There's Eight Common Beers in Costa Rica. Which ONE Is BEST??

Dec 29, 2005

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The Bottom Line Imperial, Pilsen, Bavaria, Rock've got choices in Costa Rica...what'll it be for you????

Greetings from Costa Rica! I'm spending my Christmas holidays in the land where "Pura Vida" is more than just a factoid of this part of the world, it's also an attitude and a philosophy that has plenty of room for folks to relax, unwind, and just generally chill out with a cool cerveza in hand, and plenty more where that came from.

If you visit Costa Rica (and I highly recommend that you do --- it's stunningly beautiful), you might want to know which cool cervezas are worth ordering and which are best left in the fridge for some poor, unsuspecting sap with no tastebuds. That's where I can help...

About Beer in Costa Rica...
In most Latin American countries, domestic beers are just about all you'll find. Imports are rare, are often overpriced when you can find them, and likely as not, arrive in poor condition anyway. Domestic Latin American beers, on the whole, are rarely very exciting or innovative, but I've almost always been able to find that there are some that rise above the teeming legions of uninspired, adjunct-laden, pale American-style industrial lagers, which are even more prevalent in Latin America than they are in the U.S.

At least the weather is always sunny and warm, so light lagers go down easy when chilled bien fria...

In Costa Rica, there is exactly one major brewery. It goes by the name Cerveceria de Costa Rica, at least if you believe the labels, but in fact, it's owned by a conglomerate called the Florida Ice and Farm Company. Florida Ice & Farm has been into brewing for a long time --- ever since they bought the Traube brewery in 1912.

There used to be another brewery called the Cerveceria Ortega, but it got snapped up by Florida in 1957. Since then, it's been a one brewery country, especially when Florida built a big, modern, gleaming stainless steel brewery in Heredia in the late 1960s.

Enough with the business history though, let's talk bottles and pints...

Tasting Today's Costa Rican Beers...
One brewery. Eight beers. Here's how they taste, smell, and look...

Costa Rica's most popular brand, it seems like you can't move 10 feet without spying the very Russian looking eagle-emblazoned logo of Imperial. The beer itself is a straightforward American-style pilsner. Light bodied with a somewhat sweet malt and corn base, a crisp dry mouthfeel, and just a light pepper kiss of hops in the finish. I'd rate it as a 2-1/2 to 3 star average beer. It won't offend Bud drinkers who are unaccustomed to flavor.

The second-most popular brand in Costa Rica, Pilsen is also available just about everywhere. It's somewhat lighter in body and color than Imperial, and the flavor is thinner with more corn apparent and virtually no hops character beyond that needed for balance. It's similar to U.S. brands like Keystone or Milwaukee's Best. I'd rate it as 1-1/2 to 2 stars, below average.

Bavaria Gold:
The Bavaria product line seems to be the upscale image section of Cerveceria de Costa Rica's product line. They're better marketed and more attractively packaged, with foil labels and neck wrapping, and there are three styles under the Bavaria banner. Bavaria Gold claims to be a Dortmunder style lager, and it is noticeably better in quality than either Imperial or Pilsen, with a firmer body, a cleaner flavor with less corn and sulfides apparent in the flavor, and a drier mouthfeel with a bit of grassy hops noticeable in the finish. I'd rank the Bavaria Gold as about a 3-star mid-range performer, but definitely the best of the pale lagers.

Bavaria Dark:
The label says "dark beer", but most of the bartenders and waiters refer to this one as "Bavaria Negra". It's a very nice, well-crafted Vienna style dark amber. It reminds me of a cross between Mexico's two big Vienna beers: Negra Modelo and Dos XX. Lighter in color and somewhat drier than Negra Modelo, it's also darker in color and maltier than Dos XX. It has a very well rounded mouthfeel with some soft malt sweetness and low hopping rates that let the malt really dominate the balance. The flavor and aroma are very clean, with no defects and with no adjunct signatures. I rank this well-crafted beer as a solid 4-star above-average beer that will find a place at the table of most discriminating drinkers.

Bavaria Light:
Typical thin, watery low-cal and low-alcohol beer with a harsh bitter bite and no body to back it up. It's as good as light beers sold by major U.S. breweries. 1-star swill.

Rock Ice:
Typical thin, watery, unbalanced "ice" beer that strikes me as badly conditioned and somewhat oily feeling on the palate. An offensive substance that cries out for substance. 1-star only because Eeps doesn't allow 0 star ratings.

A no-alcohol fake beer. Didn't actually try it because I'd have had to pay for it, and that offends my principles. 0 stars, whether Eeps allows 'em or no...

Holland's most famous export, the Heineken label sprouts up all over Costa Rica. It's not imported though, it's brewed locally by Cerveceria de Costa Rica under license. I tried one and I really can't tell a difference between the Costa Rican version and the Heineken that's ubiquitous in every other corner of the globe. A decent mainstream Dutch pilsner with a fairly firm pale malt body and a distinctive hops aroma and flavor. Fortunately though, the Heinken you get in Costa Rica almost never nails your nose with the skunky mercaptan scent that you get from bottles sold in other countries....but that's because it almost always comes in cans in Costa Rica. 3 stars, a solidly average beer.

I mentioned that imports are sometimes available, but they're by far the exception. I do want to mention one very startling experience with imported beer in Costa Rica. I had dinner one evening about 2 weeks ago in downtown San Jose....a place called El Balcon de Europa (just a block off Avenida Central --- I'm pretty sure it was on Calle 9). The restaurant is eclectic and reminds me of cool, funky, authentic ethnic places in U.S. east coast cities. The food is excellent, but the beer shocks me. Not only do have they the usual Costa Rican suspects, but somebody who KNOWS beer evidently picked their imports because the worst they had was Hoegaarden, and the pleasure of being able to enjoy a black forest cake and a strong cup of coffee with a bottle of Belle-Vue Lambic Kriek was simply an obscene gesture of gentility and grace in a country where such things are unheard of.

Another Round?
Well, there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know about beer in Costa Rica. So next time you find yourself sitting in the bar at some jungle lodge in the Monteverde rainforest, or quaffing cool brewskis under the palms of a beach bum bar in Tamarindo, you'll know what the BEST beer in Costa Rica really is: it's Bavaria Negra.

And now, I'm making myself thirsty, so if you'll excuse me, I think it's high time to order another cool brewski for myself!

Closely Related Reading...
Want to know more about drinking beer in other Latin American countries? Here ya go...

* Beer in Brazil
* Beer in Ecuador
* Beer in Panama: Part 1
* Beer in Panama: Part 2
* Beer in Peru
* Beer in Mexico

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