As the craft beer revolution in Colombia gathers pace, more innovative and interesting venues are popping up too. La Embajada gives you the element of gunpowder to go with your Non Grata ale.
I must admit, as a craft beer lover and someone who also gets a kick out of occasionally slamming a fair few Pokers down the hatch whilst chucking a metal tejo at triangles of gunpowder on a bed of clay, never did I think the two could mix. Daniel Lozano at Cervecería Non Grata vehemently disagrees.
Of course, after half an hour of chatting over their Jack el Destripador Bourbon Ale, it seems almost obvious. ‘Craft beer is hands-on. Making it with your hands gives it a connection to tejo, which is also hands-on, but also ancestral,’ says Daniel. Well when you put it like that… Sign me up for a petaco.
Of course, pretty much everything about Non Grata and Tejo La Embajada, the brewery’s bar and tejo centre, is ‘outside the box’. While he might look more like a brewer now, four years ago Daniel was a clean-cut investment banker with an industrial design degree, doing 9-to-5 with Andrew Cárdenas, one of his three future partners in beer and tejo. ‘You’d be working on an excel sheet,’ says Daniel, ‘then suddenly you’d get a message saying “beer with beetroot, my house this Saturday?”’
Along with three other partners, Sebastián Otero, Simón Aguía and Juliana Acero, Daniel and Andrew seem to have dedicated as much time to breaking stereotypes and social/cultural barriers as they have to making beer.
Cervecería Non Grata’s logo is that of a fox. The reason for this, other than it looking very sharp indeed, is the two distinct connotations the word ‘[email protected]’ has in Spanish. While the masculine version has more or less the same meaning as its English counterpart – clever, cunning and always having fun – any foreigner who’s made the mistake of calling their better half a ‘zorra’ can tell you that it in no way means ‘sexy’ or ‘cute’ like it might in English. ‘Zorra’ in Spanish basically means ‘slut’. The folks at Non Grata see this as a grossly sexist linguistic injustice and are attempting to redefine the word in a more fun, unisex sense. All of them, including Juliana, are zorros – they’re clever and they have fun making beer.
Embajada de Tejo isn’t just a tejo place with fancy beer. One of the fundamental ideas behind it is making tejo more accessible for women. While Daniel adores tejo, he’s the first to admit that its male-dominated, urinal-within-view-of-everyone, traditional form isn’t exactly welcoming to women. Of course, this doesn’t mean La Embajada wants to overhaul Colombia’s pastime completely – Daniel has a close relationship with the owner of San Miguel (his favourite traditional tejo cancha) down the road, and the two venues happily send punters between the two, depending on what they’re after. Embajada simply offers an alternative atmosphere. As Daniel says, ‘For the first time, a tejo had waitresses, for the first time, a tejo had a bar. For the first time, a tejo had a restaurant, where you knew the food would be alright.’
For lots of tejo customers, it’s their first introduction to craft beer, so Daniel sees it as a big responsibility for him.
That brings us to the beers. Non Grata currently make three core beers. The aforementioned Jack el Destripador (Jack the Ripper in English) does exactly what it says on the bottle – takes your face off. It’s a strong ale (8.8% abv) that gets a lot of its flavour from the inclusion of American Oak chips that have been soaking in Jack Daniels for two weeks prior.
They also brew what I might argue is one of the best IPAs you can find in Colombia, the Mandaripa. As the name suggests, this IPA is towards the citrusy and fruity, rather than bitter end of the genre’s spectrum.
The beer we’re going to focus on here, however, is the Ismael Cream Ale. This beer is absolutely unique in Bogotá. Made with corn and tasting half like a cream soda, there is nothing else remotely like this beer anywhere in the country. It may just look like any old beer when it’s out of the bottle, but this beer is smoother than a New York crooner and dangerously drinkable. At 6.2% abv, you’ll want to be keeping tabs on how many you slam back. Just like with the modern take on tejo and the fox logo, there’s a little bit of purposeful subversion in this beer too – corn is the only cereal native to the Americas, so to kind of ‘get one back’ for the founders of brewing giant Bavaria allegedly chasing down traditional chicha producers many moons ago, Non Grata wanted to use corn in their beer as a way of subverting international beer norms. Move the letters of ‘Ismael’ around a bit and you’ll see it’s an anagram of ‘el mais’ (corn).
Where to get ‘em
La Embajada is thrilled to finally be reopening this week. You can find it nestled in with all the other tejo joints on Carrera 24 #76-20. They’re open 5pm – 11pm Thursdays and Fridays, 3-11pm on Saturdays and 3-7pm on Sundays. You’ll need to make a reservation, which you can do through Facebook Messenger or on Instagram.
They do delicious modern takes on traditional Colombian food (Daniel especially recommends the lechona), as well as a few more contemporary American BBQ favourites. If you’d rather stay at home, you can also order domicilios of all the beers, as well as the food, online at www.tejolaembajada.com
They do deliveries Thursday to Sunday, and they’ll waive the $4,000 COP fee on any orders over $100,000.