Early in the year my friend Sergio invited me to an event at a local market, Casa Rica (Paraguayan’s Whole Foods equivalent) to launch the sale of Baltika, a Russian beer, he and his partner had started importing. Sergio introduced me to some of the guys involved in the local Craft and Home Brew movement. We hit it off, beer nerds excitedly talking about our favorite beers and styles. They told me of this magical sounding journey they had done, the Bodebrown Beer Train.
Bodebrown is a brewery/beer school in Curitiba, Brazil. They brew. They have classes to teach people how to brew, and at their Beer Ranch they also sell the equipment and ingredients needed to brew. One stop shopping. And, every so often, they take over a couple cars on the scenic train route, the Serra Verde Express from Curitiba to Morretes, and you spend three or four hours taking in breathtaking scenery while enjoying Bodebrown and other Brazilian brewers fine barley sodas as well as some great bread and pretzels.
It sounded like the most awesome thing ever.
I hoped, against odds, that it might be possible to join them on a road trip. Suddenly, mid-July, The Hop, the craft beer school here in Asuncion that some of my friends from above run and teach, announced a trip for August of this year. 3 day weekend , so only one work day missed, and a reasonable price considering it covered bus, hotel, most meals, train tix and schwag. So on Thursday night, August 20th, about 18 of us – 17 Paraguayans and me, the token Gringo, began the 1,000km 16 hour bus ride. It was long. The bus was slow. And as readers of my Iguazu trip might be aware, Paraguay’s main highway has speed bumps on it when driving through towns. Yeah.
Finally, after bathroom breaks, chipa stops, and loading up on Matte Leao we arrived. F the hotel. Straight to the brewery. Giddy-up.
Bodebrown greeted us like family. Half the staff of the brewery were out front hugging us as we approached. After a short explanation of the beer tap situation – we got “credit cards” with 50 reals of cred for beer… scan the card, fill your glass – they treated us to a feast of German food. After plowing down some great food and several glasses of their 9% Perigosa double IPA and a Rye IPA at 7% (didn’t come close to depleting my credit), we took a tour of the facilities then Samuel, the owner, took us to the school and storage area of the Beer Ranch and let us sample several more tasty (and high octane) brews. He was like Willy Wonka and this was the chocolate..err beer factory.
We left, checked in to our hotel. Allegedly we went toured the town that evening, including a stop at some massive market and an Italian restaurant for dinner. I have foggy recollections of a Brazilian at the market happy to practice his English on me, as well as a some pics of a giant rabbit and some chicken wings. So, yeah, I guess that happened. 3 hours sleep on a bus coupled with giant lunch and day drinking 9% beers takes a toll.
We stopped by the hotel and I was informed we were going out. I rallied. Went to Barbarium, a cool bar about 20 minutes away. Got to try some more swell Curitiba Craft. Was 2:30am when we got back. Hooray. At least tonight I’d be getting four hours sleep on a bed as opposed to three on the bus the night prior.
It felt as though I had just dozed off when the alarm woke me. I fought the urge to toss it out the window, made my way to the breakfast area for some water. At the appointed time we hiked over across the way to the train station (5 minute walk from our hotel. Great strategic planning that.) and boarded up.
My buddy Pablo made sure to have me sit on the left hand side. This is very nice when doing the Beer Train or especially important if riding the regular Serra Verde Express. The best views are all on this side and the traditional train ride is very strict about sitting in your seat. The beer train is a bit like a mobile bar with mingling.
Introductions and opening remarks were made and we had our set list for the day. Also great strategery. The beer, each round of 45 minutes, was paired with artisanal bread and pretzels, followed a nice trajectory of 5%, 7%, 8%, 7% and finally easing down to 5% before we arrived at our destination.
The Beer Train was everything it was cracked up to be. Great beer, great scenery, great company. Was tough to rotate between talking with new friends and just staring out the window at the eye-popping views.
When we arrived at town I was, well, a tad tipsy from sampling the beers and, as it had warmed to a nice 70f, popped my sweatshirt in my swag bag. I attempted to place my battle-tested Bodebrown Beer Train glass into the bag, it rolled out and shattered on the ground. So, fogged and distraught, I picked it up, slightly cutting my finger. The first person I run into leaving the station in this state was Samuel’s mother. She was more distraught than I and insisted on me receiving a new glass. One did show up at our hotel towards the end of the day. That’s how awesome they are at Bodebrown!
Morretes was a quaint, scenic town and we enjoyed a nice lunch, some agua, and several of us took advantage of the beautiful day and enjoyed a cat nap by the pond behind our restaurant.
The trip was over, but the adventure was not. We bused back into town. Pablo and I took off to go to the highly regarded coffee place, Lucca Café, where I sampled some coffee as well as a beer that was made with it, and scored a couple bags of java to bring home. Afterwards we did another city tour (I remember more of this one), before stopping at Club Malte for burgers and more beer. They had 8 Brazilian craft beers on tap, but had a sizable collection of bottles for sale. Or they did. My amigos were like locusts, nearly buying up the store.
My final stop, as with most the gang, was Hop N Roll, a cool bar which features about 30 beers on tap – mostly Brazilian but some Belgian, and classic rock blaring in the background. They were packed early, so it was 45 minutes before we got in. They knew we were coming, felt bad, so delivered a round to us on the house to enjoy on the sidewalk while we waited. Got to enjoy some more tasty Brazilian craft beers, including Petroleum, a thick, heavy, viscous stout that clocked in over 10%, as well as the Petroleum Chipotle, which was easily the hottest chipotle I’ve ever consumed. Wow the burn on that.
“Enjoyed” another 38 winks or so and we began the long busride back to Paraguay. After we crossed the border, around 5pm, the party continued. At least for some of us.
Great trip. Knew three people when I left, came back with three bags of coffee, four Bodebrown beers, and 15 new friends. Easily one of the most fun weekends of my life. I am extremely grateful for being given the chance to go, and to all my friends who looked out for my gringo self during the course of the weekend!