to one of the upmarket restaurants in town that include it on their drinks list. These exclusive stockists include Carmen, Wood Classic Burger and Justo Restaruante. See below for further details.
From the branding to the distribution to the beer itself, TorreAlte Brewing Project is pure class.
2. Craft Beer: Metamorphosis
As much as I love Belgian style beers, my all-time favorite style of craft beer is a West Coast IPA. I prefer that hoppy, bitter taste that is often accompanied with a hint of citrus. So, when I recently come across a locally brewed Indian Pale Ale, I had to try it.
At 5.6% ABV, the Metamorphosis IPA Silvestre doesn’t pack the bolder punch of my favorite IPA – the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA – that has a 9.0%ABV. But for the price – 8,800 pesos a bottle – I couldn’t complain and it was pretty darn close.
Metamorphosis is a micro artisan brewery project located in La Ceja, department of Antioquia, Colombia. Not actually in the heart of Medellín, but close enough on the outskirts of Rionegro for me to include it.
Owners Yenny and Josep are passionate about producing natural, alternative and unique beers that result in a gastronomic drink not just a refreshing beverage. Their experimental brewing processes incorporates techniques from winemaking and include a second fermentation in the bottle. All of their beers are bottled without pasteurizing or filtering.
The other three beers in their range include the Camper de Trigo, a 4.8%ABV Wheat Ale with a mellow taste and creamy foam.
The Negra Botanica, a 5.8%ABV Oatmeal Stout with hints of coffee, smoked chocolate and caramel. And the Roja Salvaje, a 5.6%ABV Amber Ale with a soft bitterness and a sweet finish on the mouth.
I’ve only seen Metamorphosis at one location in Medellín. So if you really want to try this brew then head to Punta Arena, a tiny corner bar across from UPB.
3. Craft Beer: ÖlBröder
Head Brewer William Myers at 20Mission Cerveza put me on to ÖlBröder. In his own words, ‘ÖlBröder makes fantastic beers. They make a lot of Belgian style beers. They’re solid.’
Well I couldn’t think of a better endorsement than from someone is already brewing some of the best quality beer in town.
This beer brotherhood has 5 different beer styles currently in season, all with fairly high alcohol content. At the bottom of the scale is their 5% Blonde Ale. For those new on the craft beer scene, this provides a very approachable style. With no particularly dominating malt or hop characteristics it is very easy drinking. Rounded and smooth the Blonde Ale would go well with a nice meal or on its own during a hot summer’s day.
From there you can work your way up through the 5.5% American Amber Ale with Chipotle, the 5.5% Oatmeal Stout, and the 6.5% Extra IPA. For the brave there is the 9% spiced Grut Beer.
Also, one to keep experimenting, ÖlBröder often puts out some special editions. In the past few months I’ve seen advertised a Bacon Porter at 6.4%ABV and one of my all time favorite Belgian style beers – a Quadrupel Belgian Dark Strong Ale at at whopping 12%ABV.
So, keep your eye on this one. You never know what they will be brewing next.
4. Craft Beer: Sierra Blanca
After TorreAlta, my next highly rated craft brewer in Medellín is Sierra Blanca. They are also one of the few brewers in town that have perfected their process to point where you are guaranteed a consistently good selection.
One of my favorites in their range is the Galaxy IPA. This 5.5%ABV session IPA is apricot colored with hints of citrus and hops on the nose. I love lots of hops in my beer, so I knew just from the aroma that I was going to like this one. And it doesn’t disappoint. That bitter hoppiness sings through to the taste buds with the first sip. Bursting through the hops you get hints of grapefruit and a little bit of flora the palette. A good IPA for a hot afternoon and with enough character to squash my cravings for a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
Sierra Blanca’s head brewer Carlos tends to favor the IPA styles, and produces an impressive and diverse line-up. In addition to the Galaxy IPA, he also brews a 6.5%ABV Kiwi IPA and a 6.1%ABV Mosaic IPA. I haven’t tried those two yet, but I’m sure they equally don’t disappoint.
For a those that aren’t fans of lots of hops that notoriously accompany IPAs, then I’d recommend their Red Rye Simcoe at 5.6%ABV. Ruby red in color it has a sweeter and smoother taste.
What I love about Carlos and Sierra Blanca is that they keep experimenting with their craft to find new combinations that will excite our taste buds. When I ran into him and several other micro brewers at El Cervesario just before Christmas, he handed me a glass and said, ‘Try this.’
It was like no other beer I had tasted before. It was heavy, sweet, and caramel on the palette. He told me that he had infused the beer with charred wood chips soaked in dark rum, with an added dash of Ron Juan De La Cruz. This special edition Imperial Red Rye is a beer to lust after. I found it again a few weeks ago Cervecería Libre, but go quick if you want to try it, if it’s still there at all!
