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An Emerging Urban Beer Trail in the Heart of Chile's Wine Country

While Chile is known for its wines in the Santiago and Valparaiso regions, multiple breweries have sprung up in the area to challenge wine's supremacy.

An Emerging Urban Beer Trail in the Heart of Chile's Wine Country

Most Chileans live within the towering, dry Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal range. In this valley, large swaths of land are dedicated to vineyards and agriculture. Highways crisscross the barren agricultural landscape, connecting two major cities with the rest of the country.

 Here, in the heart of one of South America’s hotspots for wine, Chile’s urban beer trail is emerging. Within it, craft beer is entering a new phase of creativity and popularity in the country. Spurred by adventurous brewers, this region is garnering more attention from beer fanatics than ever before. Quality, creativity and innovation remain at its core. Although this is wine country, craft beer has been gaining territory.

Beer’s history in Chile goes back to Chicha, an Andean corn beer. After colonization, Chicha loosely meant any alcoholic beverage made from fruit or corn. After Chile gained its independence from Spain, waves of European immigrants settled and brought their love of beer with them. The local Chicha couldn’t satisfy their cravings for the Ales and Lagers or their home countries and through desperation and innovation, two hotspots for brewing emerged: The Patagonian city of Valdivia and the Central Chilean port city of Valparaiso.

The Irish immigrant Andrés Blest started Valparaiso’s first brewery, Cerveza Altamira, in 1825. Shortly after, lagering was introduced to Chile through German settlers in the Southern city of Valdivia. Here, Anwandter Brewery was the first successful brewery from the South and grew to become the country’s largest brewery. Thanks to Anwandter’s early dominance, German lagers came to represent the Chilean beer palate.

In the early 20th century, two major events changed all this. First, Anwandter Brewery burnt down. Second, many breweries around Santiago and Valparaiso merged into one conglomerate—Compañía de Cervecerías Unidas, or CCU. Soon, most small breweries were absorbed into CCU’s grip and eventually the mighty Anwandter was acquired too and continued as a CCU beer; at least until 1960, when the largest earthquake ever recorded destroyed it. For decades, Chilean beer taste remained governed by three basic styles of beer: blondes, reds, and darks. That was, until a wave of new pioneers, inspired by craft’s rise in North America, brought back the traditions and started pushing the limits.


jester brewery beer can in Santiago, Chile

Santiago

On a typical Saturday in the Cerro Santa Lucia park, locals sit on the grass under canopies of Canary Island date palms. Bottles of local beer are opened and passed around as friends chat and enjoy the refuge from the city’s heat. Summer in Santiago is dusty and dry, and every inch of green space is prime grounds to share a beer or two.

Other than picnics and social gatherings, life in Chile’s capital, Región Metropolitana de Santiago, moves fast. Throughout the work week, citizens hurriedly maneuver through the city’s networks of subways, buses and taxis. An endless stream of office workers and everyday people move about the graffitied streets. What drives this city is business. Towering high-rises cast shadows on working-class neighborhoods. The Andes cast shadows on the towering high-rises. Here, both nature and society seem to have a stratum. Regardless of wage or which end of the city you come from, every worker in Chile, whether in an office space, garage or market, shares one thing in common: the need for good food and drink. And that’s where the brewers come in.

A great place to dive into the capital region’s beers is Beervana. Inside this tiny beer shop, there are hundreds of organized singles representing the finest beers Central Chile has to offer. Founders Ben Wood and Perry Hirsch opened Beervana in 2013 to educate and supply Chile’s growing craft beer community. Inside their coolers the ranges of styles are exhausting—Hazy IPAs, sours, even heavy imperial sours infused with strawberries—gone is the reign of simple blondes, reds and darks in the Chilean beer fanatic’s palate.

Within these walls of styles and expressions are breweries that are pushing the limits. Breweries like Jester, Tamago, Hasta Pronto and La Montaña are part of the celebrated talent filling up beer drinkers’ pints. Like most capital cities, Santiago is about innovation and its breweries embody it.

Another superstar is Cerveceria Tübinger. Head brewer Jaime Ojeda and his team are pushing the average Chilean beer drinker in new directions. Like many brewers in Chile, Jaime was influenced by the craft beer scene in the United States.

“I got into beer around 18 years ago while living in Chicago. Then I returned to Chile to start my own project,” says Ojeda. His first project, Loom, closed down before the pandemic. “We carried many styles of beer that were new to the Chilean consumer, a lot of IPAs and hoppy beers. Some barleywines, stouts and smoked beers, which were considered extreme. This helped us educate the drinkers a bit more.” Today, Ojeda is carrying this relentless quest for perfection and variety in his work with Tübinger, with outstanding success.


examples of Santiago breweries' beers
Regardless of wage or which end of Santiago you come from, every worker in Chile, whether in an office space, garage or market, shares one thing in common: the need for good food and drink. And that’s where the brewers come in.


