One need not make the 30-minute drive south of San José to drink beer from Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co. But for some tourists (you know who you are) there is no substitute for seeing an actual brewery. Plus, the tasting bar usually has an experiment or two on tap that won’t be available elsewhere, besides the mainstays Libertas blonde and Segua red ale.
The brewhouse is a former storage shed surrounded by cow pastures near Cartago, with the sheer Talamanca mountains providing the backdrop. There is a couch, a table, the bar, and various T-shirts and other schwag. No food, but the hungry can head next door to Dimitris for cowboy paintings, greasy bacon cheeseburgers and the neighbor’s bottled beers.
This brewery is the dynamo of Costa Rica’s nascent better-beer scene, educating bars and restaurants while inspiring several young locals to fire up their brew kettles and dream big dreams.
It might never have happened but for some particularly nasty weather.
Brandon Nappy was running a charter fishing outfit near Manuel Antonio National Park when his business sank—literally. Tropical storm Alma struck Central America’s Pacific Coast on May 29, 2008, killing 10 people in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Amid widespread damage it claimed 12 fishing boats near Quepos. Among them was Nappy’s The Precedent.
It would prove to be a fateful twist in the short timeline of Costa Rica’s cerveza artesanal. Nappy said that if his boat hadn’t sunk, he wouldn’t have moved north to the coastal surfing town of Nosara. That’s where he met and befriended local developer and fellow gringo Peter Gilman. The two of them later bought an 11-barrel brewhouse in Cartago, south of San José, from a defunct brewery called K & S that had shuttered in 2009. They also hired brewmaster C.S. Derrick, who previously brewed for Flying Dog and whom Gilman calls their “secret weapon.” In December 2010 they officially launched CRCB.
At last count, Libertas and Segua were available in 63 locations across the country. It sells every drop it makes and has more would-be clients on a waiting list. Twenty-three of the existing accounts are draft-only—a minor sensation in a country where keg beer is inexplicably called cruda, or raw, and often ignored in favor of ice-cold bottles wrapped with napkins to catch the sweat.