Having a cold one at Punta Arenas' Austral Brewery

At the southern tip of Chile, there is a coastal town called Punta Arenas. At the end of the nineteenth century, immigrants from all over Europe flocked to this barren land to take advantage of the blossoming gold mining, seal hunting and cattle farming in the area – and to start a new life. Brew master José Fisher, of German origin, was one such immigrant.

With all the industry in the area, what were the tired workers to do after a long day?  I know what I would do: walk on down to the nearest pub and ask the bartender for his finest suds. If I were a gold miner or a cattle farmer in Punta Arenas in the late 1800s, he would hand me a pint of Austral.

Photo by Galen Brown
Photo by Galen Brown

On a visit to Punta Arenas with a few of my Canadian friends (we do appreciate a good ale), we decided to see what this beer was all about. To be fair, I had already tasted it and established a sturdy bias already.

Photo by Galen Brown
Photo by Galen Brown

Some advice if you ever plan to go on the tour of the brewery is to call ahead, especially during the winter. This is, of course, the slow season, and they do not run tours as often.

The tour itself is very quick. You start off by watching a short 10-minute video in English that explains the history of the brewery and briefly runs through the production methods. Austral prides itself on having very traditional production methods, including the use of copper for the cooking pots, which has supposedly become a thing of the past because of the cost of copper over stainless steal.

The raw materials used to make the beer are also top of the line, such as top-grade yeast, hops, and malt. Our tour guide also mentioned that the use of glacier water from the Patagonia region has the most influence on the taste and crispness of the beer.

So now to the best part of the tour: the taste test!

Photo by Galen Brown
Photo by Galen Brown

The four varieties of Austral are Lager, Yagan (a dark ale), Calafate (a blueberry beer), and Pale Ale. At the brewery, they really want you to try each beer in its entirety, so be ready to down a good dozen or so beers in half an hour. I don’t know about you, but I think that tasting a beer is nothing like tasting a wine. Every level of the bottle has a unique bouquet, so the beer at the bottom of the bottle has a slightly different taste than that at the neck.

After sampling each of the four varieties a few times, I landed on a favorite. It was the Calafate. It is hard to think about a beer having a fruity taste and still being considered a real beer, but trust me: Try it, and you will see the light.

The Austral brewery is a great stop if you are ever down in Punta Arenas. At the moment, Austral distributes its beer to southern Argentina, all of Chile, and only on very limited demand to other countries. I was disappointed to hear that, once I return to Canada, it is unlikely I will ever find it in my local beer store. I told the brewery’s management that they would have a steady market with me alone if they ever decided to ship it north.

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