The Experimental Craft Beers of Peru's Sacred Valley
Cerveceria del Valle is making excellent, unusual beer that can only be found in Peru
The only sounds you hear as you walk into Sacred Valley Brewing Company’s patio taproom are wind rushing through the grass and happy customers talking amongst themselves. The tables are covered with experimental beers. The garden is full of lavender, leafy greens, and snapdragons. But don’t get too attached to one particular beer from Sacred Valley, or Cerveceria del Valle. You may never have the chance to taste it again.
Friends and co-owners Alex Ball, Joe Giammatteo, Louisa de Heer, and Juan Mayorga started the brewery with creative freedom in mind, not providing customers with a regular lineup. “When we started the brewery, in addition to wanting to be a sustainable brewery, we liked the idea of not having standard beers year ‘round,” Mayorga said.
After finishing school in the United States, Mayorga moved to New Zealand to study tourism before returning to South America, and eventually opening the brewery in Pachar, Peru. "We’re located in the middle of the Sacred Valley, so we have access to all kinds of fresh fruits and seasonal ingredients,” Mayorga said. “There’s always a new list of beers on tap throughout the season. We’ll brew sour beers and only serve them in our tasting room.”
The Sacred Valley is a region known for its trout-filled Urubamba River, maize production, and Inca ruins. Perhaps you’ve heard of Machu Picchu? With the day’s final light shining on the Vilancota range behind the brewery, it’s not difficult to see why Mayorga and friends chose this location for their business. After Mayorga, moved back to Peru, he fell in love with the region’s culture, scenery, and mountain lifestyle. “We looked at it as a perfect location. We had this beautiful background scenery for the brewery set alongside the Urubamba River, which is a sacred river of the Incas,” he said. The brewery sits beneath a source of fresh spring water perfect for their beer-brewing needs.
The location is also strategic for attracting taproom visitors and accessing ingredients. “We had access to year ‘round tourism as Ollantaytambo is the departure city for Machu Picchu,” Mayorga said of the nearby town. “We then had a plethora of fresh ingredients to play with here. We’re four hours away from the jungle, where we’re able to find all kinds of native jungle fruits. We’re also very close to coffee and cacao growing regions. And here in the Sacred Valley itself we have access to all kinds of seasonal vegetables and herbs we can use in the beer.” Those who can get their hands on Sacred Valley’s beer can taste the region’s local cacao, passionfruit, elderberry, and pumpkin. The flavors are experimental, but the styles are not. “We’ve made some fun interesting beers over the years and we’re looking at making more fun interesting beers using local ingredients but being yet very traditional within our brewing styles,” Mayorga said.
But there are drawbacks to making beer in the valley. “There are always the issues that happen when you’re in a rural area,” Mayorga said. Cerveceria del Valle is two hours away from Cusco, the region’s capital city. In 24 hours you can drive to Lima, or fly there in an hour from the Cusco airport. When things go wrong, it’s hard to find help nearby. “We don’t have a plumber. We don’t have an engineer. We don’t have an electrician around the corner,” Mayorga said. “We can’t just go buy a circuit breaker or something if it breaks. There’s always the need to plan ahead, the need to be on our toes.” As a result, the brewery’s team members have to wear many hats. A brewer isn’t just a brewer, but a stand-in electrician, plumber, and engineer all in one.
When the friends opened up shop on Halloween 2014, there were only a handful of other breweries in Peru. “Now there are more than 100 breweries in the country,” Mayorga said. “The craft beer scene in Peru has been blowing up. It’s amazing.” Cerveceria del Valle brews at capacity, producing between 7,000-8,000 liters a month. About 80% of the beer stays in the region within a two hour radius of the brewery, although some travels to bars and restaurants in bigger cities. It also makes its way to festivals and competitions, where it racks up accolades. “We’ve won about 35 international medals,” Mayorga said. “It’s a lot of fun. We’re really really passionate about what we’re doing down here. We’re really in love with the art of beer-making.”
None of that award-winning beer goes into bottles. “There is no recycling in this country, so if we were to put out 21,000 bottles a month, they would be going into the trash,” Mayorga said. “We focus on serving only draught beer. As a company we’re really focused on sustainability.” The team uses only LED lights and built its own water treatment plant—the first in the valley. They’re working with Appalachian State University to see if wind turbines could supply some of their energy needs.
The brewery is socially conscious, too. Every last Saturday of the month, they throw a fundraising party to support local causes like women’s empowerment, education, and healthcare. Twenty percent of the party’s proceeds go to a different NGO each month. “We’re really excited about being an example in the valley on how to run a brewery and how to run a successful business while being socially and environmentally conscious, which is something that’s really important for us,” Mayorga said.