No one expects to find any craft beer in a socialist country (something about suppressing the minds of the freethinkers), without a doubt everyone expects to find mass produced pale piss lager. Why not? Beer has been used as a tool of persuasion by the powerful over the ages to win people’s allegiance. Beer built the pyramids in Egypt. All the pharaohs had to do was promise the workers enough beer and no one seemed to care that they were working all day in the blistering sun, dragging monolithic stones across the desert. The church used it to leverage control of the people as well. Since the monasteries largely controlled the brew trade in early medieval times, the firkin helped keep the parishioners faithful. I’m sure beyond his 95 Theses, Martin Luther’s real beef with the church was the dullness of their beer. He, like many other great minds, was a home brewer.
Castro is no different. Control the masses. The Cuban government has a vibrant brewing industry offering piss, piss, piss and more piss. I had the chance to drink their staple pale piss lager, Cristal, several times. I also tried a handful of others: Bavaria (no relation to the Colombian mega brewer), Cacique (no relation to the Costa Rican national brand of guaro) and Bucanero (no relation to the Tampa Bay football team, although the beer is just as bad). Each of these beers had that same ricey adjunct flavor with a touch of skunk. They only really varied by ABV. Actually, I digress. Cacique really tasted like shit. My wife had to try it because it shares the same name as Costa Rica’s national liquor brand and when she sipped it she made one of the funniest faces I’ve ever seen her make. “WHAT THE HELL is wrong with this?!” Haha, gotta love it.
But this is not all for the Cuban brewing industry. The truth of the matter is that the government also owns and runs a microbrewery through one of it’s tourist companies, Habaguanex. And here is the real kicker: The beer tastes GOOD. Habaguanex is a tourist company focused on revitalizing Habana Vieja or Old Havana, a UNESCO Heritage site. Habaguanex runs several bars, restaurants, cafes and museums in Old Havana (including the Museo del Ron, which I will write about in my next letter), with the goal of using their profits for the revitalization efforts. They profess this is where all the money goes but I am pretty sure that no 3rd party audits The Castro regime. Castro would probably benefit from an audit, then maybe he could put Cuba’s finances in order enough to not require fat money transfers in the form of subsidized oil from Latin America’s other favorite socialist dick Chavez. Habaguanex’s Factoria Plaza Vieja, known to many as La Taberna de la Muralla, brews a triage of well crafted ales. The beers don’t have real names, just designations: clara, oscura y negra (light, dark and black). All sweet with nice body, the beers follow the style of an english bitter/pale ale, porter and stout, respectively.
I did my research on the Cuban beer scene long before visiting the country and found out about Taberna de la Muralla through ratebeer.com. I made my wife promise that as soon as we dropped off our bags at our place of stay in Havana that we would go straight to the microbrewery. I was going to start the trip off right. We ended up making our way to the microbrewery several times during our stay and every time the place was packed. Smiles abounded here always, a rare sight in a country with so little to hope for. And it wasn’t just tourists who frequented the brewery. Plenty of Cubans were also present. The patrons were really fond of the beer towers sold by the brewery. For just $12 you could get a “Metro”, a meter tall tube of beer holding 6 pints. It was not an uncommon sight to see a young Cubano male outdoing himself on a couple of towers and throwing it all up in the alley off to the side of the brewery. I got a kick out of this. My wife was disgusted. The brewery also served good food. The selection of grilled meats paired well with the ales on offer.
Thoughts: 1) Good beer, good food and good times at La Taberna de la Muralla, what a socialist country like Cuba needs more of 2) Cubans don’t make much but many of them were willing to spend the bucks on the beer because better beer makes for a better life 3) Looking forward to watching the ripple effects of the craft beer movement spread deeper and further throughout the world and 4) looking forward to the day when Cuba will allow it’s citizens to brew with the same kind of freedom that we find in the states.
Changing the world, one beer at a time…