Out of town – in Costa Rica

Reviewing beer is like reviewing a movie. While it’s helpful to have context of other pieces of work, it’s even better to consider each brew in a vacuum.

Die Hard is an amazing film, but shouldn’t be put head-to-head with artistic fare like There Will Be Blood. The great myriad of American craft beers shouldn’t be compared straight-up against the offerings of other countries, which are rooted in different cultures and history.

Different contexts call for different thought processes.

These are things I tried to keep in mind during a trip to Costa Rica, where my wife and I spent a week celebrating 10 years of being together. Of course I had to work some native beers into the mix.

While I love enjoying new flavors and styles, Costa Rica offers what you’d expect to find in nearly all countries directly south of the American border – pale lager sometimes flavored with a fruit. For a beer style that’s best served and enjoyed cold, it makes enjoying the beer a little harder in the warm climate.

Now, that doesn’t preclude the beer from being horrible, just different in the context of that country. Let’s hit the jump to discuss Costa Rican beer.

*For a brief, adapted note on the history if beer in Costa Rica, scroll to the bottom. In the meantime, we’ll get to the “good” stuff.

To me, it seemed – perhaps aptly enough – the top beer in terms of market share was Imperial. This beer, like all other native brews, is made by Cerveceria Costa Rica and comes in a few styles. It’s impossible to drive anywhere and not see signs for Imperial beers outside every bar, restaurant or convenience store.

Imperial Silver
To put it plainly, this is the Costa Rican Bud Light Platinum. It’s a straight-forward pale lager accented by a clean aroma of earthy hops. What puts it into Platinum territory is the unnecessary sweetness coming from a combination of the beer’s malts. While Platinum has a fruity, pineapple-like flavor, Imperial Silver eschews the fruit and goes straight for the sweetness.

 

Imperial
The original Imperial brew is like Imperial Silver, only less sweet. For this, I liked it more since it offered something of a balance of flavors. The aroma was the same.

In both cases, the Imperial beers were fine and easy to drink. Despite the slight change in profiles, both were 4.6 percent ABV, which is good for the tropical climate.

 

Pilsen
This beer tastes like Coors Light. If you need a refresher on how that one goes, here you go. Pilsen was easily my least favorite beer and appeared to be the cheapest option readily available.

 

Rock Ice
This is one of the higher ABV offerings in Costa Rica, checking in at 5.2 percent ABV. There’s no true aroma other than a light maltiness, but the taste was very clean with great carbonation that cleanses the palate. The flavor of the beer featured a hint of citrus from the hops, which was the most hoppiness I found in any beer. Rock Ice was super easy to drink and for that, was probably the best regular beer option I had. The downside was that after 10 minutes of drinking it, the malt flavor really goes nuts in a lousy, American lager kind of way, ruining my taste buds.

There was another version of this beer with lime which blows Bud Light Lime out of the water, if only because the like flavor tastes natural and not artificial.

*Brief Costa Rican beer note: As much as we lament the current state of affairs in the U.S. regarding AB InBev’s continued attempts to take over craft beer, at least we’re not Costa Rica, where there is one company to rule them all. Florida Ice and Farm Co. produces beer through their arm of Cerveceria Costa Rica, making four of the top sellers, all of which are featured above. In all, the company monopoly makes eight beers and is the only national brewery, having bought out the only competition – Cerveceria Ortega – in 1957. There’s a great rundown you can read here if you’re interested in learning more, but what I took away from this trip was that competition certainly breeds innovation and that’s what we see here in America, for good or for bad. With one company running the show in Costa Rica, it gets to dictate who is drinking what and with so much success because of the virtual monopoly on national beers, there’s no reason to branch out.

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6 thoughts on “Out of town – in Costa Rica

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  2. Fair reviews of typical Costa Rican beers. Another local brew you should have tried is Bavaria Dark, which has a big more smoky flavor than the standard pale lagers. And it might surprise you to learn there is a craft beer scene in Costa Rica, though very small. The Costa Rican Brewing Company in Cartago (east of San Jose) puts out Segua Red Ale and Liberas Golden Ale. Distribution is very limited though to a few stores and restaurants scattered through the country. The Volcano Brewing Company Witch’s Rock Pale Ale and Gato Malo Dark Ale are available only in Arenal, at the hotel/restaurants that houses their tanks in the basement. And at WItch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo. None of these beers give American craft beers any competition. But when that’s all you’ve got…

    • Thanks so much for pointing these out – I admit that my selection was based on what I could get nearby at stores or restaurants. My wife and I were staying outside of Grecia, which didn’t seem to offer much variety outside what I found. I wish I had done a little more research to find out wbout the CR Brewing Company and tried to track them down (to the chagrin of The Missus, I’m sure).

      … and like I mentioned, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the offerings Costa Rica has or will have. It’s all so very culture-dependent. On our trip I had a lot of fun learning about Costa Rican coffee and how the levels of roasting that take place for the beans are directly tied to the culture of not wanting anything too overly dark. A Spanish tourist was disappointed by this news!

      Cheers!

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