Foreigners wandering through Chilean territory may find themselves in awe of the nation’s natural landscapes, heart-warmed by the welcoming locals, and nurtured by the country’s hearty cuisine. But for many years, their yearning for a down-home craft brew was an itch that Chile just couldn’t scratch.
Five years back, one defiant gringo with a similar longing, Derek Way (a.k.a. Chester) began an uphill battle to fill this niche. The result of years of toil is Chester Beer, a microbrewery housed in two recycled shipping containers on a farm outside of Puerto Varas.
“I had been in Puerto Varas for about a year and a half and I started making little 20 liter batches, then I did 30 liters, than 50 liters, than 80 liters, than 90 liters…now I make 500 liter batches,” Way told This is Chile.
Before arriving in Puerto Varas, Way had been teaching English in Santiago for nearly three years, but he craved a change of pace.
“I’m from the country and I just wanted to move out of Santiago,” Way said. “I had a friend down here [in Puerto Varas] and she let me camp out in her backyard for a while.”
From his friend’s backyard, Way became enchanted by the breathtaking landscape of southern Chile.
“[I] fell in love with the lake view of Puerto Varas and its surrounding natural beauty and of course…the water,” Chester Beers’ website reads. “Water everywhere, raging rivers that you can still drink from and water that you can brew great beer from.”
What began as one beer-lover home brewing in his garage spawned into a full time profession for Way. Chester Beers became a full-fledged business a few years ago, a process that Way described as painless.
“It was not that expensive compared to the United States, and as a foreigner it wasn’t even that difficult,” Way said. “There’s nothing easy in this world, but I would say that in Chile it was probably easier than a lot of places.”
Despite having grown tremendously since its inception, Chester Beers is still undeniably small scale. Way gets help from his girlfriend and a rag-tag combo of beer-loving friends who live in the area.
“Friends will stop by and help label and help bottle and drink a bunch of beer, which I’m totally cool with,” Way explained.
Currently Chester Beers brews four different lines: Dos Combis Summer Ale (fruit forward and crisp), Rustic Pale Ale (hoppy and floral), Obama’s Redemption Stout (Smooth, with hints of coffee, and indisputably hardcore), and an India Pale Ale (full-bodied and zesty).
“They’re all North American style ales brewed a little hoppier and with a little more ingredients in general,” Way said. “They’re brewed with that type of style and flavor in mind.”
Way admits that his brews have been well received by Chileans in the area.
Chester Beer is currently available in many different hotels, restaurants, bottle shops, bars, and markets in the town of Puerto Varas, including La Gringa, Parentesis, Don Salmon, Campo Kutral, Cotelé, Bravo Cabrera, and Hostel Melmac. As Way puts it, if you’re in Puerto Varas, it would be hard not to find his beers.
For adventure seeking travelers, tour operator La Comarca offers bike and beer tours to Puerto Varas and Frutillar with Chester Beer featured as a stopping point. For more information, visit Chester Beers’ website or Facebook page.
By Gwynne Hogan