Last Updated :30/12/05
Steve Westby has kindly sent us some additional information on beers in South America, which appears at the end of Mark's original article.
Scooping to Easter Island
By Mark Enderby.
While I don’t tend to travel on dedicated beer trips, no "normals" holiday is complete without seeking out new beers and breweries. This year’s holiday started in Brazil and passed through Argentina and Chile before ending up on Easter Island. Some prior research on the web pulled out some brewpubs in Argentina but not much else, so armed with this information we headed off into the unknown ….
While Brazil appeared to have a few brewpubs and micros, I hadn’t been able to locate any in Rio which is where our first 3 days would be. As with many tropical places, the standard "pilsner" type beers were stuffed with preservatives and anti-oxidants, rather than natural hops, and were pretty disgusting. However, it appeared that many of the larger breweries produced an "escuro" or dark beer which was much more palatable. Things looked grim so off we headed to Buenos Aires via the amazing Iguassu Falls.
The web suggested that BA would be much more fruitful with a potential 3 brewpubs available. The first was just to the NW of the city centre at Pte R M Ortiz 1827. This is a pleasant pedestrianised street lined with bars and restaurants. BullerBrewing Co was founded in 1999 and is clearly modelled on a US brewpub. Regular beers included an excellent, hoppy IPA, an Octoberfest, Light Lager, Wheat, Stout and Cream Ale (the latter being more like a pleasant hoppy light bitter). An Amber was also available as the seasonal. A sampler tray suggested that there was a Honey Ale at 8.5% but tasting showed it to be the Wheat. All the beers were extremely pleasant and 2 return trips were made to keep the hop count up !
The second brewpub was more obscure. The Brewhouse Club is located in a seedier part of town at Estados Unidos 745. This is best reached by a cab to Chacabuco and Estados Unidos. The bar is just west of this junction on the north side of the road. The entrance is rather obscure and protected by a metal grill door which you have to rattle for admittance. Inside is a pleasant bare brick "cellar-style" bar decorated with breweriana. At 7.30pm it was sparsely populated with some office workers and a family. Service was somewhat slow but we eventually got a glass of the Pale Ale (Dorado) which was pleasant, unfiltered, but not unduly hoppy. Next beer tried was a typical Dark and this was followed by the seasonal which was Anis. This was extremely murky and had obviously seen better days. (Linda blamed this for the state of her stomach the next day !). There was also a Crystal but time was drawing on and we had to get to Buller fo some food (and IPA). The brewing operation was interesting. Two overgrown Baby Burcos shared the bar space and the brewer was carefully decanting the contents of one of these into large carboys (approx 8g). These had a fermentation lock put in and moved to a back room. Once ready, they were moved behind the bar for service and the dispense equipment attached directly ! Despite the Heath Robinson setup, it was clear that great care was being taken with the brewer using disposable gloves before taking the gravity and checking the beer was ready to ferment.
The third brewpub, the "Viejo Belgrano" is supposedly at Amenabar 2363, but we couldn’t locate it and time had run out as we had to head of to Bariloche on the edge of Patagonia, in the foothills of the Andes.
I had found a vague reference to a brewpub close by, but was unprepared for what I found.
Blest brewpub is 11.5Km west of Bariloche – the road is conveniently marked in kilometres and served by a very good bus service all day and evening. This claims to be Argentina’s first brewpub and opened in 1989. The small "Firkin style" plant is located in the rear of the bar area and beers are served from 5 large tanks. My heart rose to see to handpulls on the bar, one with a clip proclaiming real ale. However, these actually just operated switches and hence there for effect. The bar had a considerable amount of breweriana including many UK beer mats (including some from Greenalls – is there no escape ?). Draught beers were Stout, Bock, Pilsner, Raspberry and "Half and Half". The latter being an red style beer. A sampler was available and all the beers found to be pleasant but not outstanding. The best being the Stout. The beers were also available in bottle and these – plus brewery souvenirs – could be purchased in the attached gift shop.
Back in Bariloche, it was apparent that there was a big thing on "artesnal" food and drink. The Argentinian hop industry is centred on the small town of El Boson, just south of Bariloche and there appeared to be a cluster of micros based in the area which supplied the local shops and supermarkets.
Besides the Blest beers, the most common were from the El Boson brewpub (this is reputed to have some 8 beers on draught). Four of the bottles (all unfiltered) were tried – Patagonia Ale (3.9%) which was very lively with a floury sediment which meant it had to be served cloudy; de Trigo (5%) a wheat beer; Negra Extra (6.2%) a dark porter and Negra Extra XXX (8%) which was obviously a stronger version of the former. In addition, a honey beer and several fruit beers were available.
Glaistig (4.5%) from Chubut (near El Boson) was similar to the Patagonia Ale and had an intriguing Celtic design label which presumably had something to do with the local Welsh.
