La Guía de Cerveza Sudamericana
South America as a whole produces more - and better - wine than they do beer. Let's not discuss cocktail variety, because none exists outside of Peru or Buenos Aires. Argentine and Chilean wine are among the best and most widely distributed in the world, but their beer doesn't register abroad. That doesn't surprise me because South American beer can be summed up in two styles: a light, gutless lager and a malty, at times syrupy, dark lager. During our 2014 trip to Chile and the two months we spent on-continent in 2015, I endeavored to discover craft beers while sampling all the generic brands in hopes of discerning which were worth drinking.
In order to save you some time and coin, I hope you find my South American Beer Guide below helpful.
Cusqueña - This is the big dog of Peruvian beers for good reason. The golden, sweet cerveza is refreshing and full-bodied. It's from the city of Cusco (although I'm pretty sure it's brewed in Lima) and features Machu Picchu on the label. How much more Peruvian can you get?
Arequipeña - In the tradition of naming beers after the city of origin, obviously this is the main beer from Arequipa. The beer is drinkable but lighter in body and flavor. It's pretty typical of your average South American beer and doesn't really stand out.
New World Brewing Cabo Blanco - We visited Chacqao in Arequipa, a cafe specializing in homemade dark chocolate and serving a collection of Peru's emerging craft brews. New World is a product of Lima, but I found it to be the best true craft beer in South America. At Chacqao, we tried the Cabo Blanco whitbier, which was an excellent representation of the style. If you like Hoegaarden or Harpoon UFO, New World nails it in this similar unfiltered wheat beer.
Sierra Andina Shaman IPA - Sierra Andina hails from the mountainous city of Huaraz. They offer a full range of styles, but I wanted to try their IPA. It was decent, but the hops were strong and unbalanced, making this taste more like a homebrew than a professional product.
Austral - The best cerveza artisanal in South America comes from Patagonia and the Lakes Region of Chile, hands down. Many Germans emigrated to cities like Punta Arenas, Puerto Varas, and Valdivia and brought with them a taste for quality brews. This brewery hails from Punta Arenas, deep in Patagonia. They produce a wide lineup of of beers, but their lager and pale ales are easily found and pleasantly drinkable.
Kunstmann Gran Torobayo - Gran Torobayo is my favorite beer from the South American continent. Its style is a doppelbock, and an awesome one at that. High in alcohol content and heavy on flavor, this beer is refreshing and impressive. I drank it at restaurants in Chile and Argentina every time I got the chance, although it's not as easy to find in Argentina. Kunstmann is based in the Pacific coast town of Valdivia. They make the best lineup of beers in South America and anything of theirs you come across is worth trying.
Lipeña Quinoa Beer - I had to try a quinoa beer after seeing a few types in Peru and Bolivia. This one I found at the odd "salt hotel" we stayed at in the Salt Flats region. It was DEFINITELY unfiltered, with chunks of quinoa malt extract saturated at the bottom. It's really unique and worth a taste for the experience, but I wouldn't make the switch from wheat-based beers. It is similar in body to a wheat beer, but with much less sweetness.
Huari - A pretty run of the mill light lager, but I really enjoyed it with salteñas - the best food item we've encountered on the whole trip.
Paceña - This is the national brew of Bolivia. It's a decent but unremarkable light lager. The state-owned brewery produces this beer, Huari, and a handful of others. I don't think craft brews exist in this highly socialist structure.
Salta - Like the rest of South America, Argentine breweries typically offer a light and dark lager. They are two styles interestingly at opposite ends of the spectrum. The lights totally lack character, and the darks have a super-sweet, malty body like a brown ale. Salta beer (again, as the name implies, brewed in Salta) dominates the northern part of Argentina. Salta light lager is remarkably unimpressive. It reminded me of Natty Light... enough said. Salta Negra was actually very drinkable. It's sweet but not syrupy. It was probably my favorite dark beer alongside Quilmes Negra.
La Burra - La Burra is a craft brewery from Buenos Aires, and they offer a full range of wheat, IPA, dark and light lager beers. Since craft brewers are so scarce in South America, I bought a couple of La Burra's offerings: the wheat beer and their heavy (8%!) negra lager. Both were unimpressive. In each, the hops dominated the taste of two styles that otherwise shouldn't be hoppy.
Quilmes - Quilmes is the Budweiser of Argentina (and fittingly happens to be owned by A-B InBev). It is distributed nationwide, and you can find the brand plastered on everything from billboards to football jerseys. I avoided drinking it for a long time on the assumption that its omnipresence must equal poor quality. I was wrong on that one. For a major brand, Quilmes does the typical light and dark lagers very well. I enjoyed both and drank them regularly once I acquiesced to trying them.
Patagonia - The naming rule doesn't apply to this beer line, as it hails from Buenos Aires and is brewed by Quilmes. However, I found this to be one of the best beers of South America. It doesn't fit my definition of a craft breweries since they are a widespread producer, but their quality says otherwise. It is very pricey compared to other Argentine beers, probably three times more than Salta or Quilmes. A liter will cost around $7.50 in a grocery store, while the others run around $2.50. That's not expensive compared to quality U.S. beer, but doesn't necessarily fit as a travel budget-friendly daily drinker. I really enjoyed their Bohemian Pilsner and Wheat Beer.
Andes - Andes is the prevalent light lager of western Argentina around the Mendoza region. It is drinkable and refreshing when ice cold, but unremarkable other than that.
Isenbeck - This is yet another unremarkable brand in a sea of light lager. Not bad. Certainly better than Salta, but skip it if the establishment carries Quilmes.
Barba Roja - Simply awful. This is another Buenos Aires-based craft brewer. Their offering is pretty wide, so at a cafe in Salta I picked out a Double Bock that said "award winner" on it. It didn't specify the award, so I'll give it my own accolades for "Most Disappointing Beer of the Continent". I expect a double bock to be malty and strong. This exhibited neither. Just a healthy dose of bland hops.
Pilsen - Like everything in Montevideo, this beer is lackluster. It is a run-of-the-mill light lager, which the generic name signifies. I might have tried one other beer during our two days in Montevideo, but it must've been so unimpressive that I forget the name and failed to take a picture.