A Craft Brewery Rises in the Heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley
Now celebrating its second year of operation, Cervecería del Valle Sagrado has amassed a following and an award-winning list of beers.
Louisa de Heer preparing our flight of beers. All photos by Marianna Jamadi.
Juan Mayorga, Joe Giammatteo, and Louisa de Heer did what most people only dream of doing: They moved to an exotic country and opened a brewery in a fertile valley with an almost too-perfect view of the mountains. Now celebrating Cervecería del Valle Sagrado's second year of operation, the crew has amassed a following and an award-winning list of beers, all specially crafted by Oakshire Brewing veteran Giammatteo.
The Cervecería del Valle Sagrado concept all began in 2007, when the trio set off on a road trip, taking them from Portland to Hornings Hideout, Oregon for the Northwest String Summit bluegrass festival. "The brewery idea really spurred on this trip," Heer says. "We had a lot of down time, and we were drinking a lot of good beer along the way."
Following the road trip, Mayorga, Giammatteo and Heer all ended up in Oregon by 2009, where Giammatteo turned his brewing hobby into a full-time endeavor as he worked his way up at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon. By the fall of 2011, Mayorga began scouting land in Peru, where his family originally has roots. With Mayorga's knowledge of the local landscape, Giammatteo's brewing expertise, and Heer's background in sustainability, the trio headed for the Sacred Valley of Peru, where they built a craft brewery in a serene valley nook, with a mountain view that's now the brand's logo. In Pachar, the team built the brewery's foundation from start to finish, designing the brew room, installing the fermentation tanks, and building a septic system all from scratch.
Today, the team actively works to further Peru's reputation on the craft brewery circuit, while also honoring the country's chicheria roots, where secret brew houses are disguised throughout the valley in a system of red-flagged façades, all indicating a brewery inside. Operating as a quasi-chicheria in its own right, Mayorga uses Cervecería del Valle Sagrado as a platform to educate Peruvians on the world's craft brew standards, like placing beers in the fridge and drinking it at a crisp, cool temperature, as opposed to the unrefrigerated style of the chicha de jora widely available in the valley. And by selling the beer only in keg form, they reinforce the altruistic idea of supporting local businesses and going to an establishment that sells quality beer on tap.
During a recent visit to the brewery's headquarters, Heer and Mayorga guided me through a flight tasting, featuring eight uniquely engineered brews. First, there's the smooth and simple Doña Elsa Wheat, which is named after the brewery's honorary godmother, Doña Elsa. For her birthday, they made and named this special blend after her, serving as an ode to her hospitality for lending her and her family's expertise as tour guides in the brewery's original days of formation. Next is the Laguna Wheat, which was made specifically for a reggae concert the brewery hosted. They wanted to serve something light, and the beer hits the mark with its notes of lemon, mango, and maracuyá (passionfruit). The Saison Especial is the brewery's Peruvian take on a classic saison, with hints of banana and clove, but with the added splash of maracuyá juice.
To kick off the darker beers, Mayorga and Heer serve their Roja con Ayrampo, which is a dark malt beer featuring , the seed of the prickly pear fruit, which also doubles as a digestif. The beer is smooth all the way to the finish. The Del Valle a Barranco IMP Brown is a Cervecería del Valle Sagrado collaboration with the Lima-based Barranco Beer Company, which won a silver medal in the British Strong Ale category at Copa Latinoamericana de Cervezas Artesanales (Latin American Craft Beer Cup). At the same competition, Cervecería del Valle Sagrado also won Best Brewery in Peru. The collaboration has a 7.5-percent alcohol content and a smooth, sweet finish, due to the added cacao nibs and honey (and this happens to be my favorite of the bunch). The Hoppy Stout has a cloudy tint to its head, and the thick body rings notes of floral, citrusy hops. The Cusco Dark Ale Black IPA is another award winner, featuring a toasted sweetness to the brew, all in a classic IPA package. Rounding out the flight is the Lion's Tears Sandia Gose, resurrecting an almost extinct German beer style produced in a region of Germany where there's a natural saltiness to the water. The taste is sour, reminiscent of a watermelon Warhead, and the brewery adds salt from the nearby Maras salt mines, which have been in use since the time of the Incas.
With an array of brews at their disposal, Mayorga, Heer, and Giammatteo host a slew of parties at the brewery, with their namesake being an end of the month party called Fiesta de Fin de Mes, where up to 500 people from in and around the valley converge for a day of celebration, with many of the proceeds going to nonprofit endeavors the brewery actively sponsors.
Although Peru is the longest place Mayorga has lived in one stint since high school, he plans to stay in Peru for the long haul. He only sees upward movement for the country's craft brew industry. "A year ago, when we went to the South Beer Cup, we won, as a country, the same amount of medals as Chile. They've been in this industry many years. For us to be able to compete in the international market is incredible—I only see more breweries coming," Mayorga says.
Heer leads the brewery's tasting room, taking visitors that may have only tried a Cusequeña (Peru's most popular beer) in the past. "It's exciting to see the feedback we're getting. I spend a lot of time in the tasting room, and I like showing people our process," Heer says. "I like taking the mystery and bizarreness out of beer-making, then showing people the options and flavor profiles they have yet to explore here in Peru."
Regardless of numbers and growth, Mayorga, Giammatteo, and Heer simply enjoy the work they do and who they do it with. "At the end of the day, our friendship is as strong as ever," Heer says. "We're a collaborative team, and we will always have the best interests of each other and the brewery in mind."