Chile: the land of fine wines – and now, increasingly, good craft beer

Chileans are drinking more and better beer, according to the latest numbers from Nielson, thanks to new microbrews and a new generation of consumers.  

Beer sales in Chile increased between 8 and 10 percent last year, swooping up to account for more than half of all alcohol sales in Chile in 2011 – 53 percent, compared to 49.4 percent in 2010.
According to analysts at Nielson, Chileans are now drinking 36 liters of beer per person per year. Industry insiders say the change is due in part to the growing gamut of options in the specialty market – a relatively new phenomenon. So, what does it mean when the land of wine and pisco becomes the land of craft beer and microbreweries?
A new generation of consumers
Rodrigo Oyanedel, president of the distribution company responsible for Corona and other beers, said that Chile’s steady economy has influenced a new generation of beer-drinkers.
“The economy is growing and people are developing a taste for higher quality beer,” Oyanedel told local newspaper El Mercurio.
One of the first places people look in Chile is to Kross – the country’s much garlanded microbrewery based in Curacaví, about an hour outside Santiago. Kross CEO José Tomás Infante said that consumers are responding well to increases both in quality and value of Chile’s craft beers.
«The consumer is very different from five or six years ago,» Infante said. «It’s a buyer who is more informed, a little more traveled, more globalized and demanding in their tastes, and has a bit more money than before.»
«Consumers are preferring premium products,» Infante said. «This category [of craft beers] is growing much more quickly than the mass beer market.»
A new generation of beers
“Increased consumption of beer is due in large part to the premium products that are entering the market,” Oyandel said.
A creative pack of microbrews are joining old-time favorites like Kuntsmann and Austral at the grocery store and on the drink menu. Valparaíso-based Porteño offers a range of flavorful brews (including the especially delicious Barba Roja amber ale); Melipilla-based Szot brews another wide gamut of beer varieties, but really hits its stride among the stouts; and Santiago-based Capital pumps out a quality, unfiltered pale ale at an affordable price. And of course, Kross is leading the way for the microbrews, winning seven medals at the International Beer Challenge in 2011 and continuing to improve its standards.
And whereas Chilean beer culture used to be focused around the brewing centers of Validivia (Kuntsmann), Osorno and Punta Arenas (Austral), cities like Santiago, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar have seen a small explosion of bars and restaurants focusing exclusively on good Chilean craft beers.
For more information, check out our guides to nightlife in Santiago, Valparaíso-Viña del Mar, and other major cities.