On the surface there was potential. In this small country of 4 million, they have 45 breweries – a number not that far behind Alberta. However, 90% of those breweries have opened in the past two years, suggesting this is a very, very young craft beer scene.
Until 2010 the beer scene was controlled (as it still is today) by one brewery – Florida Bebidas. It is locally owned, and it produces a range of pale lagers and other commercial beer, including the best-selling Imperial, Pilsen and Bavaria (all coming in a range of strengths and colours). I will give the beer this – it is relatively cheap, plentiful and not undrinkable on the hot beach during mid-day.
But craft beer it is not.
The country’s most known craft brewery is Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co., which has been around since 2010 and offers a decent blonde ale and a surprisingly impressive red ale, called Segua. All the others are minnows and finding them takes luck and perseverance.
During our stay I found a random bottle or two in a grocery store or specialty pub. But on our last night in the country I made a point of heading to one of the country’s only craft beer bars. Located in the university district of the capital city, San Jose, Casa Brew Garden reminded me of home. Dark with a low key ambience, the place is all about the beer. A chalk board offers up 32 different beer on tap, every single one made in Costa Rica and not a one brewed by Florida Bebidas.
Now this is my kind of beer place!
Being a newbie to Costa Rica, I mostly had to select beer at random. My main strategy was to not have two beer from the same brewery. They had sample-sized offerings, meaning I tried eight different beer/mead (because one brewery seems to specialize in braggots and meads).
I will admit the beer were hit and miss. I tried a stout that was far too light (I could see through it) and had an off-putting metallic taste. A couple of the IPAs had figured out the hops but needed work on the malt base. But there were also some winners. The Black IPA from La Arboleda Cervecería Artesanal was balanced and flavourful. Cerveceria Gracia offered up an interesting West Coast IPA, with big tropical fruit notes. Cerveceria Calle Cimarrona has a fascinating Hefeweizen called M.L.N.C.H.
But in a way the specific beer didn’t matter. The experience was about learning about a burgeoning beer scene and what brewers do in that environment. CASA Brew Garden meets its goal of creating a place to gather to drink craft beer. It is both inviting and celebratory. The regulars seemed to feel free to do what they desired and appreciated an oasis of good beer. I know I recognized how important this space was for craft beer in a burgeoning craft beer market.
I have no doubt the regular patrons of that bar are in for an adventurous few years of witnessing a maturing craft beer industry.
I hope to be back soon to see what they have accomplished.