We had heard from everyone that if we were going to visit Argentina, we had to go to Iguazu Falls. The waterfalls are located on the Iguazu River, which acts as the border of Argentina and Brazil. We didn’t know this before arriving, but we found out that Iguazu is the largest waterfalls system in the world! It’s taller than Niagra Falls and wider than Victoria Falls, although since Iguazu is split up into many different waterfalls and islands, Victoria Falls technically has the largest curtain of water in the world… but who cares? Iguazu is awesome!
We flew from Bariloche to avoid 50+ hours on a bus and settled in for three nights on the Argentina side of the falls. We had read it was good to budget at least three days as it will probably rain one of them, which is exactly how it worked for us. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking…
So yeah, the falls are pretty spectacular on the Argentina side. Some people had said we would need two days to see all of it, but we thought one day was good enough. This also perfectly coincided with the weather, as it was pouring rain our second day there. We used this day to plan our time in Brazil and book a flight to Europe! Our time in South America was finally wrapping up.
The third day we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Brazilian side of the falls. We had initially debated whether we should even go to the Brazilian side of the falls since it seemed like the Argentine side already gave us a ton of amazing views. It would save us some money if we skipped it, but our flight to Rio wasn’t until that evening so we decided to go for it.
BEST. DECISION. EVER.
Holy crap! We had read several blogs debating which side of the falls was better when we were trying to decide whether it was worth spending the money on both. Um, hello? You get to walk through a waterfall on the Brazil side and it’s SO FUN!
Although the Brazil side totally had amazing views and the sweet waterfall lookout, it is much smaller than the Argentine side. We only spent a couple of hours there before heading to the airport, where we sampled our first cervejas and pão de queijo (amazing little balls of cheese bread). Off to a great start in Brazil!
After we wrapped up our workaway, we took a series of buses from Coyhaique, Chile back to Argentina and the hippy town of El Bolsón. We had learned about this city from Laura’s dad, who heard that it was full of microbreweries. A perfect transition after leaving our workaway brewery! After trying the beer in El Bolsón, we headed north to Bariloche in the heart of the Lake District.
Upon arriving in El Bolsón, we went to the visitor’s information center to find a cheap hostel. The woman helping us there asked us what brought us to the city: Friends? Trekking? We sheepishly replied, “Cerveza?” She laughed and confirmed there were a lot of breweries in the area. We learned that this region is the largest producer of hops in Argentina, which explained all the hop farms we passed on the bus ride into town. Fresh hops + glacial water = perfect beer? We spent the next couple of days sampling our way around the town to test this theory. It may not have proven to be true, but we enjoyed our time nonetheless!
In contrast to El Bolsón’s laid-back hippy vibe, Bariloche is a bustling tourist destination known for its scenery, hiking, skiing, fishing, and more. The city feels like a Swiss alpine ski town, including many chalet-style buildings and gourmet chocolate shops. It was quaint, charming, and also the home to a few more breweries! We spent much of our time outdoors here enjoying the warm temperatures (50 degrees is the warmest weather we’ve had in over a month!) and the beautiful scenery.
These two cities were our last stops in Patagonia. Overall, this region has been one of the biggest highlights of our trip. We recommend the area to everyone we meet, and we encourage all of you to add it to your places to visit. We would happily tag along on another trip to Patagonia if you want some company!
We recently wrapped up three weeks of volunteering at a small brewery in Patagonia called Cerveza Caiquen. We love traveling, but one thing we have missed is brewing beer so this was the perfect opportunity for us. Since this kind of thing gets us really excited, we wanted to share some of what goes into making beer.
A Quick Overview
The main goal when we brew beer is quality over quantity. To achieve this we need to control things like flavor, color, alcohol, carbonation, etc. This means we will need a well defined process… and SCIENCE!
A quick aside for science: alcohol is created when yeast eats sugars. The easiest way to think about this is when the yeast eats sugar, it farts C02 and poops alcohol. Yup, you drink yeast poop.
Beer has four main ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. All of these contribute to the flavor. The grains contribute to color, mouth feel, and fermentable sugars. Hops add a bitter, zesty, or citric taste, floral aroma, and help with preservation. Yeast consumes the sugar and produces alcohol and, if you are bottling, carbonation. Sometimes you find a beer that tastes odd or bad. If this was unintentional, then we may have a fifth ingredient - bacteria - likely due to cleaning and sanitization issues. Other times it is totally intentional, hence “sour” beers.
To briefly outline the entire beer making process:
Extract sugar and “body” from the grain in warm water.
Alter the flavor profile by adding hops while boiling your sugar water.
Create alcohol by adding yeast and waiting a really long time.
