Exploring Craft Beer in Patagonia


Patagonia is one of the craft beer centres of South America, a fact largely unbeknownst to us before we visited.

It was very common to come across a bar with a micro-brewing operation supplying 2-5 varieties of beer solely for its clientele.
This meant that the only way to try most of the beer on offer was to go to each bar, something we didn’t mind at all.

The most popular beer types seemed to be IPAs and Stouts, hops lovers versus malt aficionados if you like.
After those two, Pale Ales, Pilseners and Honey Beers were also very common, so there are many options to choose from for all palates.

Now that I’ve worked up a thirst let’s get to the interesting part, the beer.


El Calafate

This was our first taste of the craft brew scene in Patagonia, and we weren’t to be disappointed.
The main street of El Calafate is dominated by chocolate and tourist shops selling conserves such as that made of Calafate (Berry) which the town is named after.

Jacinta also enjoyed the many chocolate shops in Patagonia

At each end is a cervecería (brewery), although we didn’t make it to the second Cervezería Artenesal Chopen as we fell in love with the first – the La Zorra Taproom.
La Zorra, which means “The Fox” in Spanish, had a multitude of beers on tap and a great affordable food menu.
Their Honey Beer would prove to be Jacinta’s favourite of a style that is quite common across Patagonia, and probably the most prominent honey flavour I’ve ever experienced in a beer.

La Zorra Taroom served up some of the best beer we tried in Patagonia

They also offered a decent version of Happy Hour, although unlike their competitors La Zorra’s was ‘only’ an hour long. Happy Hour would soon become our best friend for drinking craft beer on a backpacker budget.

Free wifi, cheap food, a good ambience and a generous craft beer menu made for an attractive proposition, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that we visited multiple times.
La Zorra is also one of the few micro-breweries we came across with some distribution outside of its own bar, with it appearing in El Chalten and a couple of other places on our journey.
Don’t miss it if you’re in Calafate!


El Chalten

Known as the trekking capital of Argentina, El Chalten also boasts a very decent apres-montaña selection.
There was nothing better than finishing a big day hike off with a good beer, especially when it is at Happy Hour prices.

We started our experience with the well rated microbrewery La Cervecería, and perhaps our expectations were set a little high. They only had two beers on the menu, a Bock and a Pilsner.
It was set up like a little German cabin, cozy and comfortable, and while I liked the surroundings and the delicious spicy beef empanada we sampled, the beers were good without being great.
With only two beers available there wasn’t too much to keep us there, so it was a nice but short visit.

Next up was Beer & Burger, as our other choices weren’t open early enough and I was hanging out for a beer after our wonderful Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado hike. They only had Golden Ale available when we visited, and while better than some examples its best characteristic was still only that it was easy to drink.
A big bonus for travellers is they had free wifi that actually worked pretty well, and some sunchairs out the front, which are presumably for the summer months because only one brave soul utilised them.
If they had more of the advertised beers available then I think we would have spent longer here, and maybe given the other half of the namesake a try.

The last bar we visited definitely won the award for best view, with the outline of Fitz Roy in the background. Fresco Bar had a modern, minimalist aproach, and a large sign from the main street to direct the masses.
Asides from some flakey opening hours, like opening at 6:15 when happy hour is advertised as 5-7pm, I quite enjoyed Fresco.
Their IPA was one of the better examples we tried, and their Stout was tasty without being too heavy or overpowering. The Nölter was the one unusual beer we tried there, although it was one of the few beers I didn’t like at all.
Fresco is a pretty new addition to the bar scene in El Chalten, but I imagine in peak season it would get pretty busy so make sure you get there early to enjoy Happy Hour.

Enjoying the view with a few well earned beers after a hike at Fresco Bar

Bariloche

We spent a week doing Spanish classes in Bariloche, a city of about 150,000 in northern Patagonia. That gave us plenty of time to sample the local wares, and with a strong student and tourist base Bariloche certainly had a lot to offer.
About 130km south of Bariloche is a town called El Bolson, where hops (lúpulos in Spanish) have been grown since the 1890s, and continue to be produced to supply the developing craft beer industry.

Our first stop on the itinerary in Bariloche was a very popular watering hole called Manush, so popular they had to open a second branch outside the city.
Luckily we were there in April which is out of the peak seasons of summer (for hiking) and winter (for skiing).
It was still a large and bustling venue when we visited, even though it wasn’t long after opening time. They had a big beer selection, with at least 8 different beers available on tap.
Jacinta tried a Honey Beer and Milk Stout, while I went for a Pale Ale and a Scotch Ale.
All were pretty good, with the highlight probably being the Pale Ale as it was quite full and flavoursome, unlike many of the versions from other cervezerías which seemed to lack body and any sort of depth.
We met plenty of people that went back to Manush repeatedly, and I can see why – good beer, a wide range of food and a well set up operation.
Manush should definitely be included on any visit to Bariloche, although note they are only open in the evenings, like many of the craft beer pubs.

