Barrelling through the years


“It’s a long story”, begins Germán Fritsch, co-owner of Cervecería Granizo, in Valparaiso, Chile. By this I understand that the story of Granizo is also wide and deep. It’s not so much the case that Chile’s craft beer scene doesn’t have long stories – it does – but it is an arm of the global craft beer movement that’s still in its infancy, and fighting, on every front, for the resources that will allow it to grow into itself. When I speak to Germán over video call on a Friday in mid May, he's had a hectic week, and is heading into a busy weekend at Festival Cervezas Experimentales, a beer festival for experimental breweries, where Granizo will be headlining. With craft only really taking root in Chile over the last decade, the now 12-year-old Granizo is a veteran of the industry there. 

“Óscar studied to be an oenologist, and worked in the wine industry for roughly six years,” Germán tells me, starting the story with his co-owner, Óscar Garrido. “He travelled quite a lot during that time, and worked overseas both in New Zealand and in California, but during that time he started hearing about a Chilean craft beer scene. Although it was still in diapers at the time, he liked it, and started drinking craft beers and even helping out with some home brew projects in those two countries. Eventually he moved back to Chile, and had to decide whether he would stick with his very safe job in wine or start brewing beer.” Needless to say, Óscar chose the latter.

Germán’s story is different. He was a craft beer enthusiast from the early 2000’s, but cultivated his interest – even going as far as to import craft beers from the US, UK, Belgium and Sweden – while working in the banking industry. “I knew Óscar because I was one of his main customers,” says Germán. “Of course he was still super small, and just working with this one other guy, but I got to know all of his beers and we really got along. In 2015, I said you know what, I want to quit my banking industry job, let's do this brewery thing together. He remained only focusing on beer production, and I took over the rest of the business.”

Fast forward to buying a new kit, and filling a lot of barrels, and “everything started working for Granizo,” says Germán. “We were still very small and brewing weird stuff using local ingredients, sometimes in 120-year-old barrels from Patagonia, and just doing something endemic, that used Chilean terroir in beer. We started inviting international brewers to Chile, and have done very nice collabs with the likes of 3 Floyds, and Jester King in the US as well as Alvinne and Brasserie Fantôme in Belgium, more recently.

“We started being invited to lots of international festivals, like Mikkeller’s Baghaven Wild Ale Celebration in 2020, then Leuven International Beer Festival in Belgium, that was a year ago in May. So we’ve had lots going on, as well as COVID hitting just as we started exporting our beers to Brazil and Europe. The pandemic changed everything for us.” 

In early 2020, between 70 and 90% of craft beer in Chile was sold in bars and restaurants. When Germán tells me Granizo decided to invest in a canning line, as so many others did, and move 100% of the beer produced into cans, I assumed the implication was that the brewery had shifted its focus to the clean beers in its range. But conformity has never been Granizo’s style, nor is it in the habit of sparing time and expense at the cost of quality. 

 “Sure, it takes us a bit longer to can these beers, and yes, there are additional processes needed”, says Germán, “but it's so much easier for us to only work with cans both logistically, and because of all the usual benefits that come with using cans. We just have to be super sure that the finished beer will be a very stable product. That usually means leaving the beer in barrels for a bit longer, either that or in stainless steel, just so any residual sugars left over are completely metabolised by the yeast.”

As you might have guessed of a brewery specialising in wild and mixed fermentation beers, yeast is a central concern in all things Granizo, and with the brewery’s roots being based in an understanding of wine, it’s no surprise that an interdisciplinary approach to brewing is an area of interest and concern for Granizo.

“Two years ago, we started doing a hybrid of beer and wine,” says Germán. “We know a lot of people are small winemakers in Chile, so we would contact them and while they were harvesting for the new season, we would collect the must of very specific grapes, and basically blend that with already-fermented mixed culture beers from us, then re-ferment, or co-ferment the wine must with, say, a barrel aged sour beer, before letting it sit additionally for X amount of months. It's a very interesting process, and we've done six of those hybrids of wine and beer so far.” 

At the mention of wine and beer hybrids, I immediately think of phantasm – an extract made from Sauvignon Blanc grape skin that contains thiol precursors, or substances that contain thiols (aromatic compounds) which can be released through enzyme action, to produce amazing, punchy, tropical aromas. I ask Germán if he has much experience using it, to which he replies, “not directly, but we do more or less what phantasm does, and I have the best example to give you. We’re actually releasing a collab with another Chilean brewery today. 

“For this we did a quadruple IPA, 13% with a bomb of hops; it’s the biggest IPA we’ve ever done. Because we wanted to release as many thiols as possible – which is more or less what you get with the phantasm powder – co-fermented the beer with kveik and a wine yeast usually used for white wines, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and which are known to capture and release thiols. So it's similar to what you would get with the phantasm power, but in this case, you get the bio transformation from the ingredients themselves.”

We’re both giddy with excitement at the thought of what flavour and aroma it’s possible to achieve with natural, native ingredients, and known practices. Yet I find myself gripped in a painful frustration that, in a country where wine can be so widely consumed and celebrated, an adjacent, almost overlapping, industry cannot be similarly appreciated. I recognise a similar frustration in Germán, though his is closer to anguish. He tells me that Óscar has just left the brewery to start up a new project in the US.

“We've done so many experimental collabs both abroad and in Chile, but the problem is the local beer scene in Chile is very slow in moving and adopting new styles. Today, real craft beer takes up just about 1% of the market share, with multinationals controlling the beer industry. Óscar and I always asked each other, you know, ‘how long will we have to wait before everybody understands our beers locally? Do we want to wait another five years, just to have this grow, and so people can understand?’. So yeah, he just left a month again, and it’s strange, strange times now, but I really believe that in life, you have to pursue whatever moves you.”

Germán is confident Óscar will be thriving in his new role, the pair are still good friends, and the rest of the team remain steadfast in their efforts to teach, or ‘evangelise’ as Germán calls it, drinkers about the possibilities of beer. “All we need is for people to be open minded,” says Germán “and what we’re finding really helps is if they at least have some curiosity towards eating, if that's the case, you get them right away. I mean, you get one of our beers and straight away you have some sweetness, then also something sour, then bitterness. You can even find saltiness, umami, and from there pretty quickly you have this kaleidoscope of options for pairing with food, and Chile’s approach to food is changing”.

In addition to the stability of Chile’s economy attracting migrants from all over Latin America that bring with them new cuisines and techniques, the country is also slowly but surely tuning into a treasure trove of striking, complex, and native ingredients that occur naturally throughout Chile. “Chile is not only like a very long country – going from the Atacama Desert, in the North, to Patagonia and the Antarctic in the South – but you also have sea to one side of the entire country, and on the other side, you have the Andes. This landscape means you have so many endemic ingredients in Chile that you don't find anywhere else. So if you now want to experiment, as we do in Granizo, of course, grab this weird ingredient and experiment with beer.”

We land, once again giddy at the talk of barrel ageing rosemary and a mushroom that grows under pine trees off the Chilean coast. “You know”, Germán begins, “I don’t usually get to tell Granizo’s whole story like this. In the day-to-day you get squeezed by problems, and have to be the firefighter, but when you put all the stories together, it’s easier to acknowledge that ‘hey, we've done so many things here,’ and I’m proud of us”. 

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