I am convinced that for those who aren’t yet familiar with the work of Miguel Rivas, this article will be somewhat of a revelation. And for those who have followed him for a while, it will be a great opportunity to get closer to him and his fascinating project: The BeerTrekker.
Before I start, I would like to thank Miguel for taking the time for this post, because despite the time difference between Barcelona and New York, we had a very interesting video chat for more than an hour, which I hope we can do again very soon in person and with a beer in hand.
Miguel began the The BeerTrekker project 6 years ago, after his first trip to Belgium. It all started as a hobby, but the truth is that his interest in quality beer awoke much earlier.
Born in the United States but raised in Venezuela, Miguel had his first experience away from industrial beers - because until then the Venezuelan Polar Pilsen beer had been the only alternative within reach - when he returned to the United States (Boston) in 1995.
During Christmas, Miguel went to Vermont to visit his family and during his stay, some of his cousins' university classmates came around with a six-pack of an English IPA they had brewed. Interestingly enough, they had just founded a brewery, Magic Hat Brewing Company, which now is already 25 years of age and produces 175,000 barrels per year.
That first taste aroused Miguel's curiosity, which caused him to continue tasting special beers in both Boston and Miami, where he lived for several years. But the truth is that the key moment did not come until 2002, when he moved to New York.
At that time his brother worked as a bartender in Manhattan, and he kept talking to him about Belgian beers. Then one day he went to visit the bar and tried an Orval, the first beer with Brett that Miguel tried. After this he had a Chimay, and little by little he got hooked in the wonderful universe of trappist beers.
These experiences affected Miguel deeply, and both his interest and his knowledge about this type of beers continued expanding. To the point that, in 2013, after years of reading and informing himself about the unique beers that his brother gave him to try, Miguel decided to travel to Belgium, rent a car and make a route visiting various monasteries.
Although many of those monasteries could not be access by tourists, he was lucky to visit many of the nearby bars and try their amazing beers. He also visited mythical places such as Brasserie Cantillon or Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle, among others. And he took plenty of photos, more than 2000. And that is how “The BeerTrekker” project began.
His return to New York coincided in time with the new craft beer boom, and it became his focus. It was a historic moment, and Miguel was there to document everything that was happening, from day one.
During the conversation I had with Miguel, it occurred to me that a good way to define him could be the one of a storyteller. In fact, his experience working for the record company Putumayo World Music, where he had the opportunity to witness a multitude of concerts and live performances, undoubtedly awoke in him the tremendous ability to capture reactions and unique moments through a lens. And through that help others to identify ourselves in these stories.
His works have been published in prestigious industry magazines such as Beeradvocate, Hop Culture, Craftbeer.com, Craft Beer & Brewing, New York Magazine, Plate Magazine, blogs and other publications.
Miguel is often a guest in podcasts such as Good Beer Hunting, Beer Sessions Radio on Heritage Radio Network and Travel + Social Good panels to talk about Beertography and the power of social networks in the world of craft beer, branding and brand recognition.
Since 2017 he has participated as a judge in international competitions such as the Copa Pura Vida Indie in Costa Rica, Barrilito de Oro in Panama, Aro Rojo in Mexico and the Copa Cervecera Mitad del Mundo in Ecuador.
Before finishing our talk, I asked Miguel to choose five photographs from his portfolio for C R A F T E D and briefly describe them. Without limits, according to his criteria. Because as he points out, and I can't agree more: every beer has a story, and every story has a beer. Thanks for everything Miguel!
1.- BRASSERIE THIRIEZ (FRANCE)
The BeerTrekker: Here’s a little anecdote for y’all about my visit to Brasserie Thiriez last summer.
In 2012 they did a collaboration with a brewery from Texas, If you know me well enough and have been following my travels then you know my deep admiration for Jester King Brewery in Austin. It’s one of my favorite breweries in the world, so when I knew I was visiting Thiriez I was hoping that by some miracle it was available.
La Petite Princesse is a table beer, the French version of JK Le Petit Prince. It’s their interpretation of an old-world farmhouse ale. It was brewed using Le Petite Prince recipe, but using local hops and malts and Thiriez house yeast. The name for proprietary reasons (the famous book) had to be changed so it became the female version.
Imagine my surprise when they asked me if I wanted to try a beer, I said yes and when they said “we have La Petite Princesse on draft” I could not believe my ears. It was everything I wanted it to be and then some, what a treat. But that’s not the end, just as I was about to leave they asked me: “would you like to take some beers with you, we also have it in bottles” I was beyond happy.
I took a few bottles including a handful of the royal beer. As soon as I left I sent a text message to my friend Jeffrey Stuffings owner of Jester King to ask him if he had tried it, to my surprise he replied that he hadn’t so I told him, I have a bottle for you then. I knew I was going to see him in Belgium in a few days so I gave it to him at a local festival BXLBeerFest we both attended.
Upon my return to NYC a month or so after, I was attending an event at one of my favorite watering holes in Brooklyn Spuyten Duyvil NYC and guess whom I see at the bar having beers, Monsieur Daniel Thiriez himself with his lovely wife Mariel. I went and introduce myself and told them how I had just visited their brewery a month earlier and the story about the beer that I gave to Jeff in Belgium. We had a few beers that night and shared stories. The following day I showed them around NYC, local breweries and landmarks, we had a great time.
