Our first featured beer this month comes to us from Brazil, a country where microbrewed beer is certainly not the first thing most people associate with this Portuguese-speaking land. But rest assured, after you taste the famed XINGU Black Beer (pronounced SHIN-goo) you’ll rethink Brazil’s reputation for great brew.
XINGU Black Beer was conceived in 1986 when Amazon, Inc. was founded in Vermont by five women who sought to prevent the extinction of some of the world’s rarest styles of beer. Like most of the great beers developed in the past 20 years, XINGU Black Beer was spawned from its creators’ dissatisfaction with the bland offerings from American brewers and a fairly flat import market. The company of Vermont beer-seekers hired beer historian Alan Eames to research and locate native prototypes of dark, rich beers from around the world.
While XINGU Black Beer as we know it was not released until February of 1988, the earliest Western account of black beer brewed by the natives of the Amazon region dates to 1557. Many Amazon Indian tribes placed great spiritual significance on black beer as a beverage used in religious and social ceremonies. Thus, it was only natural that the search for authentic Brazilian black beer would begin in Brazil where Eames and his wife, Anne Latchis, President of Amazon, Inc., were aware of the history of famed black beers, made by native female brewsters who fermented roots and grains and used herbs as bittering agents. Ingredients such as native dark roasted corn and exotic manioc root were mixed and fermentation was initiated by wild, airborne yeast (which, incidentally, is a similar fermentation scheme employed in some regions of Belgium).
The name XINGU is a tributary of the Amazon River which is home to the few surviving cultures and species of native Amazonian life threatened by dam sites, over-development and exploitation. It is also the name of the region that was the homeland of the Amazon women who first brewed the original native black beers. The distinct diamond-shaped XINGU Black Beer label was painted by artist Eric Green depicting a map of the XINGU River region, bordered by anacondas, with a Txucahamei warrior and a caiman (a tropical American reptile related to the alligator). Thankfully, instead of having to risk life and limb trekking through the tropics, you can simply enjoy the XINGU we dug up for you. True, Donnie from the beer panel lost his left pinky toe battling a blood-thirsty beetle-sized tic while trying to track this stuff down, but hey, as he says, “all in a day’s work.” Don’t worry, we set him up with a case of the stuff to speed his recovery.