The Beers of Uruguay

Posted on January 25, 2009


Those of you out there who know me well know that I am very interested in beer as a hobby. Interested in the sense that I like to try different varieties and brands, not in the sense that I like to see how many I can drink in one sitting (getting drunk has never been a fun experience for me). I brew beer and enjoy contrasting the many styles. I am continually amazed by the endless varieties and tastes available.

When I found out I would be spending time in Uruguay, one of the first things I did was go online to see what I could find out about the beers available there. As with much about Uruguay, there was almost no information. Once I arrived in country, I found out a few basic things. There are really only four beers brewed in Uruguay, plus a small craft brew that I never got my hands on called Mastra. I also tried a few other varieties in my travels around which I will feature here, in addition to some other favorites that come from other places. This entry is meant to be a travel guide to the beers that I enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) during my three month tour of duty. All of the beers except the Astral are a Pilsner style. The craft brewing revolution which has swept the US full of great, experimental brews has yet to reach Uruguay. The average small bar in the US has more variety and styles than the whole country of Uruguay. Do I sense a business opportunity….
Zillertau – Uruguay
This is my favorite Uruguayan beer, a tasty light beer in the Dortmunder style. It was available nearly everywhere and was the most expensive Uruguayan brew. The cost is about $4 for a one liter bottle. This is the only beer from my entire trip that I will miss.

Patricia – Uruguay
This beer is a good second choice, a reliable drinker for when you just want to sit out of the sun and enjoy the stray dogs wandering the local plaza. Patricia is has a nice, gentle tangy flavor that stands up well to any matter of food. The cost is about $3.75 for a one liter bottle.
Pilsen – Uruguay
Pilsen was everywhere in Uruguay. Every little bodega and cafe had a few bottles stashed around. The cost was always right around $3.50 for a liter. Unfortunately, this beer is just not all that good. It will do in an emergency, but otherwise I would gladly hand over the extra $.25 for a Zillertau or Patricia. Pilsen is a light beer with nothing distinctive or special about it, similar to a Coors. Pilsen also makes an amber and a stout, neither of which are all that good.

Nortena – Uruguay
Terrible, terrible, terrible. Serves me right for thinking I could get a decent liter of beer for under $3! This is one of the worst beers I have ever had. Uruguayans do not drink this beer and neither should I.

Brahma – Brazil
This is an ok beer but there is nothing really distinctive or special about it. Pass.

Escudo – Chile
This beer is more my style. It is a light tan beer, but there is a bit more taste to it. I found it in a hotel mini-bar at a price under $1 for a can. I sipped this beer while relaxing after a couple hours on the beach in the hot Chilean sun.

Austral – Chile
The only lager of the group. I enjoyed this beer during one of the few mexican meals of my trip. I flew down to Uruguay expecting to eat lots of beans and rice, and found that Uruguayans are so fixated on beef that Mexican food never stood a chance and didn’t migrate so far south. Austral is a smaller brewer and the beer is high quality with a crisp, clear taste. You can really taste the carmelized malts used in the brew.

Cristal – Chile
Not too memorable nor very good. Again, pass. In the picture I am badly sunburnt and tired from driving many miles, not drunk as I might appear.
Quilmes – Argentina
A Buenos Aires favorite, this beer is everywhere. It is a decent beer, nothing too special but nothing I would turn away either. It has more of a bitter bite than most of the beers I tried in South America, which lean towards sweet.

Heineken – Argentina (Holland)
The iconic beer from Holland, available in some of the more upscale restaurants in Montevideo. In the US, Heineken is a stand-by beer for me when there is nothing more interesting on the menu. I am still upset that the Heineken brewery tour was closed for renovation when I was in Amsterdam last summer. The Argentinian variety is true to the original.

Stella Artois – Argentina (Belgium)

A great beer that is widely available in Uruguay and Argentina. It was the most expensive beer that I drank, coming in at around $5 per liter. This beer tastes just like the Stella you can buy in the US and Europe.
Posted in: Uruguay