Matt Coelho and Jim Woods have opened Cervecería de MateVeza on the corner of 18th and Church. The little beer shop is as authentically Argentinean as anything I've experienced since moving away from Buenos Aires at the end of 2008.
In addition to bottled beers and beers on tap, Cervecería de MateVeza serves empanadas, small savory pastry pockets similar to Italian calzones. The empanadas are made by the Argentine-run company El Porteño, and are muy auténticas. Cervecería de MateVeza serves savory and sweet empanadas that pair well with the beers.
The three MateVeza beers on tap are:
1) IPA. Floral, Citrusy, not bitter or hoppy-tasting like a traditional IPA. It's lighter-bodied than I'd expected and absolutely delicious. Recommended pairing: Fuggazzetta empanada, with aged cheddar cheese, organic onions, and oregano.
2) Morpho Herbal Ale. "This is the most unique thing we do," explains Woods of the collaboration beer he created with the brewmeister of Mill Valley Beerworks. "In beer, the sweetness of malt is usually balanced by the bitterness of hops, but in this case we decided to use bay leaves and mate for the bitter component," says Woods. "After the first batch, it was still lacking in something, so we added hibiscus to give it a little tartness, with the ascorbic acid--Vitamin C naturally found in hibiscus flowers." The hibiscus also gives the brew a pretty, light ruby color. The essence of the bay leaves is one of the dominant flavors, and this beer would be great for the adventurous drinker. Luckily, the "beertenders" will pour a small flight gratis for any customer unsure of what they'd like to order. Recommended pairing: Pollo empanada, with Fulton Valley chicken, chicken chorizo, raisins, and olives.
3) My unabashed favorite of the three beers Cervecería de MateVeza has on tap was the Black Lager. It's a dark, black beer, with ingredients similar to a porter or a stout, but it's light bodied because it's brewed with yeast normally reserved for lagers, making the taste crisp and easily drinkable, and belying the rich, dark color of the beer and its foam. Recommended pairing: Champiñones empanada, which contains fresh, seasonal, local, organic mushrooms by Far West Fungi, shallots, Parmesan cheese, and crème fraîche.
The loose-leaf "tea," which is actually the leaves of a tree in the holly family, goes into the mixture during the mash, which is then gently warmed to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. "It's like steeping the tea by mashing and warming the grain," explains Coelho. "Then, you're basically boiling this [naturally] sugary tea water, which is used as a bittering agent before fermentation." Unlike many traditional beermaking processes, the hops gets added in at the end of the fermentation cycle, purely for aromatics.
In addition to a changing selection of the MateVeza beers that are brewed at the Mendocino Brewing Company on tap, there is a carefully curated selection of bottled beers from Europe and the US, which ranges from the hard-to-find like "Rigor Mortis" to more "sessionable" beers, which is brewmaster speak for beers with lighter body and less alcohol that can be drunk with...less moderation. Think Scrimshaw.
"We will typically have three MateVeza beers on tap, two beers brewed in house on our 20-gallon system which will change weekly, and two or three rotating guest beers," says Woods.
Regarding the brewing process, Woods says, "I provide the recipe, the ingredients, and the packaging materials. We also have a very detailed process for each beer. I go up on most brew days. The system is pretty much automated and Mendocino's brewers are overseeing the whole process."
What Woods and Coelho are doing are ultimately trying to raise awareness for their own brand, MateVeza, but "I don't drink it all day," says Woods. "I drink it only every other beer," he laughs. The slim Woods, who says he drinks about 4-5 beers a day on average (and Coelho admits to 2 or 3 beers daily), says "I've lost a lot of weight since we started. Hauling all of this beer around and being on our feet all day keeps us fit!"
"I started my morning with Bikram yoga," says Coelho.
"And we're like those monks, the ones that substituted beer for their bread. I eat smaller meals now because a lot of my carbs come from beer."
Inside the cozy space, a "curiosity cabinet," made of four salvaged windows, houses an extensive selection of mate gourds. Woods says that should a customer care to partake of yerba mate, the service costs $5. The "draft board," or the list of beers available, is made from a vintage card game, Parker Brother's "Probe," which the duo describe as an odd, "Scrabble-like" game from the 1960's. "I scored five sets on eBay," says Woods proudly.
On the wall above a custom-made wrought-iron chandelier hang not one, but two giant velvet portraits of Elvis Presley. "When my girlfriend and I started dating three years ago," says Woods, "we discovered straightaway that we both owned a 'Velvis'." Clearly, some pairings: like velvet and Elvis, and yerba mate and beer--were meant to be.