Archive for December, 2012

A German Beer Holiday in Chile (Valdivia)

December 8, 2012

In the mid-1800s in the south of Chile, a period of German colonization began in order to bring growth and development to the region. There was a period of massive unrest in Germany, and the landscapes in the Los Lagos region are very similar to Germany and neighboring Switzerland.

This period of colonization under President Manuel Montt had a huge influence on the way buildings have been built, the abundance of kuchen, and the quality of the beer.

The most famous brewery in the region is the Cervezeria Kuntsmann in Valdivia. Set up as a tourist attraction, you can take a tour of the vats and locations where they make and test the beer and there is also a museum tacked on in case you fancy looking at wax models of people in lederhosen.

The tour itself costs CL$5,000 which is far more than it warrants as you can see many of the vats exposed through transparent panes behind the bar – going in to the room and seeing them up close is not that thrilling. The tour doesn’t take you to anything much more exciting, and if you already know about the process of making beer, doesn’t teach you anything new.

The museum has some information about the previous Anwandter Brewery, which is famous in the region. It was the main cervezeria in Valdivia and was destroyed once by fire, and secondly by the earthquake in 1960. Kuntsmann began to be brewed for personal use after Anwandter went down.

At the bar, you have the opportunity to taste each of the eleven beers that Kuntsmann brew. There are two flavoured beers – blueberry and honey. The blueberry one manages not to be too tart, and almost tastes like blackcurrant cordial. The honey flavour is pretty strong in the latter, and for me, it’s too strong. You can get a much lighter taste of honey from the non-alchoholic beer they make. The best of the Kunstmann beers has to be the Torobayo, an ale that tastes similar to a black beer, with slight barbeque flavors.

The other commercial brewery just down the road from Kuntsmann is Salzburg, which I also visited. It is much less touristic, and the area for visitors is mainly a restaurant. There is no organised tour, but you’re welcome to pop in and try their beers. The black beer for me was disappointing. Although it was the strongest beer they brew, it had the most watered down taste. The Altes Ale was actually closer to the taste of an enjoyable dark beer, and tasted by far the strongest even though it is only 4.5 percent.

Following the road to Niebla further along, I was recommended to drop in at the El Duende Artisenal brewery. Here, the beer is hand-made in much smaller quantities with all natural ingredients. They all have reasonably high alcohol content, even the Rubia is six percent.

Sadly, I couldn’t try the black beer as they had sold out, and none were ready to be bottled yet, but the owner, Juan Luis, joined me for a Rubia which was smooth and soft on the palate. It had absolutely none of the bitterness you can come to expect from the commercial lager we normally drink, and instead was almost sweet and, as Juan Luis put it, well-balanced.

He also teaches people how to make beer, in day sessions, possibly helping the brewer of the future continue the tradition of beer in the area.

There are many other small artisanal breweries in the area, including Cuello Negro whose black beer goes the opposite direction and ups the bitterness, to the point where you feel as though you’re drinking very bitter coffee. It’s just on the cusp of enjoyable. The Bundor Black beer is far less bitter, and much easier to drink (whether or not that’s a good thing is questionable!). It’s thicker and creamier than the Cuello Negro, but ultimately less interesting.

Travelling back that day, I stocked up with El Duendes with the taste of good beer on my lips. The lakes, evergreen trees and wooden chalets passing the bus transported me back to Germany, and it almost felt strange stepping off the bus to say gracias!


The Valparaíso Walking Tour

December 4, 2012

‘Tours for Tips’ is a three-hour walking tour around Valparaíso, beginning in Plaza Sotomayor and ending at Cerro Bellavista. It runs twice a day, every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and begins with a game of ‘Where’s Wally’ with the guide wearing Waldo’s famous red and white stripes.

Our guide, Chris (a North American with a huge, teethy smile), first of all took us in a circle around Plaza Sotomayor, each side of which is positively seeped in history. This included a house on Calle Serrano which, during the gold rush, would have been home to one of the wealthiest families in the world. This road is now home to small gambling dens and run down buildings. When we entered, there were men hanging around in the hallway who shouted and cheered at us as we went past.

The stairs of this house are made of onyx, and now chunks have been taken out to make jewellery. Chris told us this was a representation of Valparaíso – a place of lost wealth, where the mansions that used to be the preserve of the rich now crumble and rot. Chris, grin shining white in the dusty light, tells us that this is what makes Valparaíso such a fascinating place to walk around.

Considering the tour is based only on tips, Chris paid for many experiences out of his own pocket. We got to take an funicular (one of the only ones working in the city at the moment) and he also took us for alfadores (traditional biscuits with dulce de leche in the middle and chocolate around the outside) from a house that sells them on Cerro Concepción. We also got to take one of the old-fashioned buses that run like trams but without tracks.

He aimed to give us an idea of what it was like to live in Valpo, and the juxtaposition inherent in everything. He showed us the CSAV building in Sotomayor Square and explained to us why, among so many beautiful old colonial buildings, there lies this big ugly square of reflective blue glass. When CSAV had first brought the plans to the city of Valparaíso, they rejected them on the grounds that it would not fit with the square.

So CSAV threatened to leave the city and move all their custom and all their jobs to another city – they are one of the biggest and oldest shipbuilding companies in the world – and so, sadly, the city agreed. Very soon after this, the city became a UNESCO world heritage site and now, this sort of thing will not happen again.

Once we had all sighed a sigh of relief, Chris took us further up the hill to a house that was completely gutted by fire – a ‘For Sale’ sign blew in the breeze. He explained that for the locals here, being a world heritage site makes their city look a lot better, but when something happens like this, it is so expensive to only use original materials and building techniques (this is insisted upon by UNESCO) that houses just lay dormant, no-one willing to climb this hill with all the materials and re-build.

This duality was something that by the end of the tour we could feel in every step. From the beautiful old style houses covered in modern graffiti to the antique funiculars lying dormant. Many of the stairways are painted beautifully from ones painted like piano keys to ones delicately depicting the Mapuche way of life. Although Chris showed us these to take pictures, he also stressed that the stairs at night are dangerous for tourists and people travelling alone. It was so hard to place that a town so obsessive about its own beauty might also tear it apart.

At the end of the tour we all shared pisco sours and Chris gave us all maps, marking the places we were interested in visiting on them for us. He also gave us bus information and pointed out the best restaurants depending on our budget. Sure, tipping is voluntary, but after all the effort they make on this tour, you’d be cruel not to.