Posts Tagged ‘Review’

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!

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Ten Things the Guidebook Don’t Tell You About… Chile.

August 24, 2012

Here are some of those odd things you only realise when you get to Chile… in list form!

1. Some supermarkets don’t sell fresh garlic or tins of beans. However, they all have their own supermarket-brand basic tinned mussels – phew.

2. There are dogs EVERYWHERE. The ones on the street are generally pretty calm whereas the ones sat behind gates have anger management issues. They ALL hate cars – so much so that they will chase them down the street barking. This is pretty scary in Santiago as it looks like you’ll run them over but in smaller towns it’s pretty funny. Today, I saw a car completely brought to a standstill by a couple of dogs who had surrounded it barking and refusing to move. More and more dogs just kept coming to join in the fun. Evenually the people had to just park where they were and sit it out. Made for excellent viewing.

3. If you want some cheese and you go and ask “¿Tienes queso?” (Do you have cheese), the reply will nearly always be “Yes, how many?” which is pretty confusing at first. But basically, apart from Jumbo and farms that make their own cheese, when you want cheese you get Gouda. There is no choice in the matter – you want cheese? Well, it’s Gouda. In slices.

4. Every single computer keyboard is set to a different setting from what you can see on the keys. Even in people’s houses that I’ve been to. What. The. Hell?

5. Chileans do not like spicy food. If you want fresh chili you will have to buy really weak ones and add a lot. They just don’t sell other types. Apart from Merken – a Chilean spice – which you can have with bread and salsa. Love it.

6. Despite my guidebook saying that Chilean men don’t really bother you, this is just not the case. The men here are the most persistent I have met (although according to them the Argentinians and Brazillians are far worse). If you tell them to go away, there is absolutely no way they are going anywhere. Once they have set their eyes on you, they will not stop until they have you. Last night I physically pushed this guy away from me, all of his friends were laughing at him, and so was I. They were all leaving and I kept telling him to go with them but he wouldn’t. Eventually they pulled him away. 15mins later he walked back into the bar, alone, pulled up a chair, and joined me and my friends at our table. No question. No ‘can I join you?’. Incredible. And just to clear it up, he went home alone.

7. If you are a guest in their home, you are not allowed to do anything. At all. If they cook for you, you cannot do the washing up. If you need anything at all, they will get it for you. The generosity is staggering. It doesn’t matter who you are… and in the case of the Antofagastian family I stayed with, whether you can speak the same language. They will drop everything for you. Amazing.

8. In Chile, being a vegetarian is very difficult. In Antofagasta I visited a restaurant where the vege option was ‘pollo’ (chicken). Considering you get offered a lot of eggs and cheese as a vege, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be vegan. I met a girl who was lactose intollerant who was having a little bit of a nightmare finding food.

9. They make beer as well as wine! And it’s actually quite good! And pisco – ahhh, pisco, my new best friend. They know about alcohol in this country, that’s for sure.

10. My guidebook said Santiago is avoidable. It is not. Santiago is amazing. The people are fantastic, the bars are great and it is incredibly beautiful despite the smog. One moment you’re walking down an ugly highway and then you look to your left and the snow capped Andes peer at you through the mist. It’s a great presence in the city. Don’t visit South America or Chile and avoid the capital, you’ll miss a lot.

Film Review: Nostalgia de la Luz

July 29, 2012

I saw Nostalgia de la Luz last week with high expectations, since most critics reviewed it very highly.  It is based in the Atacama Desert, which I have researched extensively in preparation for my trip there next week.

A part of me left disappointed. The film itself has two focal points – the astronomers in the desert and the people still recovering from the Pinochet regime. The former includes many drawn out shots of telescopes and the night sky and, albeit an incredible sight, it feels slow and slightly contrived. Many of the links that Guzman makes between the two also seem coincidental rather than meaningful, and therefore don’t glue the sections together as well as was probably intended.

However, the latter focus was a superbly tender and a poignant insight into the Chileans who are still trying to move on from their harrowing experiences in the 1970s and 80s. It’s a reminder of how recent the atrocities of that government are, and an indictment of the current administration that these people are not helped more and held in higher esteem.

One of the main focuses is on the ‘Women of Calama’ who search the Atacama for the remains of their dead loved ones. Though many of the original women have stopped looking, some remain, now in their sixties and seventies.

Every day they walk into the desert, picking up pieces of bleached white bones, kicking at hardened areas of the ground to see if there are hidden remains beneath.

