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Valdivia: Chile’s Beer Frontier

By Nicholas Gill

At Café las Gringas, a one-room corner café in Valdivia, Chile, a line of beer bottles stretches across the entire counter and a shelf on the wall behind it. What is unusual about these microbrews is that they were all brewed in Chile. What’s even stranger is that about half of the beers were brewed within a couple of miles. Chile’s artisanal beer movement is exploding, and there are now more than 200 different microbrews produced from approximately 75 different breweries.

Valdivia — the XIV Region town at the confluence of the Calle-Calle, Valdivia and Cau-Cau rivers — has become the heart of the scene. At its core is the German-style Cerveceria Kuntsmann, whose bocks, lagers and ales are brewed according to Reinheitsgebot and sold nationwide like a sort of Chilean Sam Adams. Their sprawling brewery and bier haul sit on the city’s outskirts and is the general starting point for a beer tour. Not far away, toward the center, is the mostly Belgian-style Calle Calle with a number of different beers: Llancahue (lager, 4.6 percent), Cau-Cau (blonde, 5.2 percent), Cutipay (honey ale, 5 percent) and Naguilan (Irish stout, 5.5 percent). Then there’s Cuello Negro, named after a black neck swan native to the region, which produces a smooth golden ale (5.8 percent) and a rather intense stout (8 percent). Valbier produces one of the better amber ales in the country, which they call red ale (5 percent), and recently added a rich black ale (6 percent) to their lineup. There’s also J. Bello, Selva Fría and Cerveceria El Duende, which offers homebrew classes and sells beer-making kits. The list goes on and on.

One usually associates wine with Chile, though this notion is quickly changing. A recent survey reveals that beer consumption in Chile has surpassed that of wine. Goodbye Carmenère, hello porter.

Photos by Nicholas Gill