What do you get when you cross two young Australian coalmine engineers travelling in South America with a fair whack of pluck, a lot of imagination and big dreams?
Why of course a gin and whiskey distillery disguised as a pea green cottage in a remote corner of southern Chile!
Kiera Shiels and Matt Oberg aren’t your typical distillers. When the mining boom in Australia dried up in 2012 they left their engineering jobs and packed their bags for the typical South American backpacking trip. Having come down the gringo trail and completed the W Trek, they hit the streets of Puerto Natales looking for a well-deserved stiff drink to celebrate. And came up empty handed! And so the seed of a big idea in a small town was sewn.
Fast forward five years to April 7, 2017 and the doors open on Last Hope Distillery, the southern most in the entire world; a title they hold by 0.1 of a degree thanks to their neighbours in the Falkland Islands.
Self taught in the art of distilling Kiera and Matt now produce two gins that they have perfected through plenty of trial and error at the distillery, aka the shed they built at the back of the bar, with the help of volunteers.
Their gins, both of which are sampled upon entry to the bar, have been inspired by the flora of their unique, and sometimes harsh, local landscape. These include maqui berries, lemon verbena, yerba mate and winter’s bark pepper. The difference between their dry gin and their beautiful purple calafate gin is the addition of calafate berries, similar in appearance to a blueberry, but indigenous to the local area and prominent in Patagonian folklore.
In the bar, the young owners have done an incredible job sourcing gins from all over the world, literally – from Iceland to New Zealand and everything in between. They also boast a comprehensive whiskey list and plan to start offering their own variety in the coming years.
The establishment itself is the most unassuming joint you’ll ever see. The tiny pea green townhouse looks more like somewhere you’d take your granny for tea and scones rather than the home of a boutique, cosy gin and whiskey bar.
Now a team of eight staff, new cocktails are created every month and one is showcased weekly, keeping the menu fresh for curious locals and international visitors. At a time where gin is having its heyday in the western world, Chile is so wedded to other types of alcohol - wine, pisco, etc. – that most Chileans haven’t tried it, or even heard of it. So much so, that at the time that Kiera and Matt opened there were only eight other distilleries in a country of more than 18 million people!
With your choice of cocktail you can graze on a menu which includes a cheese platter, local beef jerky and a guanaco (llama’s cousin) sandwich.
Free tours of this fine establishment run every day that the bar is open during high season. That is Wednesday-Sunday at 5.30pm in English and 6.30pm in Spanish. The whole place is unlikely, it’s gorgeous, the owners and staff are full of charisma and they can’t wait to meet you. It’s the perfect way to top off what has undoubtedly been a memorable experience at the bottom of the world.