2.- JUGUETES PERDIDOS (ARGENTINA)
The BeerTrekker: I had never heard of Juguetes Perdidos, a small brewery in the neighborhood of Caseros a suburb of Buenos Aires in Argentina until earlier this year at a beer competition in Costa Rica in January.
They are one of the most award winning breweries in Latin America and one of the key players in the local beer scene in their country.
In May of this year I was invited to the first Extreme Beer Festival in Buenos Aires to document the event and all the beer related activities happening that week.There were a handful of established breweries in attendance and one of them was invited to their brewery to do a collaboration, it was MIkkeller Baghaven from Denmark. They specialize in wild ales and using local microflora for their beers.
It was a special moment because it was also the first ever Koelschip beer brewed in Argentina and for the occasion Juguetes Perdidos has built a custom made one that would be used that day. It was a fun day hanging out with them and seeing the camaraderie and exchange of information and techniques from this brewers from different backgrounds and countries.
3.- PERENNIAL ARTISAN ALES (ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI)
The BeerTrekker: I have only been to St. Louis once and it was a few years ago, 2017 to be precise. I was invited to cover a beer festival called Lupulin Carnival by my friends at 4 Hands Brewing.
During that weekend I knew I was going to meet several other local breweries so I planned to stay a few extra days to explore the local scene. On the day of my arrival as soon as my plane landed I rented a car and went straight to visit one of the local breweries called Side Project, I spent a good chunk of my morning there taking pictures and getting to know the crew.
At some point during my visit I receive a message via my Instagram account saying “we saw you were in town, you should come to our brewery today at 4 PM sharp, come through the back entrance” I was a little confused because I did not know immediately who this person was or what brewery it was. I showed the message to Cory King the owner of Side Project and he said, “yeah, you should go” and the brewery was Perennial Artisan Ales.
As soon as I drive in the parking lot, I saw a line of at least 200 people lined up outside the brewery waiting for something, I didn’t know what, it was still a mystery to me. As the message said, I went in through the back entrance and there I met Phil Wymore, owner of the brewery. I introduced myself and he took me inside and showed and gave me a tour of the place, at some point I asked him what was going on and what was up with all the people outside, he smiled and took me to another part of the brewery were the whole staff was finishing up setting up hundreds of gold colored waxed bottles.
To my surprise it was the release of their highly coveted Barrel Aged Abraxas, released every year without any formal announcements. The beer is an imperial stout aged for 15-17 months in Rye whiskey barrels and steeped on ancho chilies, cocoa nibs, cinnamon and vanilla beans. I had never seen a bottle release gone so smoothly, people were very patient, organized and left happy with their beer. A few lucky customers got the chance to buy some tickets and be able to try a small pour from the draft at the brewery while Phil gave a little speech about the beer.
It was such a great experience and at the end I was given a bottle as a gift, I was so excited that I asked Phil and the brewers to sign it for me!
4.- STORM BREWING (VANCOUVER, CANADA)
The BeerTrekker: My first and only visit to Western Canada was in 2018, I visited Vancouver and a few other town north. During the summer months is a beautiful place to visit, so full of life and there are plenty of things to do and explore. I like to wander when I visit new places, you never know what kind of adventures you will find, it is always exciting.
After visiting a few touristy places in Vancouver I ended up in a local brewery in a very crowded public market called Granville which also happens to have a brewery, not particularly exciting but I always like to try local beers.
As I was finishing my flight of beers, I was taking some pictures and a woman who was sitting next to me asked me why I was taking pictures of the beers so I explained to her briefly what I do and she immediately said “you have to visit this brewery, it's like nothing you have ever seen” I was immediately interested and asked her for the name of the place and address.
I drove to the neighborhood of East Vancouver or East Van as it is referred to by the locals and arrived at my destination, Storm Brewing, Vancouver’s oldest craft brewery, since 1994. At first it didn't seem like anything impressive, it was a small, old garage like building, the true magic was inside.
As soon as I walked in and after reading the very specific list of rules of the place I knew I was in for a treat. I tried the beers that I was allowed and got to talk to the bartender who explained to me a little bit of the history of the place and the very unique setup of their brewhouse.
It looked like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but the beers were superb and I was very happy for the recommendation. It just goes to show you that shiny and brand new equipment not always makes the best beers!
5.- TREINTAYCINCO FÁBRICA ARTESANAL DE CERVEZAS (SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA)
The BeerTrekker: I have been traveling to Costa Rica since 2008 but it wasn’t until my trip in 2015 that I started learning about the flourishing craft beer scene in the country. It was on that trip that I first visited TreintayCinco Fábrica Artesanal de Cervezas one of the pioneers in the region. On this particular visit I went to their original location, where they started on their 2.5 BBL system and started to create their legacy.
While I was taking pictures and meeting everyone at the brewery I saw an older gentleman that came in, greeted everyone and sat on the sacks of grain with a cowboy hat and dark sunglasses and just stayed there as if he was waiting for something.
It piqued my curiosity so I went and introduced myself and started chatting with him. I learned that he was a local farmer and he came by every morning to pick up the spent grain after every brew to take back and feed his animals. In exchange his wife made tortillas and cheese which he brought to the crew every day, it seemed like very good trade to me, everyone was happy in the end. I asked him what is your name sir? He replied: “me llaman El Macho”.