Many of the steps required to make good beer require accurate temperature, timing, measurement, and attention to detail. For this reason, any successful brewday requires preparation.
Mill the grain: As you know, we need to extract sugar from our grains. First we need to mill or crush the grains a bit so hot water can extract as much sugar as possible. Un-milled or under-milled grains won’t release as much sugar, and over-milled grains will end up clogging the system.
Measure the grain: In addition to “cracking” the grain, we need the correct amounts. Too little leads to an uneventful night, and too much means being asked to stop yelling at the ref in Tommy’s little league game. In addition to affecting sugar levels (alcohol), the types and amounts of grain will determine the “body” and color of the final product. To make sure we get it right, we weigh out all grains according to the recipe before brewing.
Prepare hop additions: The timing and amounts of hop additions can change what sort of flavor and aroma they give to the beer. Adding hops early in the boil will impart more bitterness while later in the boil will give more floral aromatic qualities. During brewday we always take a few minutes to prepare hop additions in clearly labeled separate containers according to the time they are added.
Before we jump into brewday specifics, let’s go over common equipment used in the process.
Hot liquor tank: Not nearly as exciting as it sounds. It is just a large vat of hot water, waiting to be used in the rest of the brewing process.
Mash tun: This is where we extract sugars from the grain. We combine the hot water with our crushed grains and let everything soak for about an hour.
Boil kettle: This is where we boil our wort, or sugar water, for about an hour. We will add hops into this vessel.
Fermenter: This is where we let the beer sit for a long time while the yeast does its work.
Hydrometer: This instrument is used to measure the density of a liquid. When we use this with beer or wine, we are trying to measure the amount of dissolved sugar, which will eventually tell us how much alcohol we have.
Chilling equipment: This is used to cool the hot wort so the yeast doesn’t die when we add it. We used a counter flow plate chiller. Basically we hook up a garden hose to the contraption and it transfers heat away from the hot wort and into the colder water.
Ok. Now that you know about the equipment, let’s go through the process.
Heating water: Why have I bothered to mention heating water? It can take a really long time, especially if you have a lot of water to heat. On our 300 liter system it would take around two hours to get it up to temperature with a large propane burner. (Make sure you have good ventilation!)
Mashing: In this step we soak the milled grains in warm water. We like to think of this step as steeping a really large bag of tea because one of our early brewing setups called Brew-In-A-Bag was exactly that. We do this for two main reasons. First, we need to dissolve the sugars into the water so we can remove it from the grains and move it to the next step, and second we need to break down the long, complex sugar chains into smaller molecules so that our yeast will be able to digest it. Temperature and time is important in this step so that we can facilitate breaking down the sugars. Basically, the grain has some natural enzymes that will do this work for us, but they are only active in a specific temperature range. Too cold and nothing will happen while too warm and we end up denaturing the enzymes. If this happens, you will have sweet but low alcohol beer. Often brewers will mash at the correct temperature for a while, and then raise the temp enough to denature the enzymes (called mash out) to lock in the amount of fermentable sugars (alcohol content) and ensure some sweetness is left over.
Vorlauf, lauter and sparge: Fancy German words meaning to recirculate (to set the grain bed), drain, rinse. We do these to get the most fermentable sugar out of our grains and into the wort.
Boiling: We usually boil the wort for an hour and add hops and other additives at specific times. Remember, changing the time of when you add hops can affect how the final beer tastes: early for bitterness, later for aroma.
Cooling the wort: This is where we use our cooling equipment to lower the temperature of the wort so the yeast does not die when we add it.
Pitching yeast and fermentation: Pitching is just a fancy brewer’s term for adding the yeast to the cooled wort in the fermentation vessel. Do you remember why we add yeast? As it turns out, the type of yeast can also have a large impact on the final taste, color, clarity, and alcohol content.
Cleaning is important when brewing beer and not just for the obvious reasons. After we brew the beer, we have to let it sit for a long time. Some beers need to sit for over a year! That is plenty of time for a little unwanted bacteria to multiply and change how your beer tastes. Cleaning is important when making beer for accuracy and consistency.
There are two main phases to the generic term “cleaning.” The first is cleaning, or removing unwanted material like grain, dirt, dust, buildup, etc. This is similar to how we do the dishes with hot water and soap. The second is sanitizing where we try to kill unwanted bacteria, fungus, and yeast. Conveniently, anything that is used in the brewing process before the boil should be cleaned, but does not really need to be sanitized as we will end up boiling the wort for an hour anyway. In contrast, EVERYTHING that is used after the boil should be sanitized before it comes into contact with the wort or you risk infecting the beer. This includes measuring, cooling, and transfer equipment, the fermentor, and the airlock. Down the road, when you are ready to package the beer, you will also need to clean and sanitize all equipment used for kegging and bottling.