Cervecería Manush had one of the best run venues

Next up for us was Konna bar, geographically in the same little craft beer area but a complete change of scenery. Where Manush oozed commercial nous, Konna felt like a dingy dive bar, and had alcoves for regulars to store a glass or other belongings.
Despite its humble surroundings, Konna kicked goals in every other department. It managed to dethrone La Zorra as my favourite beer for the trip, only to then outdo itself on our second visit. The service was great and friendly, the complimentary peanuts super generous (with refills) and the prices close to the cheapest we found – 2 pints for 100 pesos (~$6.50 AUD / $5 USD).
Our first tasting included a seasonal Brown Ale and a Pilsener. The Pilsener was a bit stock standard, a solid effort but nothing to write home about. The Brown Ale on the other hand was full of flavour and toasted malts, one of my favourite style of beers when done right, and this was done right!
We liked it so much that when we had a less than stellar experience elsewhere the next day we returned to try the rest of the menu.
The IPA and APA were both good beers, with a fair bit of character while staying true to the beer style.
But what really starred for me was their porter, it was more of a Smoked Porter style and just delicious. It was so well balanced, and the flavour lingered in the mouth.

Konna Bar seemed to be a local favourite and the small interior quickly filled up in the evenings

Bachmann was probably the low point on our craft beer tasting journey.
That’s not to say it wasn’t worth trying, but with the competion all around at such a high standard Bachmann just didn’t stand out for us.
There were 10 different beers on offer, we went for the Honey Beer (guess who) and an Ambar ale, neither of which were particularly notable.
The bar itself lacked soul, and just felt like a modernised German commercial beer outlet rather than a place with its own identity.
Maybe Bachmann has more to offer, we were of course there for happy hour, so with some more people and atmosphere it could improve.

Bachmann was one of the few craft beer venues open for lunch

Cervezero Blest apparently moved fairly recently from its original location 11km out of town, to a new place 4km from the centre.
We visited this new location, which also happened to be right next to Manush’s alternative spot.
In terms of appearances Blest 4km was large and slick, set up to serve the hordes of thirsty tourists and students.
Matching the venue, the beer list was long and included all of the staples we’d come to expect from a Patagonia craft brewery.
Jacinta took her ubiquitous Honey Beer, while I chose a Bock for a bit more oomph, and it didn’t disappoint.
Blest were also in the process of building a new pub next to Manush in the centre during our stay, so there may be an easier choice to try in the future.

While some said the new venue lost some of the magic of the original, the verandah was still very nice at Blest

Last but not least, we tried Berlina which is actually a large Argentinian brewery with its roots in Bariloche.
It has a big location called the Taproom out near Colonia Suiza about 25km from town, but we didn’t take the time to stop there so we snuck in a visit to the central bar on our last evening.
Berlina offered a bit of a different beer selection as opposed to just the standard varieties. We weren’t too adventurous so we went for Papo’s Red Ale and a Golden Ale.
None of the Golden Ales in Patagonia impressed me, and Berlina’s version wasn’t too different.
Both beers we tried there were fairly tame, obviously brewed to appeal to awide range of people, but the service was friendly and the size of the Berlina Al Paso bar belied the 40,000 litre per month production of the mother brewery.

Watching the world go by with a few beers at Berlina Al Paso

There were a total of 23 officially listed breweries in Bariloche, so we barely scratched the surface during our stay.
We also tried the dark and raspberry beers from Colonia Suiza, the latter which was too sweet for my tastes.
Other popular destinations we didn’t make it to include Patagonia Brewery which is supposed to have an amazing view, Andares with its slick modern restaurant and La Cruz in the suburbs.


The Summary

The craft beer we sampled in Patagonia was generally very good, and better priced than every other place I’d tried such as USA, Denmark, Germany, Australia and Mexico.
We didn’t try too many bottled beers but we did get the chance to taste a couple of Chilean examples from Otro Mundo (Nut Brown Ale) and Kunstmann (Pilsener). I also partook in my very first Amber Lager (from Cerveza Patagonia), and it will probably now be my last as it was officially my least favourite beer.
The standouts for the beer were La Zorra in El Calafate and Konna in Bariloche, although I’m sure there many more gems out there.
We also visited a microbrewery on Easter Island, but you can read about that later in our Easter Island post.

Cheers!

One Comment

  1. Alan
    June 10, 2018
    Reply

    You spell like an Australian – it’s “ubiquitous”!

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