Based on the number of signs and advertisements, this is Costa Rica's king of beers. Billboards say that consuming Imperial will cause men to be surrounded by bikini-clad women. But I have to give the country credit on this: their most popular beer isn't a watered-down appeal to the lowest common palate. This is a creamy, robust lager with just a touch of bite (weighing in at 4.6% alcohol). This is the beer you want when you're just going to have a couple of tallboys after work. Or drink it while watching futbol and scarfing chicharron and other hearty bocas with the guys at the bar. The slightly roasty flavor should go well with pork and beef. There's also a light version, but I don't drink light beer if I can help it.
This is number two, based on signage. It's more of a typical "international-style" pilsner. Think of the stuff you get in green bottles. Light, easy to guzzle, with a smidge of hop sharpness and 5.1% alcohol. This is your session beer, your all-day drinker. If Costa Rica had any sort of spicy cuisine, this would be the drink to wash it down. As it is, I've yet to find anything hot here. I'm sure it goes well with rice and beans, though, too. I don't think there's a light variety. There is, however...
It's not just a clever name. This is the same beer, kicked up to 6.0% alcohol and sporting a snazzy red label. You might think it would be harsher, like a malt liquor. But this is no Schlitz. I actually find it to be smoother and a little sweeter than regular Pilsen. I think it's much better than the original. It goes down very easy, and it gets the job done nicely. What job? Well, we don't just drink beer for the taste, now do we? Bonus: it's on sale at Hipermas now.
There must be Germans hiding in Costa Rica. And they're brewing beer. Good beer. Take this classic German lager, for example. It's full of flavor, with a nice balance of malty sweetness and hoppy bite. I'm not sure they're strictly following the Purity Laws, though, as I think I detect a hint of corn. I'll forgive the brewing faux pas, however, because this is still an easy drinker that's a cut above most corn-fed swill. There is a light version that I have yet to sample.
As if the perfect weather and gorgeous beaches weren't enough, here is further proof that Costa Rica is a blessed country: a mass-produced, German-style, dark lager that actually tastes great. This one's a favorite. It boasts "maltas especialas" as an ingredient. You can really taste the especialas-ness! Seriously, for those that think "dark" means "heavy," this beer will change your mind. With a roasty bite and a creamy mouthfeel, it goes down smooth and easy. Not heavy at all, just a nice, rich flavor.
I mentioned malt liquor earlier. This one has all the taste of Olde English; however, weighing in at only 5.2%, it doesn't quite have the kick. Harsh. Bitter. Sure, it's a little cheaper than the rest, but I would encourage anyone to spend the extra 10-20 cents for a superior brew. I believe it's geared toward the youth market. Billboards announce, "Rock Ice is different." True enough. But in a world of good beer, different isn't always better. Costa Rica could've skipped the "ice brewing" trend and been just fine.
If you like a little slice of lime in your beer, but can't be bothered to cut your own fruit, this might be the beer for you. The artificial tart, sour flavor just about covers the taste of standard Rock Ice. Almost. Served very, very cold, it could make a good chaser for a shot of guaro while strolling along the beach. I imagine.
A note on methodology: All beers were purchased in cans, despite the availability of bottles, because bags of glass aren't fun to carry on the bus. Tallboys were purchased when available because they provided a greater sample. This is all in the name of science, you know. For this article, I stuck with the major brands. There are other beers in Costa Rica, of course. I've seen a few Mexican, Argentinian, and German varieties that I never saw in the USA. They're a little more expensive, but perhaps will be reviewed at a later date. The ability to buy singles makes sampling easy and economical. And I've even seen Miller Lite on the shelves, but I don't think I'll waste my colones on that. The standard Costa Rican brews are far superior to the normal North American offerings, in my humble opinion.
You'll note a severe lack of ales, however. My guess is that there just isn't a demand for heavier flavors here. In the land of eternal Springtime, there's not much call for a Winter warmer, for instance. I've heard rumblings of a few microbreweries around, but I haven't seen them firsthand yet. The campaign for real ale hasn't made its way to Central America just yet. But, given the quality of the standard offerings here, I have high hopes that someday Costa Rica will get a taste for quality, craft brews. In fact, that's a potentially untapped (pardon the pun) opportunity. Today's American beer snobs will soon be retiring to this country. Their parents are already here, but I think they're content to swill fruity rum conconctions while lounging on the beach. I bet in the coming years, you'll see brewpubs popping up in the Americanized suburbs, like Escazu.
Labels: costa rica