Sierra Blanca keeps innovating and I’ve heard rumors of early releases of a Brown Rye and a Belgian IPA. Based on what I’ve tried with them before, anything they put out will be top notch.
5. Craft Beer: Aburrá Valley Brewing Co.
Aburra Valley is headed up by Nathan, an Australian who is passionate about making great quality and distinctive beer.
Obviously, my favorite beer in his range is the IPA. American in style and packing in a 6.2% ABV, it has the the right balance of hops and bitterness to make me smile.
His other styles include his signature Australian Pale Ale at 4.5% ABV; a Golden Ale at 4.8% ABV; an American style Amber Ale at 5.2% ABV; and Rye IPA at 5.8%.
Aburra Valley is often on tap at Masetre Cerveceria, so head there for the best selection of this quality brew. Details below.
Where to Try the Best Nano and Micro Craft Beer in Medellin
If all of this talk of craft beer has got you salivating, well then, you’re in luck. I know just the places to get these elusive brews in Medellín.
To start, this week there are two excellent events where you can get a chance to try some of the best craft beer in Medellín.
Kinkaju Hikes Sunset Beer Walk – Friday, 16th February 2018
Starting at Punta Arena, your guide will walk you from Laureles to Industriales where through 5 dedicated stops you’ll get the chance to try at least 8 different Colombian artisanal breweries, most of which are brewed right here in Medellín and the Aburra Valley.
The optional last stop will be at 3 Cordilleras Cerveceria. Whilst, this is a more commercial brewery now in Medellín, their Friday night bar above their brewery is an event not to be missed. For 28,000 pesos, you get 5 beer tickets to encourage you to sample their beers whilst listening to a live band.
The spaces are limited, so reserve your spot by WhatsApp at +1-301-928-4180 or send them a Facebook DM.
La Toma Beer Festival – Saturday, 17th February 2018
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the craft beer scene then head to Jardín Cervecero-La Toma.
At this craft beer festival, you will be able to try the beers from 14 local breweries, which in total will offer you 75 different styles to indulge in.
Participating breweries mentioned in this article will include ÖlBröder Cervez Artesanel and Aburrá Valley Brewing Co. 20Misison Cerveza who we also recently highlighted at Medellin Guru will also be there.
Held in the Beer Garden of BARNA – Carrera 43F No. 10-38, El Poblado. Starting at 1pm there will be an afternoon full of music, gastronomic food, beer pong and great beer. Book your tickets here.
Selected Bars and Restaurants
A few bars and upmarket restaurants in town stock these beers. But as their brewing productions are of limited quality, what styles you can find when and where is a bit elusive. Your best bet is to follow their Instagram and FaceBook feeds to find out what they’re currently brewing and where they are currently being featured as a guest beer.
At the time of going to print, I have found these locations:
- Wood Classic Burger: Exclusive stockist to Torrealta. Cra 29 # 3B sur 70 (1.50 km), El Poblado. Sunday to Thursday 12pm to 9pm. Friday and Saturday 12pm to 10pm.
- Carmen: Exclusive stockist to Torrealta. 36 #10A-27, El Poblado. Lunch: Tuesday to Friday from 12pm – 2:30pm. Dinner: Monday to Saturday from 7pm – 10:30pm.
- Justo Restaurante: A vegan restaurant and shop where you can find Torrealta’s Organic Saison, ÖlBröder, and Sierra Blanca. 37 #58, El Poblado. Hours 12:30 – 14:30 and 19:00 – 21:30
- Punta Arena: A tiny hole in the hall bar that has the most extensive range of bottled beer selections I’ve seen in Medellín. Here you can find ÖlBröder and Metamorphosis. Address: Av. Bolivariana #35-40, Medellín, across from UPB.
- Maestre Cerveceria: Owner and ex-lawyer, Mario, opened this rustic brewhouse and bar late in 2017. Last week he offered the first of his own brew on tap. I haven’t been there to sample his new creations yet, but was there last year when he was carrying Aburra Valley on tap. Go for both! Carrera 40, No 10-47, El Poblado. Hours are usually Tuesday to Saturday from 4pm.
- Cerveceria Libre: This is another brewhouse/bar in Medellín that brews a range of their own beers. They often have guest beers from Sierra Blanca and Aburra Valley. Address: Carrera 44 # 25 – 31, El Poblado.
The Bottom Line: Craft Beer in Medellín – The Best Nano/Micro Breweries
Whether you’re a full-on craft beer aficionado or only just graduating your taste buds up from Club Colombia, there’s plenty of craft beers in Medellín to choose from. So, don’t be monogamous, get out there and continually seek out and discover some new styles and brands.
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Editors note: updated on April 2, 2018 to change name of Ardilla Aventuras to Kinkaju Hikes as the company changed its name.