Valparaiso Cerveza ‘Artesanal’ – Chilean Beer Journey

11 Mar

In Europe, people often cite that as you progress in a Northerly direction, the beer gets better, the food gets worse. Well I would refute the second statement, having enjoyed great food in many a northern country (including England) but tend to agree with the second. I haven’t had any good beer in Greece for example, nor Turkey, nor Bulgaria, nor Hungary nor, come to think of it, in Spain. Italy is one notable exception.  In South America, this situation appears to be the reverse. As you go through the hot, more tropical areas of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, there is plenty of yellow watery stuff available in bottles but little else. Travel down to Chile and Argentina and you’ll find there is a lot more choice. I would also say that there is some good food to be had in these countries too.

Some time ago when I was merrily working my way around these countries, I was to become chuffed beyond all manner of joyousness to find that Chile was a country where there was a beer choice. This was mainly because it was so unexpected. I’d been told that ‘South America was a beer desert so don’t get your expectations up sonny’. Apparently, we have the Europeans to thank for this , most notably the Germans and I was to appreciate this contribution all the more once I’d travelled a few thousand more miles north.

Chilean Patagonia is a cold, tough place. It’s also an absolutely stunning place, as is most of Chile. Punto Arenas is one of the last towns near the very south of the country, and it’s a pleasant enough place with pleasant people. The main foods I found were enormous steaks, very nice, and sea urchins, abalone and mussels. You’d have to be particularly stupid to ruin that kind of food. The restaurants were quite down to earth establishments, which suited me as I don’t go in for ‘poncey’ restaurants.

Punto Arenas was my first introduction to Chilean beer. In a little restaurant 2 minutes from our hostel, I saw two things I’d never expected to find – a stout and a golden ale. The brewery, which I don’t think was from the area, was called Kross.  The stout is apparently based on the brewmasters drinking experiences in Ireland, but for me it was a little thin in the mouth. Nevertheless, it was welcome. The Golden Ale was a far more pleasurable experience, pale in colour and quite sweet, the notes on their website say that it is their take on an English Pale Ale. It lacked a bit of zesty hoppiness but was very drinkable. I was happy to return to this as a beer to drink without thinking too hard about it. Not sure I’d choose it now I’m not in that part of the world but I wouldn’t turn one down.

Puerto Natales, is the base town for any trip to the absolutely amazingly stunning Torres del Paine National Park. It’s a small town sitting on a lake, surrounded by beautiful mountains and, when we were there, deep autumn colours.  There is a supermarket in this town, which is where I was introduced to the beers of the Kuntsmann brewery. This brewery produces a number of beers, a lager, a honey beer and a wheat beer, all of which I wasn’t fussed about, and an altogether  more decent bock and a pale ale called Torobayo.  They were all of a certain standard, with the pale ale being my preference, although again tame on the hops. They were a welcome break from the swill you get in a lot of countries and very refreshing but the real thing to drink in this town was from its own brewery Baguales. There is a cafe/restaurant in town, mainly selling pizzas and the like that also dispenses their beers, and very nice they are too. There are two beers they serve, Rubia and Negra. The Rubia is an amber ale with citrus hop character and also with significant mouthfeel. I enjoyed this a lot, as did those I was with, although it was a tad on the cold side. I was alone in enjoying the Negra mind, but I often am with dark beers. It had a slightly coffeeish flavour and was like a very drinkable dark lager with touch of the stouts about it. The cafe had a very friendly atmosphere, with a lot of good-natured table sharing going on, I’d recommend it. I may be romanticising about it but then again, you’re probably not going to end up anywhere else in Puerto Natales.

Way further North in Chile is a great little town called Valparaiso, set on a hill overlooking the sea and, just so as I’m not romanticising too much, a grubby old port. There is a good fish market here and lots of little alleyways covered in interesting graffiti twisting their way up the hills. The hills are quite steep and a lot of furnicular railways have been built to help the less able up and down. There is a very interesting prison museum here and some fine colonial architecture in the more prosperous older areas. There is also a pretty good cafe called Cafe Vinilo.

Cafe Vinilo is set in an opening among the mazes of small streets on, I believe, the hill called Cerro Alegre. It is smart and quite cool without being pretentious. The food is all well done and there is a buzz in there, friendly banter, service and music a just about the right volume (on my visit).  I asked the waitress what type of beer they had there and she replied that they serve ‘cerveza artesanal’ ! Cerveza artesanal, artesan beer, what was she chatting about? Beer is beer, it just varies between  crap and amazing, doesn’t it? For artesan, read the word craft I suppose. Craft beer seems to be a term imported to the UK from the US recently and the marketeers love it.  In fact beer geeks seem to have taken to it too. I wonder if the Belgiums call their beer craft beer. Nevertheless, however much it irks me, at the end of the day I’ll get over it and drink it, because I’m like that.

The waitress bought me a bottle of Cerro Alegre Brown Ale. It poured flat and was almost ice cold. I didn’t want to be rude, thinking of the poor artisan who made it having to put food into the mouths of 10 hungry children, so drank it. Too cold to make any kind of judgement on it. When she came round again, I asked her  for one that hadn’t been refrigerated quite so much and this time came away with a far more positive opinion. It was a decent bottle conditioned ale, a little bit fruity, a little bit sweet. Overall, worth a try. I believe they do a Blonde Ale and a Stout too. I think I tried the Blonde Ale but cannot remember what it was like as I was probably a few sheets to the wind. Not having ranted about it to anyone probably suggests that it was no more than average but I’m prepared to be set straight on that one. However, if travelling north from here, make the most of these beers because you’re probably not going to find anything to stand up to them until you go home!

I loved Chile, it’s so stunning and the people are very nice. It’s possibly the least Latin Latin country I’ve ever been to and that in itself is charming and having a few new brews to try certainly helped increase my enjoyment of it.

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2 Responses to “Valparaiso Cerveza ‘Artesanal’ – Chilean Beer Journey”

  1. David Ivey March 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Chilean craft beer: Who would have ever guessed that such existed? Now we know that the craft beer revolution is surely more of a worldwide nature.
    Enjoy artisanal or craft beers wherever you are.
    Cheers!

    David Ivey
    Black Bucket Brew Inbox Magazine Editor

    • Professor March 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Indeed. Long may it continue. I fully expect to go to Papau New Guinea on a brewery tour holiday in the near future.

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