I just got back from a trip to my home in Michigan for 11 days to take care of some home affairs and pack up my girlfriend and dogs for the full time move to Southern Costa Rica. Mission accomplished on the business end and the move. In some of my down time I of course HAD to hit a couple (or 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 in a row because of the vast number and high quality of the microbreweries there.
My girlfriend Kristie and I love good beer and the large variety of beers. Normally in Central America you don’t have a lot of options when it comes to beer. In Belize it is Beliken and only Beliken because the owners have a government approved monopoly on all beer. The same goes for Nicaragua with the maker of Tona. Fledgling microbreweries have been allowed to be built there and then shut down at a total loss to the owner to dissuade any new ones. Costa Rica is not much different. The maker of the nation’s number one beer, Imperial, also makes the second most popular, Pilsen. They have a 94% market share of beer sold. This is largely due to great marketing to the local population targeting it as “The Beer of Costa Rica”. Most Costa Ricans (aka Ticos) are fiercely loyal to their beer. Many other beers are available here now due to some loosening duty laws. I will 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 even made a Corona knock off so the local population could avoid drinking a beer made by the hated soccer rival Mexico.
This being said, if you go to the local supermarket you can get many European big name beers like Duvel, Hacker-Pschoor and more. 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 choices for local made breweries. Bohemia is cheap and tastes like it. But Bavaria, as the name suggests, was started by a German immigrant and has a high quality taste and makes three varieties for the palate. My favorite is Bavaria Dark followed by Gold and then Light. You CAN get a good beer made here. A Pilsen or Imperial at the supermercado will cost you about $1.25 each while a Bavaria will set you back $1.80 and the price difference is greater at your local watering hole usually by a buck. The bartender will usually try and pour your beer in a glass with ice on a warm day anyway so you might as well just have the cheaper one. At our favorite little place, Myra knows better than to do that to us.
But how about a good draft beer? Ah, there is the rub. We live 4 hours from San Jose that has lots of options. An hour from a large town like Perez Zeledon or Quepos where you can find a couple places with Imperial on draft. But wait, didn’t you say GOOD beer? Imperial isn’t GOOD beer. Right? Right! Plus, nobody really knows how to maintain a CO2 system and keep it at the right temperature. What is a good beer snob to do?
Thankfully, the home brewers and microbrew enthusiasts from North America have invaded and there is enough of that population in Costa Rica to make it feasible to actually make good beer and make some money at it. The first large microbrewery is Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company (CRCBC). They make an Golden Ale, a Red Ale and have other temporary brews like IPAs. They have become large enough to keg and bottle beer and distribute through the country. Their success over the last few years has caused others to jump in to the fray including TreintaYCinco, Fercas Brewhouse and the wonderfully named and our personal favorite PerroVida. Perro means dog (my girlfriend is a dog lover), all their beers are dog name inspired and PerroVida is a perfect take on the national slogan of Pura Vida! Oh, and the beer is good too.
In March of 2012, Costa Rica had its first MicroBrew Festival. It was small but overwhelmingly attended. Last year was the second and it grew more. This year it has outgrown the venue and upgraded with many more breweries and even a few meaderies popping up. Luckily for us, the Southern Zone is rife with expats with an adventurous spirit and active lifestyle. That equals good beer lovers. In February Uvita held the first Costa Ballena Craft Beer Festival and it was a blast. Live music, good beer (although it ran out) at a great venue overlooking the Pacific and the Whales Tail Park. The folks that set it up are already planning a huge expansion for next year.
The news got even better for us in little Uvita. A fellow expat that runs a very good little deli and small bar in town has elected to expand his business by expanding his bar and… wait for it… serving Cerveza Artesenal (craft beer) from CRCBC. Sweet!! Now a pint will set you back 2000 Colones or $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 even built a hotel on the shores of Lake Arenal looking out over the lake towards Arenal Volcano and the focus of the stay is their beer. Well, and the lake and the volcano and, and, and. There are some definite advantages to a country with a long history and a large population of expats.