Sunday, October 17, 2010

Of Gashed Tires and Sour Fruit Saison.

We were almost totally lost for the third time in two days when it happened. I was driving our truck down a hill from Cartago, looking out over a valley of what appeared to be tugurios, a.k.a. favelas, a.k.a. slums, when I turned and ran over a concrete embankment. It jutted out into the road and was impossible to see from the driver's side. The concrete was not the problem. It was the hidden steel rebar that warped the running board and gashed the tire. The air didn't hiss out so much as whoosh.

So my friend Ryan and I we were late for our meeting on Friday with the guys from the soon-to-be-launched Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Company. Oh, first we put on a show for the locals. Ho hum, just a couple of rich gringos getting dirty, changing a tire on a busy road, don't mind us. I gave two kids a few coins for standing around and trying to look helpful. And we were on our way.

"Here in Costa Rica it's always something, man," brewery co-owner Brandon Nappy said. Naturally I thought of my tire. But he was talking about all the red tape and expense of starting a legitimate business in this country, where bureaucracy and stamps and ribbons are a fine art. "You have to be thick-skinned and level-headed and just go with it."

Nappy ought to know. The 29-year-old previously had a charter fishing business out of Quepos on the Pacific Coast. That lasted about four months. Then the boat sank. Literally.

Much of what we talked about while lingering at the brewery for a few hours, in no hurry to get back on the road during a downpour, was the challenge of doing it all right. On the up and up. Having all the permits. Hiring a lawyer to help cross t's and dot i's. Being ready for inspections, should they come. Getting your trademarks straight. So if the Craft Brewing Company fails as a business, it ought to be for business reasons -- not legal ones.

Then there is the whole problem of, you know, actually selling beer. Finding all the expats, tourists and ticos who would buy more flavorful beer in a heartbeat. Starting to educate the others. And publicizing in an environment where the Imperial logo is practically the national flag.

For example: Draft beer is not that common in Costa Rica. The locals call it cerveza cruda and either treat it as something special or, more often, shun it and drink from the bottle. However, the Craft Brewing Company is dedicated to establishing its beers on draft before selling bottles in the future.

"We have to get them away from the idea that draft beer is raw beer," brewer C.S. Derrick said. Then there is teaching bars about the importance of glassware, and how to keep it sanitary. "One of the biggest focuses starting off here is education."

My thoughts: Some of the best education and publicity will come from other customers. I'm not just talking about word of mouth. When you see someone else with a glass of that crisp, golden ale and its fluffy, persistent head -- and that froth is something no lager in Costa Rica can match -- you just want one for yourself. Meanwhile the pale ale -- named Segua for the Cartago folk legend about a she-monster who punishes drunken, unfaithful men -- has the sort of hopping and bitterness that American craft beer drinkers have come to expect as a matter of course. If all goes according to plan, both these beers will be available in November. Stay tuned to find out where.

Then, later, for those willing to pay more for something special, there may be a few surprises. Such as an experimental saison we tasted that had been aged on sour cas. It confirmed my previous suspicion that this acidic fruit begs to be used as a brewing ingredient. Derrick's cas saison was tart, dry and sparkling, with the lime-like aroma and taste of the cas providing an unmistakable lambic-like quality. Really encouraging stuff.

On the way back, despite clear directions from Nappy and Derrick, we missed a turn and got lost in San José. Rough neighborhoods. Again. At night. Another opportunity for Costa Rica to show off its near total lack of street signs. Please understand that when I say we had to use a compass to find our way out, it is not a figure of speech.

By the way, beer enthusiasts and homebrewers in Costa Rica are welcome out at the brewery. Say hello and make friends. Maybe even pitch in and help out. The "address" is 800 meters west of Riteve, in Tejar El Guarco, just outside of Cartago. I recommend you use a GPS. And watch for embankments.


  1. Here's the spot in Gowalla:

  2. Gracias Gaston... That little map is useful.

    Maybe see you at the brewery one of these days. Me alegra que hay otros aficionados aca en Costa Rica.