A View From The city: Santiago

07 April, 2016

Cocktail culture in Chile by Chad William Klonsky


Tell us a little about the history of drinking and bar culture in Chile.

In a country where the residents happily refer to themselves as being at “the end of the world”, one can only imagine their sense of humour and how that passes into drinking habits. Only a couple of decades ago Chile adopted an interest in “dining out” and with that came the initial wave of an industry dedicated to service and diversion circling around alcohol.

As reported by the World Health Organisation in its 2014 report, Chileans above the age of 15 consume 9.6 litres of pure alcohol per capita annually, the most in Latin America and more than 3 litres above the world average. Based on that data, one would assume a local cocktail culture would be well developed across the country, but the reality is that when you speak of cocktails in Chile, you are really talking about Santiago.

What are the cocktail trends?

The history of drinking in Santiago primarily finds its roots in bars around live music, but mostly around a table and very seldom, “belly-up” at the bar (a space normally reserved for a quick bite to eat during lunch).

With the popularity and wide consumption of local classics such as the Pisco Sour or Pichuncho – served two ways, one version using pisco and white vermouth and the other using red – it’s almost as if there was never any need to elaborate any further as it was almost always beer and wine that were consumed through the evening.

However, thanks to a handful of gentlemen in the country’s capital, a cocktail revolution has begun and every day it is gaining more momentum.

Who and what are the pioneer bartenders and bars?

One of the first on the scene to start building artisan cocktails was Miguel Gonzalez. He and another Chilean bartender, Ricardo Guerrero, were two of the first with an appreciation for the times lost in cocktail history and a desire to offer bespoke cocktails based on their clients’ varied tastes and preferences.

Besides these two pioneers, the past five years or so have seen a few young Chilean men and women gaining experience and inspiration outside Chile, both in the region in places such as Argentina and Brazil and via travels through North America and Europe.

This newfound local love for the cocktail and a more experienced expatriate community make for an interesting combination and limitless possibilities.

Once the bartending communities in Chile begin to take advantage of all the land has to offer in terms of produce, we may see a large rise in interesting offers such as new concepts, alcohols and infusions, tinctures, syrups and, of course, cocktails.

And the current global trend for pre or Prohibition era cocktails couldn’t have come at a better time for Chile’s cocktail consumers. This concept represents the current state of affairs.

New methods, tools, ideas and creations, spirits and glassware represent a new independence in the local bar scene incredibly reminiscent of the golden age of cocktails, where drinking was entertaining and the bartenders were stars of their neighbourhood.

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