The Craft Beer Festival Experience
It was an afternoon of cheerful, ale-infused camaraderie. Offer fifteen lovingly made craft brews to a hop-starved nation, and you have a smashing success at the country’s first ever Craft Beer Festival. Held at Avenida Escazu this past week, the event sold out in minutes, and those smart enough to purchase VIP tickets in advance had passports to Costa Rica’s finest artisan beers.
In the world of craft beer, Costa Rica has wallowed in the doldrums for years. There’s a time and a place for an ice-cold Imperial, but there are many who consider body and actual flavor hallmark qualities of a good brew. While Bavaria has made some tepid forays into maltier varieties, Tico palates have grown accustomed to the bland pilsners reminiscent of Bud Light. Fortunately, that is all changing. Enter passionate beer lovers who decided to venture out of the realm of home brewing and into a burgeoning niche market. Several of the participating brewers had no distribution to speak of, while others, like the Cartago-based Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company, have a small but devoted following with their hoppy red Segua and smooth Libertas.
The festival – as beer festivals go – was a relatively intimate gathering. A couple hundred people milled about, gliding from one vendor to the next, eager to experience the stouts, porters, reds, and sublime pale ales on offer. As usual, I gravitated toward three promising letters in my passport of beer: I – P – A. There were several Pale Ales to choose from, on top of some appealing brews made with local ingredients like cane sugar, coffee and vanilla. La Perra Hermosa, a nanobrewery out of Mal Pais, served up a wicked Chocolate Orange Brown Ale, while start-up Treintaycinco turned heads with their seriously drinkable Majadera IPA.
The full-bodied Oatmeal Stout from Craft Brewing Company partnered like a dream with my Chimichurri fries, but what doesn’t go well with such deep-fried goodness? My personal standout was the deliciously dark Espiral, a complex chocolately ale that could harmonize with anything, though tiramisu came to mind. That’s the beauty of a good craft beer: its breadth of occasions, scope of flavors and ability to complement any meal, be it ethnic or of the deep-fried comfort variety. You just can’t say that about wine.
In addition to some cool mini-lectures, the festival hosted a beer tournament for homebrewers and professionals alike. First place went to a dark India Black Ale, entered by a group of four handsome Atenas homebrewers under the Hard Good Label. The IBA won rave reviews for its rich caramel notes, roasty flavor and piney hop finish, characteristic of a traditional IPA. The Hard Good team has created other boundary-pushing recipes such as a Hopped-Up Red Ale, a Huge Barley Wine, and an IPA-X.
All encouraging news for the local craft beer scene! I’m already looking forward to next year’s Festival de Cerveza Artesenal, and, dare I wish for a Costa Rica Craft Beer Week?