Cerveza Tica goes Artesanal
Craft beer makes strides in Costa Rica
Out of the Woodwork
At least four other small breweries have either opened very recently or are just putting their legal ducks in a row to get started. There are always rumors of more.
One of the most recent arrivals is near Playa Esterillos, along the beaches that run from Jacó south to Manuel Antonio. Cervecería Howler is run by another Boston-area transplant, Jonathan Benson, who also steers the Otter Tale Winery back in Hatfield, MA. It produces a malty amber lager and a ginger beer made with fermented pineapple juice. Among a few other places in that area, Howler is available at Playa Hermosa’s Backyard Hotel (rooms $120 to $200), whose restaurant offers a mix of traditional tico dishes, fish, and American-style bar food. At least one toddler raves about the banana pancakes.
For a combination of rustic charm, remoteness, nature, and surfing it’s hard to beat the Nicoya Peninsula. In Malpaís, Courtney Cargill and Ryan Ackerman work on what they call their “little project,” which is now a 55-gallon nanobrewery called La Perra Hermosa (loose translation, “Beautiful Bitch”). Bureaucracy in Costa Rica can be labyrinthine and occasionally corrupt; Cargill and Ackerman are still working with lawyers to get legal. Meanwhile they make beer for friends and private events. Beer enthusiasts in the area can drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and ideally come by for a sampling. Most frequent recipes include an IPA, a brown, and a blonde that often gets doses of hibiscus, mango, or whatever happens to be falling from the trees. For food and lodging, the Brisas del Mar at the Hotel Buenos Aires (rooms $55 to $70) offers sunset views and takes its beer and wine more seriously than most. Its menu varies daily based on what’s in season and might include crispy pork belly in a blackberry apple compote, with coconut-passion fruit layer cake for dessert.
Another would-be nanobrewer in the Central Valley, Treintaycinco or 35, has shown off some impressive labels for big beers, including an 8 percent IPA, an 8 percent Hefeweizen, and a 7.8 percent porter with cacao and honey. There have been mysterious photos on Facebook but no public appearances yet. Still waiting for permisos.
Finally: If a nanobrewery is not technically legal, and it sells a beer called Clandestina, is that ironic or simply accurate? In fact, César Naranjo’s Cervecería Artesanal de Occidente has ceased public sale of its robust and hoppy brown ale until he completes the local permit process. For a while he accepted orders via a phone number on his Facebook page and delivered the beer himself. It’s a familiar story: Homebrewer’s friends and neighbors rave about the beers, and he decides to go pro. Clandestina began life as an extract-plus-grains beer made to Naranjo’s own recipe; these days he is learning all-grain on the job. Those who want to ask if he has any beer can try him at email@example.com.
Even as Naranjo has been part of the cerveza artesanal wave, he said he has been awed by its momentum. “Two years ago nobody could have imagined the force with which it is happening,” he said.
One could sum up the Costa Rican craft beer scene in a fragment: one or two micros, a brewpub, several nanos in various stages of legality, plus a lot of dreamers waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, beer lovers elsewhere in Central America watch with interest as Costa Rica joins the global craft beer movement, which slowly but surely penetrates rainforest canopies, quasi-monopolies, and far-flung frontiers.
Joe Stange is co-author of the forthcoming Good Beer Guide Belgium, 7th edition (2013), with Tim Webb.