There were other beers under the Weiss label. Weiss are a local family with restaurant and deli interests in town. We had been to their restaurant which should have sold the draught but it was off. I tried the Weiss Red (5.6%) in bottle which was very pleasant. There also appeared to a Pilsner and a Stout but no Weiss weiss ! It wasn’t clear where these beers were brewed – the label suggesting they were brewed for Weiss. My belief is that they are actually Blest beers since the portfolio is similar.
Finally a bottle of Antares Porter (5.5%). This came from Plata del Mar, just south of BA. A 5% Kolsh and a 6% Scotch were also available.
Time was passing and we now had to head over the Andes to Chile. My researches had produced nothing and I had thought that Bariloche would be the last decent beer of the trip. A bottle of Kuntsman Pale Ale was found to actually be an amber so no hops there then ! In general Chilean beers were found to be slightly better – presumably due to the German influence. However, when we got to Santiago, I spotted a brewpub in the Lonely Planet guide – not the first place I would look. The HBH Brewery in the eastern suburb of Nunoa (Irarrazaval 3176) was an attempt at a German Hofbrauhaus style brewpub. Two beers were available – an unfiltered Premium and a dark Rubia Negra. The former was only available in 1 litre or 2 litre jugs and the latter in half the quantities. In the event we arrived in happy hour, when you appeared to get twice what you asked for. Both beers were pleasant but our visit was cut short by a city-wide power cut which meant we had to try and find our way back before it got too dark.
Easter Island – the most isolated scoop on the planet ?
Our final 4 days were to be spent on Easter Island. Surely an enterprising local would have set up a brewpub to serve the 4000 inhabitants of this lonely island ? However, fantasy dashed, I soon discovered the usual crap in the island’s shops and bars. However, while the chiller cabinets in the islands sole supermarket held the usual fayre, further searching revealed a single, dusty, corked bottle nestling close by equally dusty Greenall’s gin bottles. This turned out to be a 75cl bottle of Raftsman Ale from Quebec of all places. This is made with whisky malt and comes in a bottle with a wired cork. It had a champagne effervescence which resulted in a pleasant turbid hoppy drink.
In 15 mins, I’d drunk the remotest place on earth out of decent beer ! Maybe they’ll order another bottle now.
Additional Information - by Steve Westby, April 2005.
We were only in Rio for two nights and like Mark we didn't look like finding anything very interesting on the beer front. However I found reference to a brewpub in Leblon in one of the tourist guides, and as this was the next area down from Copacabana where we staying I talked the management into letting me take her there in a taxi, despite her fears of leaving the hotel (two of our party were robbed while we were there).
The Devassa bar, Rua Gen, San Martin 1241, Leblon (21) 2540 6087 turned out to be a very pleasant friendly bar but certainly not a brewpub. However it did sell "chop" (draught) beer from its own brewery located in Vargem Grande west of Rio. It served three good quality brews at around 70p a glass. All three beers were 4.8%, Loura, a lager, Ruiva a pale/red ale and Negra a stout. A most enjoyable evening, the food proving to be very good, but one with a scary end to it. The taxi had taken about 20 minutes to get there, but the one back took 5 minutes and must surely have been driven by Rubens Barrichello himself. He drove just like a racing driver, overtaking other cars on the inside on bends, squeezing between narrow gaps at 80 miles an hour and he must have hit 120mph on the straights. Never in my life have I so understood why people buy brown underwear, so scared were we that we couldn't, or daren't, speak.
On a tour of the city we were taken to lunch at an excellent churrascaria (barbecue house) where the food was served in a buffet but the waiters circulated with large skewers of meat carving off more than ample portions of filet mignon, pork, chicken, ham, sausage, brisket of beef or anything else that's had its head over a gate (as the Rough Guide put it). It was a large place and it was packed, but we appeared to be the only tourists in there. Anyway on the way back to the airport I was telling our driver that I had been searching for a brewpub as we heard there was at least one in Rio and he told me it was right next door to the restaurant - bugger!
Thanks to Mark's article we visited both brewpubs in Buenos Aires but also couldn't locate the Viejo Belgrano. I found the Bullers brewpub ok but it was too much like your typical US outlet to be particularly interesting. The Brewhouse though was fascinating and just as Mark describes, there were just four other people in there on our visit. We ate a selection of empinadas (a bit like miniature cornish pasties) with a variety of fillings, and very tasty they were too. The beer was very enjoyable and in good condition, also not too cold or gassy. We had a Scottish style ale at 5%, a 7% Golden brew and Negra, a type of stout, at 5.5%. Well worth seeking out, take a taxi they must be the cheapest in the world, I swear I paid about 40p to go a couple of miles. Incidentally I found one or two other interesting brews in Buenos Aires including a draught porter but I have gone and lost my notes so can't say what they were! Unexpectedly we found Buenos Aires to be a much more interesting city than Rio, more cosmopolitan almost reminiscent of Barcelona and the prices were unbelievably cheap.