Xingu: beer with doubtful origins
just a modern black lager?
Xingu Black Beer, previously reviewed on beer-pages.com, proves that dark beers are often the cause of heated debate. Mention the word “porter” and beer lovers rapidly fall out over the origins of the style. Much the same goes for the “Black Beer from the Amazon”.
Xingu owes its place in the beer pantheon due to the work of the American anthropologist Alan D Eames. Eames, who liked to be known as the Indiana Jones of Beer, died in 2007 and left not only a number of books but also considerable controversy over his findings. Where Xingu is concerned, the late Michael Jackson remarked laconically in his Beer Companion that he doubted its Amazonian origins. Eames, who claimed to have discovered the beer after a long and hazardous trek through the Amazon jungle and river basin, was no fan of Jackson and other beer writers who, he said, reviewed beer from the comfort of their armchairs, while he went in search of ancient beer styles with the aid of his canoe.
According to Eames, as early as 1557 tribes in the Amazon region treated black beer with great reverence and gave it spiritual significance. It was claimed to have been brewed by women and the brewing process was started by young virgins, who chewed malt and started fermentation with their pure saliva.
As a result of his research, Eames was encouraged by a group of women beer lovers in Vermont in 1986 to recreate Amazonian black beer. Eames worked with the Kaiser Brewery in Brazil and in 1988 Xingu – named after a region of the Amazon delta -- was first made available in the United States and Latin America.
Critics of the beer pointed out that this modern interpretation was a lager and was brewed with hops. Lager technology did not exist in the 16th century in Brazil, they said, and hops were unknown in the region at that time: they were introduced to Latin America by German, Portuguese and Spanish invaders.
So if we strip out the research of Alan Eames, what we have today is a commercial black lager from a Brazilian company founded by German brewers. The beer has rather more in common with the black beers of the Franconian region of Bavaria. It has a spicy and liquorice aroma with roasted grain notes. It has a rich malty sweetness in the mouth, balanced by roast and light hops, while the bittersweet finish has liquorice, roast and, gentle spicy hops. I doubt the Kaiser Brewery uses any virgins’ saliva as this would undoubtedly fall foul of the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law.