By Lauren Barragan
Tucked away just past the beautiful hills of the Sacred Valley lay the constantly booming center of Cusco, Peru, the Plaza de Armas. It is here that you can find all the usual suspects present in any plaza: a beautiful cathedral that’s almost as old as God himself, tourist vendors selling local goods moderately priced because, well, convenience should cost extra, as well as restaurants that rock local foods for visitors to experience. What you might not expect to find right in the heart of a city as historical as Cusco, though, is a good and proper beer, one that quenches your thirst after a day of discovering an ancient city, but that also awakens your taste buds to the fact that something very new and progressive is happening in this very same city.Here in the Plaza de Armas of Cusco that you can walk into Norton Rat’s Tavern (Norton’s, to locals), a very centrally-located bar that, due to the altitude, you will grow to love after a few days of acclimating in Cusco. You might be thinking, “Sports bar? Why would I come all the way to Cusco to drink at a sports bar?” You’d be doing yourself a great disservice by giving into this question and not experiencing it for yourself. Because if you don’t make the trip upstairs to Norton’s, you simply miss out on enjoying one of the exquisitely hand crafted Zenith beers that are offered exclusively at this bar and this bar alone. While you may be asking, “Who is this new beer kid on the block that I’ve never heard of?”, Zenith has a more than legitimate background in beer making than most of the new up and coming microbreweries you’ve been hearing about in the Southern Cone. And, quite frankly, the proof is in the pudding. Owners and creators of Zenith, Zac Lanham and wife Milka Sotomayor, have shared their love and passion for beer in each of their styles. Currently you can find three to four of Zenith’s beers on tap at Norton’s, including their pale ale, porter, and brown ale. It was their seasonal Navidad beer that caused quite a stir during the holiday season, a promising blend of festive spices like cinnamon and clove, giving drinkers all of the nostalgic fuzzies one may have experienced as a child while sipping on family recipes for spicy holiday beverages. While the Navidad didn’t last long after the holiday itself–because fans couldn’t consume enough of it–there are still many beautiful flavors to be enjoyed in each and every one of their beers. The porter holds up its end of the bargain by allowing its malty, nuttier notes to shine through, while holding a somewhat lighter body that makes this the most drinkable porter to be had in summer months. Of course, every yin has its yang, and in this case the pale ale would be just that to its darker sister, the porter. This pale ale holds such a beautiful, light, floral aroma that in one whiff sweeps you away deep into the Sacred Valley and its grassy hills. It is apparent when you take your first sip of any of Zenith’s creations that they put their heart and soul into it.
While catching up with the Zac and Milka, both spoke of their work in a way that almost gave off a twinkle in their eyes. They love beer, plain and simple. They love to make beer and they enjoy sharing it with others. Between the married couple, along with Zac’s parents who spent a good part of the year away from their home in Austrailia to help out at the brewery, Zenith has all of the feel to go right along side the fact that it really is a big family. One immediately feels welcome when they share one of the thoughtfully made beers with them. Zac was kind enough to share a little more about his history of migrating from Australia to Peru, making beer back in college and how that has evolved for him, as well as what’s next in the future for Zenith. With their popularity growing rapidly and bringing tons of foot traffic to the only bar in Cusco where you can get it, Zac says that they will be expanding this year and begin bottle production in the upcoming months. In addition to the exciting news of their expansion, Zenith will also be making their first fruit beer and possibly some new seasonal cameos as well. But not to worry–if you weren’t one of the lucky ones in Cusco for the Christmas holiday last year, they have assured us that it will be making a comeback for this year’s season, by popular demand.The name Zenith comes from the word meaning the top of a point or the highest peak that celestial objects can reach. It couldn’t be a more fitting name for this beer, since the sky is the limit for them with a line up of beers this good. We look forward to seeing them make their way down from the peak and over to our neck of the woods, so we, along with the rest of the world, can enjoy them.