Alameda Beer Co
Getting down and dirty with a growing industry
Alameda Beer Co
Saturday 01 July 2023
This article is from
Share this article
When I first asked my colleague, Beer52’s head brewer and winemaker, Carlos de la Barra, what I needed to know about Alameda Beer Co, he replied, somewhat enigmatically, that the brewery is a great example of what modern craft can be. What does that even mean? What’s the standard, metric or criteria contributing to a ‘great example’? Classic Carlos. Throughout my conversation with one of Alameda’s founding partners, Ben Wood, I weigh this question against the very unique perspective that evidently informs the brewery. I discovered that while Alameda operates on a hyper-local level, being a brewery that is unequivocally of and for Santiago, it has also consciously embedded itself in the infrastructural fabric of craft beer, by joining forces with an independent distribution company, and a restaurant chain that puts craft front and centre.
Alameda, as it’s now known, started out in a tiny work space located on the fourth floor of a multi-story car park. “It was wild,'' says Ben. “If we wanted to take someone to see the brewery, we had to get in an elevator and people were like, ‘you’re doing what in this parking garage?’. We could literally see people in their apartment while we were mashing in.” Needless to say, the municipality was not impressed, but the people and places that surrounded the brewery are what made Alameda what it is, and even gave it its name.
The ‘Alameda’ is an iconic and idiosyncratic title given by locals to the main artery connecting east and west Santiago. The road obviously has several different names at various different intervals, and though none of these names sound anything like ‘Alameda’, it’s the title by which every local knows this stretch of the city. It is also where the old parking garage was based. Santiago is Ben’s chosen home. He’s a US expat who moved to Chile to be closer to family, but before that, lived and worked in both the US and UK, stacking a total of 15 years in the craft beer industry as an importer, retailer and distributor.
As much as this experience, and international perspective has informed Ben’s work in Alameda, he is also very clearly enamoured with the city he now calls home, and all the idiosyncrasies that come with local living. He revels in telling me about the colloquialisms embedded in the names of various beers in the range; Oscurito refers to the urban shadows in which sordid, spicy activities take place, whether it's some teenagers making out, or someone is taking a long, luscious drag on something that doesn’t smell strictly legal.
Stavapiola is similarly slang based; this Czech-style lager wanted to rip off Staropramen, and from there evolved from colloquialism ‘Estava piola’ meaning, ‘it was cool’, or ‘it was chill’, into the shorter, 'Stavapiola'. Another beer, Cripi (creepy), refers to poor quality weed that you might pick up cheap, or from an unknown dealer; this beer, interestingly, plays with terpenes in celebration of the genus shared by hops and cannabis plants. Alameda has been working with a Spanish company called Cali Terpenes, which cultivates cannabis plants, maps the terpene profiles of various strains, and from there can synthesise individual terpenes using natural ingredients. The result has, needless to say, made for some pretty dank beers.
But before all this fun stuff kicked off, Ben lived in New York for a number of years, and worked for one of the largest craft beer distributors in the country. “My role there was pretty unique,” he tells me. “Most brands reps, if you work for a distributor, might have had 100 brands in a certain territory, say ten blocks, river to river, and in that area you might have 400 accounts. My role was a little bit more specialist in that I had four smaller brands, but was representing them throughout 14 counties of New York State. So I was working with quite a large area, but luckily I came from a distribution background, so I knew I had to get straight into bars, straight into bottle shops.
“When we started importing, my job became more about being a nexus between the brewery and the market, because the brewery didn't know how to distribute, they didn't know how to sell beer properly, how to activate different marketing campaigns, so the role was a real mix.” Ben took all this experience with him when he moved to Chile in 2012, where he started his own import, retail and distribution business, Beervana, in 2013. Craft, in the most general sense of the word, was really only getting started in Chile at that point, so Ben continued working with many of the brands he’d previously distributed for in New York, bringing their beers to Chile, while also importing for new clients.
Distribution that began as a 4:2:2 ratio of American beers, to Chilean beers, to other European imports, soon became a market where quantities of American and Chilean breweries had completely swapped places. Ben could see this all happening, and was positioned, not only to support trends, but maybe even contribute in some way to shaping them. It’s no surprise that a couple of Beervana’s customers reached out to see if Ben would be interested in coming on board with a brewing project. While keeping Beervana’s operations running, Ben has been with the brewery (previously called Yakima, ouch) for six years now, and Alameda (as it’s now known) will be celebrating its fifth birthday this year.
That said, Ben’s involvement didn’t make Alameda’s development easy, or even linear. He tells me something I’ve also heard from the team at Jester, and SpoH, namely that in Chile’s craft beer scene “if you want something to happen, you have to do it. There's no blueprint right now. There's only what you see on the internet, or if you're lucky enough to travel to other places, you can see how they do it there. But no matter what, it’s hands on. There's no jobs in the beer industry here, you kind of have to make one for yourself.”
To stress the extent of what that means; to the best of Ben’s extensive knowledge, there are only a handful of small yeast labs in Chile, and fewer still with financial backing. While there are small hop growers fighting to scale, they’re neither individually nor collectively big enough to negate the requirement of importing hops. Similarly, the lack of maltsters adds to the expense of importing the basic requirements of beer. It seems raw materials fall into the produce category that Chile remains insistent on importing, as opposed to cultivating for itself.
Ben says he’s particularly surprised more maltsters haven’t sprung up, and jokes that maybe he’ll make that his retirement plan. But joking aside, there’s interesting insight to be garnered from this suggestion; namely that there might be an evolution guiding the development of the industry, from importer, to brewery, to maltster or grower. Maybe in the same way that importers of international brands get into brewing because they want a fresher version of the styles they’re importing, brewers will start growing, and roasting because it’s a more sustainable way for them to access the materials they need.
By joining forces with Beervana, and independent restaurant chain El Honesto Mike, under parent company Craft Beer Cartel, Alameda has begun to sprout the lateral roots that will anchor it in a budding Chilean craft beer industry. It strikes me that perhaps what makes the brewery a great example of what modern craft can be, is the extent to which it has integrated, not only into its local community, but the infrastructure that allows craft beer to exist, and flourish.
Share this article