Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Costa Rica to Get Its Own LHBS (Local Homebrew Shop).

Fostering a culture of better beer in Costa Rica... That's is one of the stated goals of that craft brewery in Cartago. It's also one of the goals of Luis Arce, who aims to open the country's very first local homebrew shop.

Although there has not been a lot of variety locally, beer is popular in Costa Rica. So when many ticos travel to the United States for work or play, and it's not uncommon for them to come back with a taste for something more flavorful than the national lagers. But for Arce, it wasn't North America that first inspired him. It was the U.K., where he worked for an IT company and meanwhile developed a taste for darker ales. He also made a friend who brewed his own.

"You know, I started to get more into beers in general," Arce said. Then he returned home in 2009. "First of all, I saw how difficult it is to get good beer here. I was so used to that range of options. ... Especially ales. I love ales."

So naturally he started looking how he could brew his own in Costa Rica. He ran up against a hard truth: You can't grow hops here, and nobody malts barley. Neither was anybody importing the ingredients and equipment made brewing possible. Arce did, however, find a few kindred spirits. "I'm not the only one. If you look around on the Internet, you can find all these posts from Costa Rican guys saying, 'Where can I find these ingredients?'"

For now, there are only two ways: international shipping and travel. Shipping can be prohibitively expensive. It can also raise the eyebrows of customs officials, who don't always know that homebrewing is legal in Costa Rica. They can potentially block the shipment or else ask for some "lunch money" to look the other way. (Arce says his lawyer did due diligence investigating the legality of homebrewing. It is apparently legal as long as the beer is for personal use, i.e. not for sale, and below a certain percentage of alcohol.)

Bringing the ingredients via travel can be as simple as stuffing them into your suitcase. Arce is lucky enough to have a job where he flies to the States now and then. He's got it down to a science: Rather than visit the local homebrew shop, he orders what he needs online and has it delivered straight to his Chicago hotel. He's also been known to ask friends and colleagues to stuff some malt extract or hops into their luggage. 

Naturally, all this hassle got Arce to thinking: "What if I opened up my own homebrew shop?" For the past couple of months he has been working through all the red tape -- no small feat in bureaucracy-obsessed Costa Rica. He estimates that he has at least two more months of paperwork and meetings before he can begin selling a few products online, which is how the shop will debut. Because importing hops involves jumping through some extra hoops, he might begin by selling simple, pre-hopped malt extract kits. The idea is get the shop up and running and get some beginners hooked on the hobby.

Meanwhile, Arce has been organizing a few beer-tasting seminars in Cartago. The next one is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, October 7 21 and costs about US$30 for a flight of seven different beers. (Interested? Register via Facebook. Drop me a line at joe dot thirstypilgrim at gmail dot com and I'll pass on the details.)

"It's not just about opening a homebrew shop here," Arce said. "It's also about creating a culture here. ... It could work. There's people that definitely find that attractive. Because ticos, you know, we're really beer lovers."

9 comments:

  1. sebastian alonso garciaSeptember 27, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    Go for it!!! I'll be your first client!, I'm already a homebrewer in san jose, but as you said, shipping is to expensive (i've been there allready), and traveling used to work when I had a brother living in texas, but not anymore, so let me know and I'll have a big list of clients interested in this!!!!

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    1. Coming to costa rica where should I look for start up supplies. Love my Beer

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  2. Hey Sebastian -- and any other homebrewers in Costa Rica who come along and read this -- please send me an email at joe dot thirstypilgrim at gmail dot com.

    A few of us are looking to form CR's first homebrewing club.

    Cerveceros caseros en Costa Rica -- escribame a joe dot thirstypilgrim at gmail dot com. Queremos que a organizar un club de cerveceros caseros.

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  3. sebastian alonso garciaOctober 11, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    Hey joe! I wrote you last week, did you get the mail? Do you have any other way I can contact you?

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  4. Im just starting to homebrew here in San Jose, still trying to get the equipment togheter. This would be of great help for a lot of us! keep us posted! Where can I contact you to Sebastian?

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  5. Hey Max, we are starting to gather the local 'cerveceros caseros' and there are more of us than previously thought. Contact me at joe dot thirstypilgrim at gmail dot com and I'll connect you with Sebas, Luis, and the rest of the group.

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    1. Hi Joe I am planning on moving down in 2013. I am looking at starting a small microbrewery when I get there. I keep hearing of all the legality of starting up in CR. Do you have a contact with that info? I would like to get things rolling now so when I get there I can concentrate on work and not red tape. Thanks for any info. SK

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  6. Moving to Costa Rica next year and was wondering whether I would be able to continue my Homebrew hobby. Looks like there are others trying to do it so I'll ship my equipement. I'de like to stay in touch with you guys.

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  7. Definitely bring your equipment. The selection of ingredients is small compared to the States, but TicoBirra in Pavas is getting more stuff all the time. Good ways to keep in touch: through Luis at TicoBirra, Chema at La Bodega de Chema, or this FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/acaencostarica/

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