We have been traveling in South America for 36 days now and have experienced a totally different beer scene from what we are used to in Colorado. We have visited 15 actual producing breweries and a couple handfuls of craft beer bars and I am at 85 unique beers on Untappd. It has been a struggle to figure out if a place you are drinking at is their own beer, or if they are owned by someone else, OR if they call themselves a brewery or brewpub but don’t actually make any of the beers they sell. Before I get too far into it though, I will give a brief background of craft beer.
Most importantly, craft beer is innovative, distinctive, and independent, all while being very supportive of local communities. Breweries are defined by the Brewers Association of America, which is the trade group that represents these 7,000 + craft breweries in the US. They subdivide them based on production size and cap a brewery at 6 million barrels of beer made in a year to still be considered craft. Anyone bigger than that is considered a macrobrewery or industrial beer. Anheuser-Busch InBev is the largest brewing company in the world followed by Heineken.
The other thing you must realize is that even in the US, beer markets are very different across the country. States like Colorado, California, and Oregon have some of the biggest and most competitive markets leading the nation in the number of craft breweries. But really, you could go just about anywhere in the US and find a little local brewery. In South America, the craft beer movement is still somewhat in its infancy and the market here is very much dominated by industrial brands – mostly InBev. Bars and restaurants all carry their sudo craft brands like Patagonia Cerveza so you have to do some research to sniff out those establishments selling a local cerveza artesanal.
Cerveza Artesanal breweries here, like many microbreweries around the world, are copying the American Craft beer scene and it’s favorite styles such as the IPA. Some of the breweries I have walked into in Europe and South America might as well have been located on College Ave in Fort Collins, except it’s all in another language! Other styles you will find are Honey ale, Scottish ale, American Pale Ale, a distinct type of Golden ale called Dorado, Red Ale, Blonde Ale, Porter, and New England IPAs. Since hoppy beers are the best selling styles, they are everywhere and we have had some pretty tasty ones. There have even been some decent craft lagers, although unfortunately the macrobrews win this category for their crisp, drinkable lagers that rule the market.
Cerveza Artesanal breweries (Cervecerias) are small for the most part, usually just selling out of their taproom. Like I said, it is hard to determine what the place you are walking into really is. Terms such as brewery, brewpub, brewing company, cerveceria, or simply cerveza artesanal could be on the front of the bar and it could be a brewery or just a beer bar. Also, it has been near impossible to find any package beers here that are not owned by AB-InBev or Heineken. And if you do figure out that you are in a brewery, go to Untappd to figure out who makes it and where, but sometimes you won’t find out until later that the brewery you were just at is actually owned by InBev… this has happened to us a few times.
Most places we drink beer, we try to always order a flight: 4-5 small pours of different beers – or at least half pints so we can try more unique beers. In SA beer flights at breweries are called a degustation and usually include every beer they have on tap. If the brewery has a lot of beers, then you may get as many as 8 beers at a time! Sometimes we come across a bad beer but the overall quality we have experienced has been pretty decent! I have had some of my favorite Scottish ales, Honey ales, and even some very unique & lovely IPAs.
Just like craft breweries in the US, breweries here are usually cleaner with their draught lines and glassware. There are definitively places that I will only order package products from and have to rinse the glass myself. The good thing is I have yet to see a bar here put their glassware in the freezer! This is my personal pet peeve since it leaves the glass distugusting and creates chill haze in the beer. Also, free peanuts are served with beer at almost every bar, sometimes spicy. The peanuts do their job and leave you needing more beer.
Below is my favorite IPA we have had yet! It’s called Mali IPA from Mali brewing co. in Castillos, UR. The unique hop flavor hit me like Mountain Dew Baja Blast. I know, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind is when I think about that beer. Sweet and fruity at only 5.5%, it was swimming with citrusy melon flavor. I ordered another bottle!
So far we have been very satisfied with the beer here and we are excited to see what we find here in Patagonia! We have yet to see any sours or barrel aging that is considered artesanal. I will continue to update everyone about our beer encounters and what we have learned as we discover more tasty suds! ~ ¡Salud!