American Breweriana Journal September/October 2020

A Little Journey to South America Revisited

By Rich Wagner

Don’t ask why I collect breweriana from Latin America. Let’s just say it kind of crept up on me. I’ve always wanted to delve into the trade journals to learn more about my labels from south of the border and the following travel-log gave me the perfect vehicle to do just that.

The travel-log appeared in The Western Brewer of February and March 1915 as “A Little Journey to South America” by Charles Spindler. He was Pacific Coast agent for the Wittemann Co., a man well-known to the trade who combined business with pleasure. He sailed out of New Orleans and landed in Panama City where he reported there were two breweries: Panama Brewing & Refrigerating Co., which produced 10,000 barrels of Balboa Beer and the other, a new company with its flagship “La Tropical.” It should be noted that by 1939 there were four breweries and they merged to form Cerveceria Nacional.

He crossed the isthmus by rail then sailed 800 miles to Ecuador with plans to stop in Guayaquil, but due to a yellow fever epidemic there, the ship continued on to Quito, the nation’s capital. He noted there were a few small breweries in the city but business was not flourishing.

On to Payta, the northernmost city and port in Peru and another two stops to transfer cargo (including a load of guano), before arriving at Callao, Peru’s premier port. A seven-mile trolley ride brought him to the capital city of Lima. After a bit of sight seeing and entertainment he retired and somehow managed to sleep through a violent coup. He awoke to streets full of people in their holiday attire so he went out to see what was going on, but the crowd surged, retreating from an onrush of cavalry. Seeking shelter, Spindler ducked through a half open door into a cantina filled with English and Germans eating sandwiches, drinking beer and discussing the revolution. He learned that 60 people had been killed and some petty officers from his ship had been jailed. The British Consul interceded on their behalf and they returned to the ship. Best of all, the cantina was the only place serving beer “drawn from wood” because nearly all Peruvian was bottled.

The principal brewery in Peru is that of the Backus & Johnston Brewery Co., Ltd., at Lima, operated along the lines of a modern German plant. A new brewery is in the course of construction and the plant at Callao (National Brewery) is being enlarged and improved. …There is no special tax on beer or wine …and the cantinas or saloons are not required to pay license. On board the S.S. “Mexico,” to which we returned that evening, the beer was poorly served. Instead of cooling the beer in the bottles it was poured over ice in serving or else cracked ice was added to the glass. I did a little educational work along this line with the waiters and succeeded in having it served properly cooled thereafter. …We passed numerous islands on which countless millions of birds make their homes and which produce an enormous revenue to the Peruvian government through the production of guano, with which lands in all parts of the world are fertilized.”

Photo Caption: Quano Advertisement. Mystic Seaport Museum (Wagner 2017)

The ship sailed to Tambo de Mora and took on 8,000 sacks of cotton seed. He explained that after the seed is crushed and pressed, the solids serve as fuel for boilers and the refined oil is shipped to Europe and used to adulterate olive oil. At Pisco the ship was loaded with wines, brandy and fruit destined for Valparaiso. The next port was Mollendo where tourists take a hundred-mile train ride to an altitude of 8,000 feet to the city of Aerquipa and explore the Inca ruins.

“…There is a small but well-equipped brewery at Arequipa known as Cerveceria Alemana (German brewery), which also has an agency at Cuzco, where there are at present no breweries, several of which were formerly there having shut down. …There is some barley raised in southern Peru, mostly at an altitude of eight to ten thousand feet.”

He noted the brewery had a floor malting system which processed locally sourced barley and had a production of around 6,000 barrels a year.

Spindler continued by train a couple hundred miles inland to Puno, located on Lake Titicaca which is perched 12,000 feet above the sea and well above the timber line. The lake is 165 miles long and about half as wide. A fourteen-hour steamer ride brought him to Guaqui where he got a train to Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz.

Here I found two breweries in operation, both of which produce bottle beer exclusively. The larger one makes about 10,000 barrels of lager beer annually while the smaller one brews a kind of porter. The streets and roads are so steep that all the beer is delivered by mules and donkeys. Sixty-quart bottles are carried on each mule, a box on each side having thirty bottles.”