Part of craft beer’s emergence in Chile is because of a better-informed customer. For his part, Ojeda started his own website, ConEspuma.com, to educate people about craft beer. “I realized there was little information or education about beer in Spanish – and that’s how ConEspuma was born. At that time, Chile was very behind in craft beer,” says Ojeda.

In the artistic and revolutionary Barrio Brasil neighborhood is Cervecería Intrinsical. Started by three close friends, Intrinsical consistently produces high-quality beer and various styles.

“I studied brewing in Germany, so we started brewing some German styles, mainly Altbier, Kölsch and Weissbier, but we were always focused on diversity; our motto has always been ‘creating different beers but always having drinkability and quality as our main goals,’” says Ignacio Daneri, one of the brewery’s founders.

Daneri and his team enjoy preserving and bending brewing traditions. “We believe in creating the best beers, but also making sure that our clients will be able to enjoy a whole pint! Altbier and Kölsch are our most popular beers, but nowadays our IPA and NEIPA are also pretty popular. One beer that creates more noise is an Imperial Stout with smoked mussels.”


beer from Spoh in front of signage
Just a short distance from the giant green space Parque O’Higgens and the city’s amusement park Fantasilandia is the up-and-coming Cerveceria Spoh, featuring a laid-back atmosphere and friendly staff.


Just a short distance from the giant green space Parque O’Higgens and the city’s amusement park Fantasilandia is the up-and-coming Cerveceria Spoh—hops spelled backwards. Spoh is run by Max Ivanovic and his team. Their taproom has a laid-back atmosphere and friendly staff.

 “Our goal is to brew the best beer we can, every time. All this while having fun in a creative, welcoming space, where the consumer can come to the brewery to see the processes and to get to know the people behind the beer they love,” says Ivanovic. Spoh’s incredible beer has created a dedicated following. The popular brewery makes a wide range of beers, including one of the finest Russian Imperial Stouts in Chile. According to Spoh, Sours are becoming their customer’s favorites.

One of the city’s best neighborhoods for enjoying local beer and cuisine is Barrio Italia. The neighborhood, famous for its furniture makers, comedy clubs, and pubs, is also full of restaurants and brewpubs that specialize in local craft beers. On the bustling Santa Isabel Street, is Pepperland Bar. Here, tasty vegetarian comfort food accompanies a dynamic selection of Central Chilean craft beers. The majority of Pepperland’s clientele are beer fanatics and fans of Latin Rock who appreciate the music they play. The brewpub’s walls are also adorned with artwork that was inspired by some of the greatest acts the genre has produced.


valparaiso coastline

Valparaiso

A world away from Santiago, on Chile’s palm-studded coast, is the port city of Valparaiso. In this crowded city, the cityscape is multi-dimensional. Weathered facades of centuries-old buildings climb the steep terrain. The people are as hearty as they come. It’s in this environment of harbors, bustling markets and rich history that some of the country’s best beers are made.

Cervecería Granizo is one of the most respected. At their award-winning brewery in the town of Olmué, just an hour from Valparaiso, they craft an amazing lineup of beers. Since 2011, they have been one of the region’s standout breweries. Their sought-after Indian Red Ale, known as GONNA!, seamlessly blends citrusy hops, caramel malts and aromatic rosemary in perfect harmony.

In the small surf town of Concón, just 30 minutes north of Valparaiso, is Cerveceria Mauco. “The brewery began as a family venture between Daniela Germain, Pablo Riera and Pablo Bianchi a little over 7 years ago,” says Brewmaster and Production Manager Andrea Riera. Through the pandemic, they have been creatively delivering their customer’s beer.


valparaiso beer can examples
In Valparaiso's environment of harbors, bustling markets and rich history that some of Chile's best beers are made.


Cerveceria Mauco’s beers range from classics like Golden Ales, Scotch Ales, IPAs, and Imperial Stouts, to seasonal specialties and experimental beers. According to Riera, their customers gravitate towards the barrel-aged specialties. Their Misa Roja, a 14.6% ABV barleywine matured in syrah barrels, fits this category. “I prefer sour and low-alcohol styles, but this is far from the styles they prefer in Chile, where the strongest beers with higher alcohol content are more sought after,” says Riera.  

When asked about her vision for the future of Cerveceria Mauco’s craft beer, Riera was eager to explain. “I think there is a lot of future in the use of fruits or herbs that give a special character. We at Mauco have seasonal beers with flowers and herbs that we really like, and I think that in the future, those particular aromas and flavors of the region can be popularized more.”

One thing is for certain: Chile’s craft beer culture is growing fast and brewers all over the country are focusing on quality while freely expressing themselves creatively. According to Ignacio Daneri from Cerveceria Intrinsical, “In the next few years, Chile will be an amazing place to drink beer, and I believe that is because brewing is new for us. We are freer with the styles we brew, so you see heaps of beer styles being made here.” With international travel opening up, one can hope that more people can discover what Chile has to offer.


spoh beer glasses

Photos Courtesy Samantha Demangate

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