The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the world’s driest non-polar desert, receiving less than 0.004 inches of rain each year. In coastal communities such as Peña Blanca, the main source of fresh water comes in the form of thick cloud banks, known as camanchaca, that roll inland off the Pacific Ocean. Desert dwellers have developed unique methods of capturing this moisture: The llama-like guanaco, for instance, carefully sips the condensation from cactus spines. Chileans, meanwhile, trap water with fog-catching nets.
Set up along hillsides in prime fog areas, the special netting catches condensation. Droplets then drip down the nets into piping that leads to barrels and reservoirs. The project, which began in the 1950s for agricultural purposes, has been a huge success and arguably revolutionized modern desert water collection. It also gave two local brewers an idea.
Using the same principle of fog capture, brothers Miguel and Marco Carcuro started the Atrapaniebla brewery. Atrapaniebla (“fog catcher” in Spanish) currently produces 24,000 liters each year that get distributed around Chile in bottle and on tap. Their methods are good for more than just a nice cold one on a hot day: The beer won the award for “most drinkable” at the 2015 Milan Expo, an international exhibition focused on cutting-edge and sustainable ways to address global issues related to food.
Atrapaniebla currently makes two beers: an amber Scottish ale and a dark brown ale. The Carcuro brothers contend that the water from the camanchaca gives the beers a wholly unique taste, that the freshness and purity of the fog water adds clarity and depth that’s unrivaled by other brews. The taste is crisp and refreshing, and some drinkers have even said they detect the taste of salt.
Even though Chile is internationally known for its wines, German immigrants have made its southern Patagonia region one of the leading craft brewing scenes in South America. Now, thanks to the Carcuro brothers’ ingenuity, northern Chile has also made its mark on the brewing world.
Where to Try It
To set up a visit to the brewery, you must call them. The fog-catchers are 2.5 miles away from the main building, so the brewers say you'll need a car with four-wheel drive if you'd like to see them in action.