From La Paz he took the train to Oruro, then a narrow-gage railroad through the desert to Autofogasta in northern Chile. From there he sailed down the coast of Chile to Port Coquimbo. He visited Serena which had a number of wineries and a brewery operated by Germans. He then sailed to Valparaiso and while the city had no breweries, it was well-supplied by large breweries in Santiago, the Chilean capital, and Valdivia. The breweries shipped tanks of Ruh beer (racked after primary fermentation) to the city where it was carbonated and bottled. The lack of oak meant a dearth of cooperage, the only casks were made of a local beech wood known as rauli which was too porous to hold gas. He also visited Cerveceria La Calera near Valparaiso.

He noted that the Chilean government put great effort into fostering viticulture, going so far as setting up schools giving pupils free instruction on wine fermentation and the handling of machinery. The country had 150,000 acres planted in vineyards employing 100,000 hands who produced 50M gallons of wine. He was quick to point out that while the wine was good, the beer was a close second!

There are a number of breweries, of which the largest, in Valdivia, produces about 300,000 barrels of good beer. Besides being good, the beer is cheap, because the production of beer is not burdened with taxes. Barley is not raised extensively in Chile, but is imported from Austria. None but Bohemian hops are used and a good brewing water accounts for the good quality of Chilean beer. There is no tax levied on beer or brewing, though in the larger cities the cantina or saloon pays a small license tax. In spite of cheap and good beer and wine, I saw no intoxicated persons in Chile.”

In Santiago there are two large beer breweries and one small plant making top fermented beer. One of the former, is operated by Andres Ebner and other is a branch of the Linache-Cousino United Breweries.”

He continued on to Valdivia and said that on the island of Tega, just opposite the town, was Chile’s largest brewery, Compania Cerveceria Valdivia which produced nearly 350,000 barrels per year.

A train took Spindler to the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires where he toured Cerveceria Palermo, the Museum of Belle Arts and the Botanical and Zoological Gardens. He noted a high standard of living with wages about twice what they were in Chile. This being offset with corresponding higher prices for goods and services. There were sidewalk cafes where vermouth cocktails appeared to be most popular, with beer, again, being a close second. He went inland to Rosario in the State of Santa Fe and reported, “There are two breweries in Rosario and one in Santa Fe. The latter is the only one outside of the trust agreement and also exclusively producing a light beer of less than 12% Balling.

Photo Caption. Quilmes steins. (Moter Collection)

Twenty miles southwest of Buenos Aires, Spindler described Cerveceria Argentina Quilmes, S.A. With an output of half a million barrels it was Argentina’s and South America’s largest brewery, specializing in extra heavy Bavarian style beer. He also visited the Bieckert Brewery Co., Ltd., an English Company in the suburb of Llavollal, adding that Buenos Aires’ underground railroad would soon be extended there.

From there he sailed to Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, which he described as “cultured” and “the Boston of South America.” He spent half a day exploring the Prado, a park with “original forest.” The capital was home to the country’s only two breweries: Cerveceria Urguaya and Cerveceria Montevideana, where he enjoyed the “Sternewith” or tasting room. Spindler said both had German brewmasters, adding that most of the breweries in South America were owned by German interests.

It was back to Buenos Aires and on to Rio de Janeiro, then capital of Brazil, which he described as “the most beautiful harbor in the world.” Again, taking in the sights, he described the magnificent Botanical Gardens and the Alea des Palmas Royal, or avenue of palms, along which he counted twenty-eight varieties! It was Easter Eve and there was a masked parade celebrating the end of Lent. On Easter Monday, Prince Henry of Prussia arrived and was the guest of the president. Cervejaria Brahma, the city’s largest brewery honored him with a special “Prince Henry Brew.” Spindler remarked, “I learned with satisfaction that the consumption of coffee is declining and the sale of beer increasing in Brazil.”

From Rio, there was a cog-wheel road to Petropolis where he visited the Bohemian Brewing Co. and got to sample beer with the brewmaster in his office. Then on to Sao Paulo, where he visited several coffee plantations and Cervejaria Antartica Paulista, the nation’s largest brewery.

In closing, Spindler opined:

In Brazil, as elsewhere in South America, the brewing business is not hampered by obnoxious laws. Beer and other beverages are consumed at tables, in European fashion, there being very few bars, as we know the word, in use. Prohibition has not even made a start in Pan-America and from present indications never will. Rio de Janiero was the last city in South America I visited as the steamer I boarded there for Europe in April omitted the usual stop at Bahia on account of there being yellow fever in that port.”