A cat-heavy craft beer fairytale
Saturday 01 July 2023
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From mum-run nanobrewery to picking up one of the most prestigious awards in the beer world, the story of Verricio is almost a craft cliché; the plucky, passionate lone brewer, creating beers for the sheer love of it, before being plucked from relative obscurity and bestowed with international renown. Founder and head brewer Verónica Carrasco is so likeable though – and her beers so superb – that even the most cynical beer-watcher will be swept along for the ride.
Verónica bought her first (tiny) brewkit after graduating as a Food Science Engineer in 2011, simply to satisfy her curiosity. “I’d always naturally been a beer drinker myself, so getting some insights into world of fermentation, cereals and microbiology ignited my curiosity for homebrewed beverages,” she says.
Verónica has always had a particular interest in stout, back to her first introduction to craft beer; it was the dark, bittersweet concoctions that prompted her to explore the different brews available in the local market.
“When I became a homebrewer, stout was on top of my priorities for trying and experimenting,” says Verónica. “In 2014, while working with my friend Diego on a recipe for a local homebrew competition, our first oatmeal stout won a medal; that recipe became the foundation that eventually became Verricio’s Mrs. Breakfast Champion.”
It wasn’t until 2015 though – the same year her daughter Dharma was born, perhaps significantly – that Verónica launched Vericcio as a formal business, dedicating her attention to brewing four styles on a (still pretty dinky) 50L brewkit, which she then sold in 300ml bottles.
“After a year of hard work brewing small batches, I had the opportunity to upgrade to a 250L batch brewhouse, thus becoming a bit more of a ‘real’ commercial brewery, and working on more recipes and experimental brews. There was a period of slow consolidation and expansion into new opportunities, as selling kegs to different pubs and venues became possible. I also hired the brewery’s first part-time employee, Claudio, who’s now with us full time and is an essential part of the Vericcio team.”
In 2019, Verricio was still using plastic fermenters and brewing on a relatively miniscule scale, Verónica simply happy to be plying her craft. But all that was about to change in dramatic fashion.
“That was the year we entered two samples to the World Beer Awards,” she recalls. “Our Mr. Smoky won silver in its category, and our beloved Mrs. Breakfast Champion went on to win gold in its category in both the national and international awards. We had already won international awards in other South American countries, but this one really turned our world upside down. Going to London for the judging and then the ceremony with my fellow awardees was an experience of a lifetime, which seemed a world away from our small and limited set up back in Santiago.”
Buoyed by the award – both personally and commercially – Verónica started out on a path of experimentation that has become a key characteristic of Vericcio’s brewing, working with unexpected flavours and styles, smoked, sour, fruit and spices, both independently and in collaboration with like-minded international friends.
The introduction of COVID restrictions in 2020 was undoubtedly a huge knock for the whole industry, but with its focus on bottled beer Verricio was able to ride out the upheaval and even grow its business where others faltered.
“It certainly tested our adaptability at the time, but we were still able to complete our move to a bigger shared space with another brewery, improving our brewhouse capabilities to 500L batches.
“Times are still tough of course. We’re all struggling with the economic hardship hitting our and almost every country in the world, and especially as a small independent business in a developing country, we must soldier on while adjusting to this new reality that has hit even harder than the pandemic. Even in these hard times though, we aim to thrive through experimentation and authenticity.”
The new, larger facility is in a collaborative space with two other breweries, sharing the hot side, with a 500L, handmade, direct-fire brewhouse. Then each brewery has its own fermenters, with Vericcio accounting for three 500L tanks, two 250L tanks and a small 150L tank. Given the brewery’s acclaim, it remains a surprisingly small team of three: Verónica herself, Claudio, and Paola, who helps with marketing and social media.
It's a compelling story, to be sure, but there’s one aspect I still don’t fully understand: the cats. They’re everywhere on Verricio’s branding, its marketing, and I’ve even heard its brews referred to as “la birra del gatito” – cat beer. Tasty.
“Ah, cheers to the gatitos!” beams Verónica. “I’m a proud mamma of four of them at the moment. Well, the cat influence comes from my time as a homebrewer, when a friend called Christopher made a design as a gift for the initial brews. He used both my lifelong love for cats and my companions at the time: 'Tormenta,' who sadly passed away the past year and 'Kitty' aka. 'Shadow Cat' (both X-Men references) who is my senior cat around the house. From then on, the graphic identity of the brand developed around cats being featured in almost every label and thus becoming ‘la birra del gatito’ to our followers.”
Makes complete sense.
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