Growing up in sub-tropical Brisbane, there wasn’t much opportunity to be exposed to snow, nor to craft beer for that matter. Hot and humid was the usual refrain from the weatherman; bland and weak was all you got from the barman.
So to be standing at a trailhead with the intention of traipsing through snowy Patagonia in search of local craft beers seemed at best, a little odd, at worst ludicrous. The fact that I had convinced my wife Sofi to come along could only strengthen the case for ludicrous.
In my interview with Brewmaster Bruno Ferrari a few weeks earlier, he had casually mentioned that his beers were available on tap at Refugio Frey, a mountain refuge 1700m above sea level. It struck me that this would be the perfect place to try his microbrews and provide you, dear reader, with some amateur tasting notes.
So we set off with backpacks so laden with supplies that upon getting lost our only logical option would be to setup a minimart, charging inflated prices to unsuspecting hikers.
Coming from a country where the seasons are marked by how long it takes for clothes to dry – 20 minutes for 8 months of the year, 40 minutes for the other four – snow and mountains have always fascinated me. While over the years I’ve learnt to snowboard, I still consider myself a mountain novice. This became abundantly obvious a few minutes after lunch.
The going had gotten decidedly tougher. The snow was deeper and as we broached the tree line the direct sunlight had softened it, making it unpredictable to walk on. By the time I came upon a gapping chasm in the path, I’d already fallen a number of times.
I decided that there was nothing for it but to jump the expanse. Not only did I come up with this ridiculous plan all by myself, but in a clear sign that altitude sickness had set in, I announced my intentions to Sofi.
Knowing a good thing when she sees it she got out her camera to capture the moment. In preparation for the jump I started swinging my hands slightly and moving my hips while counting to three in my head. As I came to the count of three and with all my energy flowing downwards, the snow beneath me gave way.
Not ready for the fall, I landed awkwardly, “my guys” getting squashed between the snow and my full body weight (see image left). Between laughing and taking photos Sofi was able to help me out. Dusting the snow from my clothing I realized that my manhood, both figuratively and literally, had taken quite the bruising.
After six and a half hours the apex of Frey’s roof suddenly appeared behind a crest of snow. What a sight. As we ascended, the stone and wood structure slowly revealed itself along with its stunning backdrop of snow-capped spires.
We were greeted by the friendly staff who urged us to just drop our bags in the hall and relax a bit. Not needing to be told twice, we headed back outside to enjoy the afternoon sun and the achingly beautiful surrounds.
Setting up camp on a rock beside the frozen lagoon, I wasted no time in pulling out the two bottled Berlina beers from my bag. I had brought their Munich Ale and Foreign Stout as backup in case the draft beer was no longer available. With the late afternoon sun showing an intensity that belied our location it seemed appropriate to try the Munich first.
The Munich Ale was born out of Bruno Ferrari’s desire to offer patrons a house blonde that wasn’t a pilsner. Brewed from three types of crystal malt, it poured golden brown with a nice fluffy white head. An earthy aroma pointed to the use of German Hallertau hops, while the local Cascade hops provided a slight bitterness to an otherwise light body that finished dry on the palate. Just the thing after a long day of hiking.
As the sun began to retreat so did we, back to the warmth of the mountain refuge. During summer all food, beer and wine is brought to the refuge on horseback. In winter, this task is left to man. As such, only essential items are replenished during the colder months.
So it was with little expectation that I approached the small kitchen to ask if there was any beer left. “Sure!” came the reply. “Which one do you want, the Munich or the Foreign Stout?” I plumped for the Stout to go with my pasta and mushroom sauce.
The stout arrived at the same time as the food. I’d assumed the mushroom sauce would be cream based, so when a tomato based concoction arrived I was a little taken aback. I shouldn’t have worried; it was delicious with a subtle spice kick that you rarely find in Argentinean cuisine.
The stout handled it with aplomb, its espresso flavours combining nicely with the mushrooms while its natural sweetness counteracted the acidity of the tomatoes beautifully. Who am I kidding, I was starving and thirsty and would have found happiness in the sole of my hiking boats and the sweat from my stinking socks.
All said and told I probably didn’t uncover the greatest match to grace the beer and culinary worlds, however I did discover a great place to enjoy the pleasures of local craft beer. The mountain refuge provided it all. A beautiful sunny afternoon to enjoy the very drinkable Munich Ale and a cosy, congenial atmosphere at night where the stout seemed right at home. I couldn’t help but think about All About Beer’s recent article 150 Perfect Places to Have a Beer; they might want to make that 151.
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