You Can Skip Chilean Cervesa
I just got back from Santiago Chile, and though I was ostensibly there to backpack Torres del Paine, I still managed to drink a fair amount of cervesa, over 30 different types, and observe Chile's growing craft beer culture. They are definitely still figuring out how to do it, but there was still plenty of unique and new things to try.
Between Santiago, Valparaiso, and Punta Arenas, I was able to find and visit three breweries. Santiago was home to several, but every time I sought one out, I ended up at a beer pub masquerading as a brewery that served a variety of different craft beers with no sign of an actual brewery. Nothing wrong with that since I was still able to get my hands on flights of beer to try.
Punta Arenas is home to Austal, Chile's oldest brewery. I trecked around long and hard to find the place (no cell data and I had left the precious wifi at the airbnb without thinking it through). Asking people for directions is pretty hard when you know almost no Spanish and the people you are talking to know about the same amount of English, but after much wandering, I finally found them. They weren't giving tours as those are usually given during the summer months. After asking about a brewpub where I could try all the beers, I was informed the beer was sólo mercado, so I wandered off to find a corner store that sold Austal beer. It didn't take long to find a place that sold it in the brewery's home city, so I grabbed all I could carry and kept exploring.
While wandering around Punta Arenas, expecting to find not much else, trying to kill time until my flight back to Santiago, we spotted a sign boasting "Cerveceria Artesanal." I've already mentioned that I don't know much Spanish, but those two words made the short list, so we darted across the freeway to investigate. Hernando de Megallanes is the tiniest brewery I have ever seen, sporting three small fermentors and, what is that, a three-barrel brewing system? Pretty darn small.
For reference, in the States, a 10-barrel brewery is about the minimum that will be profitable, but here in Chile apparently you can get away with much less. At the brewery we were greeted by the friendly staff who sold us bottles of each of their three beer estilos explained and to us (in Spanish) the process of making beer. Hans, having completed his Duolingo course, who up until now had been my Spanish interpreter, got to listen while I interpreted what the brewery tour guide was saying. There are only so many ways to give a brewery tour whether it's in Spanish or English, so I was probably pretty close in my translation. They use an Australian lúpulo variety that I hadn't heard of, and beyond that their maltas and levadura were pretty standard for the estilos of beer they were making. See, I speak Spanish now. I grabbed a bottle of all three and moved on.
Later in Valparaiso, and completely due to random chance, we stumbled into the Mestiza Brewery. A crowded and very legit brewpub and "beer museum." We waited in line for about an hour to get seats, and it was very worth it! We had the most satisfying beer of the whole trip here, served by the flight, by the bottle, and by the schop (which I think is just their word for a pint). We also destroyed a plate of what I could only describe as Chilean Poutine. Very satisfying. The walls of the brewpub were covered in old brewing photos, literature and paraphernalia. Really good to sit and stare at while we drank. If you ever end up in Valparaiso (which you might, that hipster city is so Portland that Portlandians could visit it and learn a thing or two), this is the brewery I'd recommend.
Other than those three breweries, I managed to get my hands on a lot of beer. Despite not being able to visit them, a few other breweries are worth a mention. Kross and Kunstmann are both major Chilean craft breweries and I was able to find their beer in most of the cities I visited. Kunstmann is based in Valdivia and specialized in German style beers like Weiss and Lagers. Kross made American style beers using American style hops. The Chilean Walmart-type super store, Lider, had a bunch of the beers in stock including beers from Quimera, Grassau, and D'olbrek, all breweries I didn't get to try more than one beer from. A brewpub called Mossto in the hipster district of Santiago had beers on draft from about a dozen chilean breweries and I had time to sample their takes on American Strong (Buk Brewery), Stout (one by Kaf and another by Brauzehn), and Munich Helles (Pudu) before my new Chilean friends started calling me Gringo Loco and ushered me away from the pub to take a nap.
My impression of Chilean beers in general is that they have a long way to go before they can be great. Their breweries are growing and offer a wide variety for the beer lover who can seek them out, but their bars and stores just can't keep up. I bought beer from several stores and several bars and more often than not, the beer showed major signs of mishandling. Chileans must not drink a lot of beer because I was tasting a fair amount of the cardboard flavor indicative of old stock and an even worse amount of buttery diacetyl that is often an indicator of poorly maintained beer lines. However, the buttery flavor that many consider a flaw is indeed acceptable in some beer styles, and it was so common here that this might just be the way they like it. Not really my style, but some breweries do it on purpose (I'm looking at you, Mack and Jack's). They definitely seem to focus more on serving wine than on serving beer, so try out Chilean box wine. Gato, the Chilean equivalent of Franzia is cheaper than water and some of the best box wine I've ever had. Those who know me know that's a serious endorsement
There was one unique and well executed beer that is worth mentioning: The Austral Calafate Ale. Brewed with calafate berries, it was uniquely fruity and subtly berry flavored. It was malty and lightly hopped with just a hint of grape-like sweetness, rather than going the sour route like most American fruit beers. Satisfying my desire for unique beers but without going overboard on the strangeness, this distinctly Chilean beer is definitely worth seeking out next time you are in South America.
Cervesa Y Huevos (Beer and Eggs)
At a pizza place (Chileans don't have much in the way of local cuisine, but their take on pizza was actually pretty good), I tried Cervesa y huevos, a Chilean beer-cocktail made by blending a dark beer, sugar, and egg whites until frothy. Utterly terrifying but quite delicious. Kind of similar to a pisco sour - Chile's national drink, so I can see why they like it here. I wouldn't order it again, at least not a whole pitcher full, but I might try making it at home.
At some random restaurant I saw that they served Duff Beer. Identical to the brand from the show The Simpsons. The label said it was Chilean so I had to give it a try. I have a feeling that similar Duffs exist in other countries where Fox doesn't mind licencing the name, or just can't stop people from using it. A pretty standard discount lager style beer. Worth trying for the novelty but not very good.
This crazy silly drink is basically unfermented beer. Much like soda, it is sugary and carbonated. It tastes just like carbonated wort before hops are added. They loved it down there, but I couldn't stop feeling like this was a beer with a yeast problem.
In conclusion, I'd say keep Chile on your radar, but if you're looking for beer, hold off on visiting for a while. Their growing beer scene is getting itself together right now but the roots are there and spreading. Their crazy beer cocktails have opened my eyes a bit on that front, and Hans still insists that with a frothy egg-white foam is the only way to enjoy a beer. I might try out mixing up some of my own concoctions to see how it goes! Thanks for reading. Please comment, like, and share!