26 Mar 2012

A bit of history

A couple of months ago I came across a very interesting video from the Ecuadorian TV. The quality is on the wrong side of crappy and the two geezers that talk there look like the kind of people that must be boring even after having a couple of pints under their belts, but if you understand Spanish, it's worth paying attention to what they say.

According to Mr. Mosquera, the first brewery in America (the continent, of course) operated in Quito in the Convent of St. Francis, which started to be built in 1550, or so Wikipedia says.

As founder of the monastery and brewery, Mosquera mentions one Jodoco Ricke, a Franciscan monk of Flemish origin. Searching this person on the internet I found a brief biography (in SP) that says that he had been good friends with the emperor Charles V (who is considered "the father" of beer in Spain) and that he had arrived in Ecuador a few years before the construction of the monastery had started. It also says that he began growing barley shortly after his arrival. So, it's not only probable that the beers he made were of European style almost from the get go, and not chicha, but also that brewing precedes the monastery.

Other than the colours (white, blond and black) not much is mentioned about what the beers were like, on the other hand, Ricke's and some of his mates' nationality should be enough to give us a good idea. This wasn't for me the most revealing thing about this video, though.

According to the "official" narrative, it beer was brought to Latin America by Central European immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. That is not true, at least a century before, in Buenos Aires there were people who brewed Porter. Now it's clear that not even them were the first brewers in the continent. What I'd like to know now is how extended monastic (or other kind of) brewing was in the colonial times.

It's well known that it was monks who started growing grapes in America, but in order to make wine from a new vineyard you have to wait several years. You don't need to wait so long to make beer, all you need is a rich enough harvest of barley, wheat or other grain and you can already start a brewery. Considering that all the monastic orders I can think of used to make beer, it's not preposterous to believe that those same orders would start brewing as soon as they had settled in the new continent (though it's also possible that they made mead or some other alcoholic drinks).

I would love to have the time and resources to do more research about this!

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2 comments:

  1. Very interesting indeed, Max. Could this be linked with the news last year that (allegedly) one of the ancestors of lager yeast came from wild yeasts found in the beech forests of Patagonia? Might a Franciscan monk, accidentally or deliberately, have carried back that wild yeast from South America to South Germany, where it bred with local brewing yeasts? There has been a Franciscan monastery in Munich from the 13th century, and it seems more than possible that a monk from South America would have visited his brothers in Bavaria. Too many "ifs" in all that, really - William of Ockham (who died in the Franciscan monastery in Munich) would not be impressed. But it's a fascinating speculation ...

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    1. I read about it, but I didn't think of it when I was writing the above, but now that you mention it... There are a couple of things with the Patagonian story that don't quite add up to me. I remember reading about bottom (or cold) fermented beers being brewed at least in Bohemia in the 14-15th centuries, but you know better than anyone how unreliable those things can be. There's also the question of how and when exactly those yeasts made it to Central Europe. However, it is also possible that whenever and however it was that those yeasts arrived here, they bred with the indigenous ones and evolved into those we know today. Whether a Franciscan monk had a hand on that or not is a wild guess.

      On a side note, someone promised to send me some documents about brewing in Argentina between 1700 and 1900, with recipes and all.... I can't wait to read that!

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