There are two main ways to package your beer: bottling and kegging. Kegging is generally easier because you only need to fill one giant container. Bottling (by hand) is a pain, so we have chosen not to do it at home, but it has its advantages, especially when you are trying to sell your beer. Thus, we bottled most of the beer we produced at Caiquen. The process is fairly simple:
Wash, rinse, and sanitize the bottles.
Add priming sugar: We usually add a small amount of corn sugar dissolved in water to the beer, called priming sugar, to wake up the yeast and give them something to eat. The goal is that they produce just enough C02 to carbonate the beer, so when you pop the top you get that pleasing “pssscht” sound. It is possible to add too much, sometimes with dangerous consequences like bottle bombs.
Fill the bottle with beer: Forgetting this step has dire consequences, trust me.
Cap it: Use the fancy capping tool to smash a cap over the top of the bottle.
Slap on a label: People generally like to know what they are drinking so it’s good to include details like type, ABV, expiration date, etc..
Condition: The final step is to put the bottle is a reasonably warm location so the yeast can carbonate the bottle and the beer has a bit more time to mature or condition. Sometimes, especially with Belgian beers, brewers let them sit for years so they can brag about their elite bottle conditioning.
This is undeniably the most important step in the process. Share your favorites with friends! Salud!
Now that you know about the entire process, check out this timelapse video of the very first brewday on a brand new 300 liter system! It took a bit longer than normal as we were still figuring out the system (at we had to replace a blown pump at one point) but you can experience the entire 11 hours in just 43 seconds.
Apart from participating in the beer making process during our three weeks at our workaway, we also had the chance to explore the surrounding Aysén Region. It is one of the least populated regions in Chile, but has beautiful Patagonian scenery popular with tourists in the summer months (November-March). Cerveza Caiquén (our workaway brewery) is located in the region’s capital of Coyhaique. We also visited the tiny towns of Rio Tranquilo and Villa Cerro Castillo on our days off and had side trips to a couple family farms and national parks.
Coyhaique is a popular fly fishing town in summer since it’s located along the Rio Simpson. Since it’s not summer and we forgot our fishing poles, we spent some of our free time tasting the local competition’s beer. First we went to Mamma Gaucha, a pizzeria that has its own Tropera beer on tap. Our favorite there was the Golden, which came in it 9% ABV - surprsing for a style that’s normally much lighter! We also had the chance to stop by the actual brewery at Casa Tropera where we met William, an expat from Denver who’s been working with them for about nine months. It was awesome to get a quick tour from him, plus a few (free!) samples of the beers we weren’t able to try at Mamma Gaucha. Located just a few blocks from our workaway was D’Olbek, a Belgian-style brewery. D’Olbek only produces three beers: a Belgian lager, a pale ale, and fruit beer made with maqui berries, which are native to the Chilean rainforests. Cerveza Hudson, the newest brewery in town, opened a week before we arrived. They only had an amber and a blonde on tap, but they’re in the process of adding a stout to their menu too. Last but definitely not least, we tried Cerveza Arisca, which had a lager, red, and porter on tap. Not only did we get to sample some local flavors, but we met some awesome people along the way - many of whom knew our brewer Mario and shared stories with us.
In contrast to its clean glacial waters that attracts all the breweries, Coyhaique has a huge problem with air pollution. Our first day in the city we noticed a weird haze above all the buildings. It didn’t quite seem like smog, so we asked our host what it was. It turns out Coyhaique is one of the most polluted cities in all of South America! Wood smoke is a large problem in Coyhaique. Heating a home with electricity or natural gas is too expensive due to lack of infrastructure, so every house has a wood stove burning 24 hours a day. Due to the bowl-shaped landscape surrounding the city, the smoke never leaves. We saw a few billboards around the city urging people to only burn dry wood as the cheaper wet wood produces far more smoke. Some people have opted for a modern propane stove, but many use an old school wood fired stove to cook their food. You can even buy a brand new one from the department store!
Speaking of cooking, the three weeks we spent in Coyhaique have been some of the best food of the trip! Our hosts Root and Mario generously provided us with three square meals a day. Breakfast included yogurt, cereal, fresh rolls, cheese, and homemade plum jam. Lunch and dinner was a delicious variety of dishes from around the world thanks to previous workawayers who’ve shared their favorite recipes. Root, our master chef from Thailand, claimed she’s never really cooked before, but there never seemed to be any leftovers… Mario also ensured that we tried a mix of Chilean dishes, ranging from his childhood favorites to traditional farm dinners. The best part is that everything was healthy! We’re pretty sure we ate more vegetables in the three weeks here than we have in the last four months combined. On a slightly related note: while Chileans don’t eat spicy food - like won’t even use black pepper - they LOVE oregano. We found an entire aisle in the grocery store devoted to oregano. Who would have guessed an herb could be that popular?
