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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Melipeuco, Chile: Becoming a Master Brewer in the Mapuche Countryside

After getting off my first South American overnight bus ride I was in the town of Temuco. The buses in Chile are so much more comfortable than France and Spain while also being ridiculously cheap. I watched a movie in English and received a snack pack for breakfast. Although, there were no WiFi or power points... I slept without problem.

I was only in Temuco for just over an hour before jumping on another bus to the very small town of Melipeuco, about 1,000km south of Santiago and 40km west of Argentina. The heart of Mepuche land. My host, Christián, picked me up in his car and also had a French girl with him that was also Couchsurfing at his place. We arrived at his very rural place 15km outside of Melipeuco, the nearest town.

The House






Christián's father greeted us with lunch, a real homemade lamb cazuela. His father didn't speak English and Chileans are the Irish/Scottish of the Spanish speaking world, other Spanish speakers don't even understand them. So conversation was very limited with my level of Spanish but words aren't always necessary.

The rest of the afternoon involved visiting neighbours, by car, and receiving vegetables for dinner that we picked ourselves from their veggie gardens. This was followed by the 3 of us going for an afternoon run through the countryside. After dinner the Frenchie was off to Santiago.

Christián normally works in a university lab in Temuco, however, when he is on the farm he brews craft beer to sell. On the morning of my second day I was helping him bottle a batch that was ready and squirting 6.25 mls of sugar water into each bottle first, this gives it the bubbles after the sugar reacts with the yeast in the brew.





After bottling 120 beers it was time for Christián to show me the local area. The most famous landmark being Volcán LLaima, the most active volcano in Chile based on number of eruptions in the last century. Volcán LLaima stands at 3000m above sea level. We also visited a cool non touristy waterfall and ate some bush food.

Part of the lava field with the peak of the volcano behind the mountain in the background.

The lava field

Volcano LLaima
Volcán LLaima



Christián leading the way

The berries were lunch!

That night we grounded malt by hand for a new batch to be brewed the next day then we sat around drinking "mate" (pronounced mah-teh, a tea found throughout Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Chile). It's something I first tried in Madrid with 2 girls from Argentina. Mate is drunk a special and social way but I will save the details for when I write about Argentina. While drinking mate we attached labels to all the bottles.

The next morning it was time for boiling and washing the malt, an 8 hour process. I spent a lot of the waiting time exploring the nearby nature. We also went for a quick trip to Melipeuco. In the supermarkets in this town the shop assistent walks around with the customer and grabs everything that is asked for and calculates the total before going to the front counter to pay. Upon paying fresh homemade sweets are received.... customer service! But it would be very difficult without knowing Spanish.

Boiling the malt and water to wash the malt

Melipeuco with Volcán LLaima
With lunch I tried Chicha, a Chilean cider. Here you take the apples to a place and return a week later to collect your chicha. It is a very strong apple cider.

That night, after putting the brew in a vat, Cristián and I were on a 3 hour bus ride back to Temuco to his mother's place. His mum was very welcoming and provided me with another Chilean speciality, Humita, mashed corn that is cooked wrapped in its leaves.

Humita


The next morning I was off to Pucón.

The beer, Trakura, is a craft beer made predominantly with pilsner malt and some caremel malt. It was really good!

Lessons Learnt:
Chilean families are extremely friendly and make sure you are fed.
I love the countryside.
Becoming a master brewer.
Cazuela, Humita, Chicha and Terremoto (a cocktail, translates to Earthquake) are four amazing traditional Chilean things.
Craft beer tastes awesome but it's a lot of work.


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