Microbrew Uprising—Beer Is A Growth Industry In This Central American Haven
I just got back from a trip to my home in Michigan, where I spent 11 days packing up my girlfriend and my dogs for the full-time move to southern Costa Rica.
In some of my downtime back home I hit a couple (OK, maybe it was a dozen) of the local microbreweries in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. Grand Rapids has been named Beer City USA the last two years running because of the number and quality of the microbreweries there.
My girlfriend Kristie and I love good beer. Normally in Central America you don’t have a lot of options when it comes to beer. In Belize it is Beliken and Beliken only because the owners have a government-approved monopoly. Same goes for Tona in Nicaragua. Fledgling microbreweries in that country have been shut down at a total loss to the owners to dissuade any new upstarts.
In Costa Rica, the maker of the nation’s number-one beer, Imperial, also makes the country’s second most popular, Pilsen. Between these two brands, the company has a 94% market share. This is largely due to great marketing; Imperial has been branded as “The Beer of Costa Rica,” and Ticos are fiercely loyal when it comes to beer. You can get other beers in Costa Rica thanks to loosening of the duty laws, and I often enjoy a cold Tona much to the chagrin of my Tico neighbors. They would not be caught dead drinking a beer made in Nicaragua. Imperial made a Corona knock-off so the local population could avoid drinking a beer made by their hated soccer rival Mexico.
Still, in some supermarkets in Costa Rica, you can get European beers, including Duvel and Hacker-Pschoor, for example. They are expensive, but you can get them. You can also get Budweiser, Milwaukee’s Best, and Old Milwaukee, believe it or not, at a decent price. Costa Rica also has a couple of other locally made brews. Bohemia is cheap and tastes like it. Bavaria, as the name suggests, was started by a German immigrant; it has a high quality taste and comes in three varieties for the discerning palate. My favorite is Bavaria Dark followed by Gold and then Light.
In the supermercado, a Pilsen or an Imperial will cost you about US$1.25, while a Bavaria will set you back US$1.80. Prices are greater at your local watering hole, usually by a buck.
But how about a good draft beer? That’s the rub. You can find good options in San Jose, but we live about four hours away from the city. You can find a couple of places serving Imperial on draft in the towns of Perez Zeledon and Quepos, but I asked about good draft beer. Imperial isn’t good beer. What is a beer snob to do?
Home brewers and microbrew enthusiasts from North America are trying to create an answer to that question.
The first large microbrewery in this country, Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company (CRCBC), makes a Golden Ale, a Red Ale, and some temporary brews. CRCBC has become big enough to keg and bottle beer and distribute it nationwide. Their success over the last few years has caused others to jump in, including TreintaYCinco, Fercas Brewhouse, and our personal favorite PerroVida. Perro means dog, all PerroVida’s beers have dog-inspired names. The beer is good, too.
In March 2012, Costa Rica hosted its first MicroBrew Festival. It was small but overwhelmingly attended. Last year’s second-annual event even more so. This year, the MicroBrew Festival has outgrown the original venue and upgraded with many more breweries and even a few meaderies.
We live in Uvita, in this country’s southern Pacific zone, which is home to a good number of expats with adventurous spirits and active lifestyles. We’re all also good beer lovers. In February, Uvita was host to the first Costa Ballena Craft Beer Festival in this part of the country, and it was a blast. Live music and good beer at a great venue overlooking the Pacific and the Whales Tail Park. The folks behind it are already planning for a bigger event next year.
Now a fellow expat who runs a little deli and small bar here in Uvita has started serving Cerveza Artesenal (craft beer) from CRCBC. Sweet. A pint will set you back 2,000 colones, or about US$4, but it is a start.
More Festivas de Cerveza Artesenal are scheduled for Manuel Antonio, Arenal, Limon, and all over the country. The Volcano Brewing Company has built a hotel on the shores of Lake Arenal, and the focus of a stay here is their beer (along with the lake and Arenal Volcano, of course).
Meantime, Kristie and I are planning to start our own home-brewing process here, as we did in Michigan. We’re delighted to be part of the craft beer uprising currently taking place in Costa Rica.