Before I begin this post, I need to say that the couple of afternoons we spent with Remo, founder of Saya Beer, is easily the longest time I have spent with a brewer and there is no way I will be able to do the topics we covered, beer-related or otherwise, justice.
I would never have guessed that one of the pioneers of craft beer in South America would be from Bolivia, but Saya Beer was founded fifteen years ago when Remo set up a microbrewery in his father’s hostel in La Paz. The brewery took up half the building and six years ago the hostel changed its name to The Adventure Brew Hostel. Since then, a nearby building has been purchased to assist with demand for beds and the brewery has moved to Achocalla, 30 minutes from La Paz, to assist with demand for beer.
The name Saya comes from a form of Afro-Bolivian music and dance and the Saya Negra was the first regular beer that they produced. The Saya Dorada and Saya Ambar are their other two standard beers and Remo mentioned at least four seasonals that they have brewed in the past, including a Bock, IPA, Hefeweizen and Oktoberfest. The Dorada is actually a Kölsch with a high range of hops and is the Saya beer of choice for Bolivians, accounting for 60% of total sales.
- Saya Dorada: Tierra de Ensueño (Dreamland)
- Saya Ambar: Diosa del Fuego (Goddess of Fire)
- Saya Negra: Vientos Sagrados (Sacred Winds)
Saya Beer also seeks to bottle the energy of the elements during the brewing process by talking to the hops, malt, water and yeast in order to ask permission and give thanks for their use.
This is the first time that I have ever encountered anything like this and have to admit that it was refreshing to hear beer being talked about in such a way.
The expansion to the new brewery site has seen an increase to 12,000 litres per month and Remo hopes that production will grow to 30,000 litres per month over the next year and a half. Saya Beer can currently be found in fifty places around La Paz (bars, restaurants and supermarkets) and five venues in both Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. A sanitary permit will be required should Saya Beer look to export to other South American countries in the future.
The specially made bottles took close to two years to complete from initial designs to production and there have been various interpretations of the meaning behind the angled stripes down the side of the bottle, including a stairway to heaven and to enhance your grip on the bottle. The real reason is to enable the drinker to play the bottle like a cuancha, an instrument similar to the güiro, and which is paramount to the music performed during Saya.
We initially met Remo at the hostel bar, where we sampled all three of Saya’s standard beers, as well as the Wee Heavy from Bodebrown that I’d been carrying for over 3 months. A couple of days later Remo took us to the brewery for a tour and some more tastings. This time we were able to try the Saya Negra straight from the fermentation tank – unfiltered and without gas. It’s easy to see why the punters prefer this over the filtered version, but you’ll have to head to the brewery or hostel in order to try it yourself.
The brewery is supplied by two wells approximately 1km away. The water is treated with O3 (ozone) and sits in the tank for a day before first passing through sand and then charcoal. Three different sized filters are then used before the water is exposed to UV light, in what is the final step prior to brewing. Similarly, the liquid waste from the brewing process is treated with O3 and UV light before being used for watering gardens and the solid malt waste is fed to local cows and pigs.
Between these ecological steps and getting in touch with the elements, it’s fair to say that Saya Beer is more than just a brewery…