Four top artisanal beers to try in Chile’s ale-loving capital

The Second Annual Bierfest in the capital’s pastoral district of La Reina gathered more than 30 breweries in one place. Included here is a list of four artisanal brews worth trying in and around Santiago.

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Santiaguinos love their beer. On any given night, jovial young people crowd the cheap beerhalls along Pio Nono in the capital’s nightlife-driven Bellavista district, swilling pitchers of inexpensive national beers like Cristal and Escudo.

But this is only one side of Chile’s beer culture. From the Atacama to Punta Arenas, nearly every region of Chile produces its own artisanal beer, and nowhere more than Santiago. Some of these artisanal breweries have grown into major brands distributed nationwide while many microbreweries continue to operate on a small, regional basis. These beers can be difficult to lay your hands on—even at times in Chile’s largest city. But this year for the weekend of Jan. 13-16, over 30 breweries from across Chile brought their goods to Santiago’s Second Annual Bierfest.

Santiago’s Bierfast is smaller than the massive Oktoberfest celebrations in Malloco, a township to the southwest of the capital, where more than 70 beers were on display for 10 days in the fall. Set in the quiet grounds of Parque Alberto Hurtado, in the district of La Reina at the foot of the Andes, Biefest is also more manageable and more scenic. Like it’s bigger, more venerable cousin, Santiago’s festival includes separate stalls for food and crafts, as well as a stage hosting performances of live music.

The popularity of the event is just part of a growing interest in artisanal beers and breweries throughout Chile, and particularly in Santiago. Though long known for its world-class wines, Chile is quickly becoming a must-visit destination for beer buffs as well. Below is a list of four Chilean beers (all either based or readily available in Santiago) worth checking out:

Szot: One of Chile’s best-known artisanal beer companies, Szot’s nine brews are fairly easy to find in bars and shops around Santiago. The Stout, Strong Ale and Amber Ale are particularly delicious.

Clandestina: Since 2009, Clandestina has made three rich, delicious beers in limited production: a Blonde, a Porter and a Scottish Ale. For 2011, the one-man operation will expand to some Santiago bars, including Electric West and St. Patrick’s Day, with the first bottles produced in February.

Guayacán: The Elqui Valley in northern Chile, near the city of La Serena, is best known for its clear skies and Pisco production. The only beer made in the area, Guayacan takes advantage of clean water and bright sun to make some classic, refreshing brews.

Soma: Since April 2010, Soma has produced two slightly sweet, unfiltered beers, a Brown Ale and a Sweet Stout. In the coming year a Pale Ale will be added to the ranks.