April 26, 2012

Costa Rica: La Primera Festival Cerveza Artesanal

While craft beer is taking the US by storm, the movement in other parts of the world is just starting to gain momentum. This past Saturday was the first ever Festival Cerveza Artesanal in Costa Rica, organized by the small but growing community of craft breweries, homebrewers, retailers, and enthusiasts in this Latin American country known for its ecotourism and laid back, Pura Vida attitude. (Pura Vida translates to "the good life" or "the pure life" and can be used to say hello, goodbye, or in response to the question "how's it going?")

The festival was held outdoors on the swanky shopping strip Avenida Escazú, in a suburb of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. The weather was perfect, with a good mix of both Ticos and foreigners arriving for the event right on time.

We picked up our sampling glasses, t-shirts, and tasting guides, and proceded to enter the festival. A DJ was set up to one side, laying down some electro-dance grooves to set the mood. It was immediately apparent that a whole lot of work went into planning the event.

Our VIP tickets included 15 samples -- one taste of each of the beers available. 6 hours to try 15 beers -- easy, right?

Serving at the festival were the following brewers and breweries:

We were very impressed by the tasting guides everyone received. There was background information on craft beer and homebrewing in the US, instructions for how to sample beer, as well as a description of each of the offerings. It was all in Spanish, but we got the gist of it and were able to pick up some new vocabulary, starting with the very first beer we tried:

Maldita Vida (9.8% ABV) - Cervecería Treintaycinco

Maldita Vida is an American Barleywine from the soon-to-open Cervecería Treintaycinco (treintaycinco = 35). We had to ask about the name of the beer. Literally, Maldita Vida translates to "Cursed life" or, more colloquially, "f*** it." The name and the logo with a three-headed, five-legged goat certainly left an impression! The barleywine was nice - copper in color, malt forward, with a strong presence of bittering hops. A great start to the day!

We proceeded to follow our tasting guide, electing to start with the strongest, most complex beers, which is actually the reverse of what a lot of "experts" recommend. I say do what makes you happy. After all, it's beer -- there's no real right or wrong way to do it, as long as you're having a good time.

As it turned out, our method led us to try some of the best beers of the festival right at the beginning, including:

Espiral (6.8% ABV) - Stefano Marín

A dark ale made with a number of locally-sourced ingredients: organic cacao, honey, unrefined whole cane sugar (panela), cinnamon, and vanilla. The color of lightly-roasted coffee, this was a very well-crafted artesanal beer. The various ingredients were balanced, allowing flavors of toasted malt and English hops to come forward. We imagined the beer pairing well with crème brûlée. Bonus points for using local ingredients!

IPA Costarricense (6% ABV) - Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company

Finally! An IPA made right here in Central America! Centennial hops contributed to aromas of citrus, matched by sweet malt. It was a beautiful copper color with excellent clarity. Maybe not quite as strong as some of the West Coast IPAs, but delicious nonetheless.

As we were enjoying the Costa Rican IPA, we took a moment to check out one of the day's brewing presentations, this one about the malting process:

We then hurried to get the next beer to be sure it wouldn't run out on us:

Centenario Cask Conditioned (C3) Stout (5.5% ABV) - Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company

Aged for two months in a cask of Centenario Rum, this Oatmeal Stout was one to sit back and really enjoy. Aromas of brown sugar and chocolate led to sweet and toasty flavors with just a hint of rum. In my opinion, beers aged in liquor barrels should have just a subtle taste of residual liquor. You should be able to tell that it's liquor-flavored beer and not beer-flavored liquor. Well done!

Also in our first group of samples were:

  • Majadera IPA (6.5%) - Treitaycinco
  • La Rubia del Campo Blonde Ale (5.9%) - La Perra Hermosa Coastal Brewery
  • Malpais Pale Ale (5.5%) - La Perra Hermosa Coastal Brewery
  • Witch's Rock Pale Ale (4.8%) - Volcano Brewing Company

After eight samples we were feeling pretty good! We decided it was time a food break. The exclusive vendor for the event was Product C, a seafood restaurant in Avenida Escazú. Our ceviche and chimichurri fries went very well with a pale ale from Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company.

Recharged, we pressed on through the remaining samples. We had to maintain pace! Closing out our tasting were:

  • Likeer Belgian Pale Ale (5.5%) - Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company
  • Gato Malo Brown Ale (4.5%) - Volcano Brewing Company
  • Segua Red Ale (5%) - Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company
  • Libertas Golden Ale (4.7%) - Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company
  • Chocolate Orange Brown Ale (4.3%) - La Perra Hermosa Coastal Brewery
  • Petite Saison (4%) - Joe Stange
Admittedly, we started to experience a little "palate fatigue" towards the end. But by that point everyone was having so much fun it didn't matter!

Congratulations to Costa Rica on their very first craft beer festival and many thanks to TicoBirra, La Bodega de Chema, and all the breweries for putting on a truly well-executed event!

I look forward to seeing how things develop in coming years!

Salud y Pura Vida!

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