On our last day in the city we hiked through the Coyhaique National Reserve. It was a great way to spend the day with our hosts and was followed by an amazing lamb asado cooked by Mario!
Villa Cerro Castillo
Villa Cerro Castillo is a town of about 300 people located two hours south of Coyhaique. While we only did a 14 kilometer hike to the laguna at the base of the mountain, we would love to come back for the popular 4-5 day trek through the Cerro Castillo National Reserve. On a sunny day the hike would have provided great views of the mountain (which is on the Cerveza Caiquen label), but of course it was cloudy. At least we got some great panoramas overlooking the valley and town! Plus the cervezas we brought to the top were a delicious reward for trekking uphill for three hours through 4-6 inches of snow - one of the hardest hikes we’ve done yet!
Located just outside the town is a small museum that documents some of the history of the local area. Most of it focuses on the development in the last hundred years or so when pioneers of this region began to populate the area. A small exhibit discusses ancient history - we’re talking around 5,000 years ago - when a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers populated the area. This portion is included because nearby cliffs have manos pintadas (“painted hands”) dating back to that time period. There are both child and adult sized hands in both negative (outline of a hand) and positive (full handprint) forms. The meaning behind these paintings is unknown, but the museum speculated there might have been multiple uses for these paintings, such as coming of age rituals or marriage rites. Most of the animal fat “paint” that remains is red, although there are a few spots with orange and green.
Located three hours south of Cerro Castillo is the similarly small town of Rio Tranquilo. We spent two of our days off here to visit their marble caves and try out some glacier trekking. You can reach the marble caves by boat or kayak. Kayaking would have been awesome had it been summertime and not 30 degrees and windy, so we opted for the boat. The boat ride was great for this time of year, but we could see how awesome the kayaking would be in the summer as it would allow you to get a bit more inside the caves.
Our workaway host hooked us up with a great tour guide for glacier trekking our second day in town. Thank goodness he set us up; the town was basically devoid of tourists since high season here is only December-February and almost everything was closed. We drove about an hour outside of town into Laguna San Rafael National Park, where we put gaiters over our boots, packed up crampons and boxed lunches, and headed out for the glacier field. The first hour was mostly scrambling over small rocks and boulders before we made it to the ice, where we learned how to put on and use the crampons. Then we spent the next few hours following our guide across the campo hielo (ice field). The coolest part was exploring the small caves and ice formations, many of which only appear in the winter since they’re covered in the summer by rising water levels. Finally - a perk to being there in the off season!
We had the opportunity to visit two family farms located outside of Cerro Castillo. These homes were so remote that you absolutely had to have a 4x4 vehicle to access them. The family at the first farm we visited offered to let us ride their horses around the cattle ranch while Mario visited with the family. We don’t get offers like that everyday so we gladly accepted. The horses were super tame and basically guided us around on their own. Afterward, we were told we needed to pick up a few turkeys from the second family farm we visited. We did not realize that this also meant we were going to learn how to kill, defeather, and clean them. You should have seen Laura’s face! Other (gross) things we learned: chickens will eat blood, and ducks will fight over turkey entrails. Yum. At least now we will appreciate our next Thanksgiving dinner even more!
The way of life is much slower in Patagonian Chile. The people are incredibly welcoming (despite our poor grasp of the language), and everyone seems to know everyone else. We happened to tag along on a few business meetings with Mario where we learned that they generally start with several rounds of mate and small talk. If you happen to show up around lunch or dinner, you will probably be offered a seat at the table. Trying to rush into business and forgoing pleasantries would be considered rude and have a negative impact on any deals you’re trying to negotiate. It’s important to cultivate your relationship with your business partners and focus on more than just the exchange of money. This would be in contrast to northern Chile which has the more fast paced style we are used to: get right to business, if you call during dinner you will be asked to call back, etc.
Overall, we had an amazing time at our workaway in Coyhaique. We’re a bit worried that we had such a good time that future workaways might not live up to our expectations, but we can’t wait to try more. After comparing this workaway to the one we did in Santiago, moving forward we’ll probably try to stick to workaways that offer something that appeals to our interests (like beer) and involve actually living with a family (rather than just in a hostel dorm) so that we can get to know the people and culture at a deeper level.
We recently finished up three weeks working at a brewery and exploring a bit more of Patagonia before heading back north. We had a great time this past month, and we’re (finally) heading to Europe in less than two weeks!! But first - Brazil!