Saturday, November 17, 2012

Better Bariloche Brewpubs

Fortunately, my craft beer experiences in Bariloche, Argentina got better and better.

Konna Brewpub

Located mere steps from Club Andio Bariloche (the local trekking/climbing organization) is newish Konna, a climber-themed pub showing rock climbing videos on a couple of plasma screens.  It's cozy, and like most places in town has a happy hour early on.  As with most smaller breweries in Patagonia, they had Rubia (light), Rioja/IPA (variously an amber or an IPA) and Negra (dark, in this case a sweetish porter).

I had a pint of the IPA, and... well it was a yeasty mess.  When will I learn?  Ask for a sample first!  But I felt obligated to finish.

The owners of the hostel I was staying at knew the Konna crew, and apparently they're aware of the "yeastiness" issues in their lighter beers, and are working on it.  Glad to hear it!  Apparently the porter is the way to go at Konna, so I had one of those too.

While not perfect (and conveniently hiding some off-flavours with roast), the porter is quite drinkable, and is definitely the drink to have at Konna.

My hostel owners introduced me to one of the owners, and after a chat she very kindly phoned up the brewmaster at Berlina and arranged for me to visit their brewery on a Saturday (when they are normally closed to the public).  Very much appreciated, and a great sign of the camaraderie among craft brewers in Bariloche!

La Cruz Brewpub

Just off the lake road west of Bariloche, at around the 5-6km mark, is La Cruz, a casual but friendly suburban watering hole.

A bit rainy for the outside tables

I arrived exactly at opening time - despite these photos, the place filled up completely within 20 minutes.  Very popular, and with good reason.  Friendly staff and GREAT BEER.

The tasters were all good, but the IPA really stood out as a lovely, drinkable beer.  I ordered a couple.  This is a must-visit when in Bariloche, just a 10 minute bus ride from downtown.  The food looked good as well.

They used to brew in the back room, right behind the bar.  But like many brewpubs in the area, they've moved production off-site in order to get more space and potentially bottle & ship their wares.

Check out the lace on the IPA.  Fantastic!

Generous head on top of a great IPA

Yes La Cruz, I believe I will

Berlina Brewery

Mrs. Hoplog and I bussed out to Colonia Suisse (touristy hippie enclave near Bariloche) to visit Berlina's brewery, tucked away in a sunny and idyllic patch of forest.  We nearly got turned away since we showed up outside visiting hours, but Konna's call to brewmaster Bruno Ferrari saved the day and he generously showed us around the brewery, answered questions and poured some samples.  Many hearty thanks to Bruno for his hospitality!

Brewmaster Bruno Ferrari

Conditioning tanks at 8 C

Bruno is from South America, but he was trained as a brewmaster in Berlin.  The brewery has a homey, relaxed feel, but the operation is of a decent size and there are clearly some skilled people behind it all.

Above, the semi-homemade pasteurizer Bruno uses for his bottled products.  Given shipping temperatures and distances, and not using preservatives (unlike every other foodstuff in Argentina and Chile...), Bruno filters and pasteurizes all his bottled product.

Bruno pulling me a sample

Oh wow, I even got to drink some beer straight out of the conditioning tank - special.  Bruno had two IPAs available: a special, local single-hop variety, and their "standard" IPA that features northern hemisphere hops.  In a word, heaven. The standard IPA was clearly the best beer I had in Bariloche, and (to date) South America.  Simply wonderful, even if the hops don't stay quite as fresh as Bruno would like as they're shipped halfway around the world to get here.

Now that's proper craft brewing - asado (slow grilling) on the back yard grill for lunch.

The brewery looks like a house, adding to the homeyness, though it's all business inside.

Bottle storage shed

Some fledgling hops planted in the backyard

Equipment shed

Recipes and notes on the tiled brewery wall

Above, to get you through a long day of bottling, you obviously need Yerba Mate - the South American sip-at-a-time herb drink drunk from a gourd with a metal straw.  Canada has Starbucks cups, Argentina has mate cups and hot water thermoses.

A proper IPA - so very welcome

Blest Brewpub

For our last night in town, Mrs. Hoplog and I decided to hit two brewpubs in a row, both 100m from each other at about the 11.5km mark of the lake road: Blest and Berlina (their pub, not brewery).

Blest is probably the best-known and oldest brewpub in Bariloche.  They certainly had the knickknacks and kitsch down pat, as well as a big store full of tourist swag.

Oh my, perhaps I should have brought something from a BC brewery for the wall...

We dove into a sampler paddle, and... well... given how people had been raving about Blest, I was expecting a bit more.  Don't get me wrong, the beer was much better than most other brewpubs in town and was perfectly fine.  But it didn't blow me away.  The stout in particular was incredibly metallic (I'm thinking an overdose of water treatment).  My favourite was probably the Frambuesa, oddly enough, and the Cider they had on offer, though I'm not normally a fruit beer guy.

Blest's barroom brewing equipment.  Pretty unlikely they still brew on this stuff since it's actually IN the taproom.

The service was pretty disengaged and aloof, and cancelled out any coziness otherwise provided by the warm surroundings.  While the beer was decent and Blest is worth a visit, we didn't waste any more time and headed down the road to Berlina instead.

Berlina Brewpub

Wow, these people really have it together.  What a location and what at nice setup at the brewpub.

Umm, yeah, that all seems perfect beyond belief.  What's missing?

Ahh, that's it, one of Berlina's fine ales!  (Though Bruno is German-trained, Berlina only makes ales, not lagers.  I imagine this might be because lagers have a much longer turnaround time for a batch of beer, and they require different (and colder) temperature control.)  Here I am having the finished version of the young stout Bruno poured for me from the conditioning tank the day before.

Are you kidding, that's a single serving of club sandwich?  Yes.  Portions are big, and tasty.  I think we have a winner.


If you visit Bariloche, make a bee-line to La Cruz and to Berlina's brewpub.  Also visit Berlina's brewery (weekdays only) and combine it with a half-day trip to Colonia Suisse.  If you're unable to leave downtown Bariloche, the milk stout at Manush or the porter at Konna will do in a pinch.  By all means visit other brewpubs, but perhaps temper you expectations accordingly - the craft beer scene is fairly new here, and many brewers are valiantly struggling to make a go of things, tune their systems and recipes, etc.

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