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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bandido Brewery

Bandido Business Card

Scott Sturman

Our guide Freddy had a hard time finding Quito’s Bandido Brewery and arrived very late to help us celebrate climbing, or in some of our cases, attempting to climb Cayambe, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo.

“People used to get killed in this part of town.  Before the economy improved and the government got serious about protecting tourists around the Old Town, their were a lot of knives stuck in the wrong places,” Freddy informed us.  “Now it’s not so bad since there is a police station a block away.” 

 Dan Tending Bandido's Bar

We had taken a taxi to the Bandido this time around, but when we visited the first time two weeks ago we walked from our hotel through the Old Town.  It was filled with tourists and the narrow streets separating the classic Spanish buildings didn’t seem particularly dangerous.

A few months ago we had heard about the Bandido Brewery from our climbing partner, Steve, who discovered its whereabouts quite by accident at the REI store in Portland.

“I’m going climbing in Ecuador and need a new backpack,” Steve informed the clerk.

“You’re not going to be in Quito by any chance?” the clerk replied.

“Why, yes, I am.  I’ll be there for a couple of days before and after climbing, and probably for sometime during the acclimatization process.”

“Well, if that’s the case, you should drop by the Bandido Brewery.  My friend Dan and some of his old college friends went to Quito a few years ago to run a youth hostel.  It didn’t work out, so rather than come back to Oregon, so a year ago they started a micro brewery in Ecuador from scratch.”

When my wife JoAnn, our friend Rick, and I met Steve in Quito this past May, he insisted that before we spent the next two weeks climbing volcanoes we visit the Bandido Brewery near Quito’s Old Town district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Latin America’s best preserved historic center.  With map in hand and some roundabout searching, we found the brewery tucked away on Calle Olmedo just east of Old Town.

Quito - photo by JoAnn Sturman

The beer industry in Ecuador is dominated by Pilsener Beer, a light lager sold in large volumes.  It’s a mild, not unpleasant tasting brew meant to be drunk in large quantities.  The company has a virtual monopoly on all levels of the production process to such an extent that it is difficult for competitors to even buy bottles to bottle their beer.

Art Work at the Bandido

The craft beer industry in Ecuador is virtually non existent, so in 2013 three Americans in their early 20s, Nathan, Ryan, and Dan, who had not brewed a bottle of beer between them, decided to open a brewery.  They rightly concluded that young Ecuadorians and foreigners visiting Quito would prefer stronger beers with a variety of tastes.

They read a few books about brewing and began to make craft beers in a small room behind the bar in a rented building near the youth hostile.  Even today the beer is made in the same room, and customers are welcome to take a peek at the process.  Bandido rotates their beers, and on the week of our first visit the selections included an IPA, a porter and an ale, along with a couple of other craft beers made by other small time microbrew operators in Quito.  The beer was delicious, and we told the bartender Dan we would be back in a couple weeks to celebrate, when we were finished climbing and more used to Quito’s 9250 foot altitude.

We were fully acclimatized when we returned to the Bandido, which is helpful when drinking beer with a higher alcohol content.  There were a number of young Ecuadorians and American tourists at the bar who obviously understood the difference between beer that is drunk for volume as opposed to taste.  After having nothing but Pilsener for the past two weeks, we tended to agree with them.

Dan with Steve, Rick, and Scott

One has to admire the entrepreneurial spirit of three young men living in a foreign country and having to deal with capricious bureaucrats and monopolistic competitors.  Yet with all the impediments, the prospects for success seemed brighter than to deal with the stifling business climate in much of the United States.  Yes, Ecuador is corrupt, but the level of corruption at least gives a fledgling business room to maneuver.  They preferred to take their chances with the crooks in Quito rather than the ones back home.

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