One lady tells the camera, “We are the lepers of Chile.”

The narrator continues along this vein, attempting to show that the official history of Chile seems to stop in 1973 because the government and army won’t face it.  This sort of “end of history”, I noticed, was a recurring theme elsewhere as well.

Yesterday, I visited the National History Museum in Chile which has artifacts, paintings, and descriptions of numerous periods in Chilean history. Much of it is focused on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the massive changes in these stages moving from Spanish rule to independence, and eventually to a democratic government.

However, everything seemed to fall in to place for me when in the final room of the museum, history ends at Allende’s broken glasses.

The film is available to buy on DVD in US format and is on general release in the UK at the moment.  It costs 600 pesos to visit the National History Museum. If you want English translation, remember to ask at the ticket office as all signs are in Spanish.

Lager than Life (Berlin)

November 6, 2011

Germany is the third biggest consumer of beer in the world – falling behind only Ireland and the Czech Republic. With over 5000 varieties and more than 1300 breweries, it is a hugely important part of German culture. Almost half the breweries in Germany are in Bavaria, but Berlin still offers a wealth of opportunities to whet your appetite for beer.

The most famous Berlin-based beer is the Berliner Kindl. In the 19th Century there were 700 breweries in Germany brewing this particular Berlin favourite; by the early 20th Century this had been cut down to just two in Berlin and a handful around the rest of Germany. The Berliner Kindl is now the only beer to be produced in Berlin. It comes in a range of flavours and colours. The fluorescent green, red and purple Berliner Kindl Weisse (pre-mixed with grenadine or mixed at the bar) make for a novel drinking experience with very sweet fruit flavours verging on a beery alcopop. Within the Berliner Kindl group, there are also two basic Pilsner beers – the standard Berliner Pilsner and the Berliner Kindl Jubilӓums Pilsner. The Berliner Pilsner is very effervescent and tart, which works well with cordial mixes and beer based cocktails. The Jubilӓums Pilsner is a much sweeter and slightly stronger beer.

There is also a huge selection of various German and international beers you can try while visiting Berlin. The main six varieties are the Weiβbier or Weizenbier (wheat beer), Blonde, Schwartzbier (dark or black beer), Pilsner, Dunkle (strong) and Hell (light). There are also red beers on offer in many places that – in both colour and taste reside somewhere between the Schwartz and the Blonde. A great red beer is the Duck Stein which immediately hits you with the strong taste of hops. There are a huge range of other varieties, which if you can find them can be worth the trouble.

If you are into your wheat beers, the Weihenstephan Hefeweizen Hell is a good place to start. With hints of fresh tropical fruits and a light creaminess, this is great for a hot summer’s day. Similarly, the Alpirsbacher Klosterbrӓu Blonde is a light yet bitter beer with warm notes of citrus. The Bitterfelder Blonde is also a good choice, for a much smoother drink and doesn’t have the bitterness of the former.

A great Schwartzbier to try is the König Ludwig Dunkel which contains hints of oranges and is unusually fruity for such a dark beer. It is also worth heading to Hops & Barley which has a one-off Schwartzbier brewed on the premises that is fantastically creamy and has strong flavours of coffee and caramel. The Hümmel Brӓu smoked dark beer is also a very interesting choice – with an aftertaste almost resembling smoked cheese, and would be fantastic with a hearty meal. For a lighter meal try the Leschenbacher Bier which has very strong hints of lemon and offers a great sharpness to the palate.

In terms of your standard lager-beers, a good one is the Bavarian Augustinerbrӓu München, which has been made in Munich since 1328 making it one of the oldest German beers. This is available in most places, including the Beer Gardens at the Mauer Park Market every Sunday. Another is the Löwenbrӓu which is a very sweet and light standard lager.

There’s also the option to try one of the many fruit beers on offer. The Bitterfelder Kirsch is bursting with cherry flavours without being too sweet and overpowering. If you really want to taste the fruit, try a Dju Dju Beer which comes in a variety of exotic fruit flavours including mango. However, with these the taste of beer is almost completely lost to fruit juice. For something in between go for the Schöfferhofer in grapefruit, fig, pear and ginger or cactus flavours which retains its status as a beer but is also very juicy and light.

You can try many of these beers at Die Haus Der 100 Biere and an even greater variety at the Annual Berlin Beer Festival if you are planning an August trip. However, most bars and pubs will have a good selection in bottles if not on tap. Of course, the Germans take their beer very seriously, and it is advisable to make sure you drink responsibly during your stay.