I can’t speak for Kendon, but I love disruption, and I’m not talking about hundreds of hipsters on fixies blocking traffic or thousands of OWS’ers shitting in the park and complaining about Wall ST. That’s not the kind of disruption that spreads a grin across my boyishly good looking face. I’m talking pure Schumpeterian, do-something, grab the status quo and smash it into a million pieces disruption. For the last century or more, beer in Costa Rica, or should I say all of Latin America, has been dominated by the pale lager monopolists – you know, the 30% rice, skunky and stale, “how long’s that been sitting on the grocery store shelf” beer makers. So this past February when Luis Arce, co-founder of Costa Rica’s first home brew store, TicoBirra, asked me if I would like to sit on the inaugural board of directors for The Asociación de Cerveceros Artesanales de Costa Rica — Costa Rica’s Craft Brewers Association, I told him “Well, you know my Spanish sucks, right? But…I’m all in!”.
Our first project? Raising money so we can incorporate this bad boy! Well how do we do that? Here’s a little idea: bring lots of people together and give them LOTS of good beer and LOTS of good food. People pay for that. So over the next 2 months planning ensued to host Costa Rica’s first ever craft beer festival.
Spearheaded by the efforts of development group Avenida Escazu, restaurant Product C (probably the most Ambrosial seafood in all of Costa Rica, i.e. fit for the Gods!) and Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co, we organized and hosted our first ever festival.
The festival hosted over 400 guests and brought representation from 2 established craft breweries – Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co & Volcano Brewing Co , 2 craft breweries in planning – Cerveceria Treintaycinco and La Perra Hermosa Coastal Brewery, Belgian beer aficionado and beer writer Joe Stange of ThirstyPilgrim.com, as well as other home brewers from all over the country. Ticos (as Costa Ricans are known) got an education on a full range of styles while the gringos enjoyed a reunion with some long lost friends -Belgian pale ales, American pale ales, IPAs, red ales, barrel aged stouts, barley wines, brown ales, blonde ales, farmhouse ales – the full spectrum. The wide selection of beers paired with the gourmet finger-food confections of Product C – fresh ceviche, chimichurri fries, calamari and mahi mahi – was a knockout.
Here’s a short list of my personal favorites on the beer offerings:
- Gato Malo Brown Ale: Volcano Brewing Co’s nut brown ale was a real hit for those ticos looking to transition from pale lager to a beer with more body and flavor without being overwhelmed. Light notes of caramel and chocolate with a subtle hop character and a sweet almond finish.
- Chocolate Orange Brown Ale: La Perra Hermosa (The Pretty Bitch) Coastal Brewery hit the spot with this dark ale. Brewed with roasted dark malts and tangerine peel, the deep dark chocolate aromas and body give way to a cirtusy effervescence. Did someone say dessert?
- Espiral: Assistant brewer at Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co, Stefano Marin pulled out all the stops to bring a “real” local beer to the event. This dark brown ale was brewed with local cacao, honey, vanilla and sugar. Well balanced with toasted barley and English hops, this beer sent you sailing across the flavor spectrum from sweet to bitter in a truly Costa Rican way.
- Majadera Strong IPA: “Majadera: Stubborn” – A nice full-bodied IPA from Treintaycinco, dry-hopped with an ample dose of Cascade, this one left you reeling from a 1,2 knockout punch of grapefruit citrusy bitterness, courtesy of the wonderful Pacific Northwest hops.
- Maldita Vida Barley Wine: The guys from Treintaycinco are irreverent and they make no apologies about it. This 9.8% barleywine literally translates to “Fuck it/Fuck life!” and after a couple of tasters of this, well, the partakers were in agreement. If grandpa had been at the event he would have been sucking this down like his signature cough syrup – high gravity, malty and sweet with a sucker punch, rum-raisin goodness.
- C3 Cask Conditioned Stout: A rich, dark oatmeal stout, cask conditioned for 2 months in Ron Centenario rum barrels. This one was my personal favorite – notes of coffee and chocolate from the roasted malts balanced against the vanilla imparted from the rum-soaked oak. I had been begging the guys from Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co to do a rum-barrel aged beer for months, so this was a real treat.
- Petite Saison: I think the Thirsty Pilgrim, Joe Stange, brewed this one to keep the ladies lining up all afternoon. Seriously, this easy drinking 4% ABV saison was a real crowd favorite. A true farmhouse small beer, refreshing with a spicy zest and a little bit of fruity Willamette dry-hopped zing.
The beer tastings were balanced with various presentations on home brewing, beer and food pairing and using alternative ingredients in the brewing process. Not sure how much of the presentations were retained, but they were informative. The brain just isn’t a very good sponge when you are inebriated, and the folks at this event did not hold back on getting inebriated. And of course we featured a home brewing competition judged by Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co brew master CS Derrick and former interim head brewer of Thomas Hooker Brewing, Stephen Province. The 2 have over 30 years combined experience in brewing and we are lucky to have them as residents in Costa Rica.
All in all the event was epic, the crowd was pleased and something tells me that next years event will be at least double the size, but if enough of you reading this are up for the vacay to Costa Rica, I’m sure that number will be tripled. Stay tuned for more on the Costa Rica craft beer scene as I bring you video interviews from the irreverent, Venezuelan hijos de putas of Cerveceria Treintaycinco, the sustainability phenes of Volcano Brewing Co, the brewing in paradise trailblazers at La Perra Hermosa Coastal brewery and others.