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It's 11 p.m. on a Thursday, and Santiago's bohemian set, clad in black denim, oversize knit caps and striped shirts, is piling into Cervecería Nacional. The sunken pub in hopping Barrio Yungay has me feeling dizzy before I even order a drink. Its 40-bottle beer menu and ambitious tap list, all scrawled on a huge chalkboard that hangs on an exposed brick wall, offer everything from barley wines to India pale ales. Should I go for the Mahina stout brewed on Easter Island using rainwater? Or maybe a magnum-size ale from the local Quimera brewery. Sure, I'm in Chile, but when I swivel around on my bar stool, I don't see a single glass of cab sauv, this being the vanguard of the wine-loving country's craft beer scene.

Der Münchner restaurant in MallocoYou’ve been served: The extensive beer list at the Der Münchner restaurant in Malloco, outside Santiago, features popular suds from the homegrown Kunstmann and Austral breweries. (Oompahpah tunes included.)

Chile's brew culture bubbled up only about 15 years ago, when Armin Kunstmann, a descendant of the country's first German settlers who arrived here in the mid-1800s, decided to revive the old brewing traditions of his forefathers. He opened Kunstmann brewery in Valdivia, some 800 kilometres south of Santiago. It's now the most successful craft brand in the country, producing 1 million litres of beer per year, enjoyed by hop heads as far-flung as South Korea. Kunstmann's success sparked a whole industry. In 2008, Chile had about 125 varieties of craft beer; today there are over 400.

"A few years ago, there was no artisanal beer culture here," Loreto Cruz Miralles tells me from Cerveza Artesanal Leyenda, her microbrewery in a tiny storefront in the Ñuñoa neighbourhood. After working for 25 years as a secretary, the mother of two left her job and set about becoming a maestra cervecera, home-brewing from the back of her kitchen and testing her recipes on friends and family until Leyenda was launched in 2008. 

The Golden Ale from artisanal beermaker LeyendaThe Golden Ale from artisanal beermaker Leyenda is our draft pick.

The set-up is so small that I find Cruz and her young assistant standing taller than the huge stainless steel kettle they're using to boil the barley in. (Most brewers have a stepladder to reach into their giant pots.) Despite winning multiple awards for her beers, Cruz, sporting her signature pair of zebra-print rubber boots, says she doesn't want to expand production. She prefers the artisanal nature of doing everything by hand: mashing, boiling and fermenting her brew; capping and labelling each bottle herself; then putting them in a cold storage room upstairs to mature for almost a month before shipping them off to bars and hotels throughout the country.

Tags

BREWERIES     CHILE     FOOD & DRINK    

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