I’ve long been a fan of craft beer; long before I was old enough to consume them my dad–a home brewer and avid fan of craft beers–would always find a brewery to visit on our family road trips. I toured breweries up and down the East Coast of the US growing up; the saddest moment came when I visited Magic Hat in Vermont the day before my 21st birthday (by which time I was already living in Costa Rica and could drink here with the legal age being 18). Four free samples, but one day too early for them to give me them.
History of Craft Brewing in Costa Rica
The first modern craft brewery was setup in Ciudad Colón, San José around 1997 under the name “Cabeza Grande” (big head) by the owner of the Lake Arenal Hotel. He got a great deal on some brewing equipment, brought it down, and started brewing. Sadly the market just wasn’t there and around the turn of the millennia it closed down, craft beer disappeared for a decade. (The equipment survived however, and is now makes up the backbone of Lake Arenal Brewery).
While the Craft Beer revolution has spread across the US and other parts of the globe, it was a bit slow in taking off in Costa Rica. Upon my arrival here in 2011 there were only two craft breweries in the country: Volcano Brewing Company outside of Tilarán on Lake Arenal and Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company in Ciudad Colón, San José each producing two beers. Neither of them made what I would call good beer, I’d even go as far as to call some of it bad beer.
Volcano Brewing Company moved out to Tamarindo in Guanacaste, and there is now a different brewery operating on the same spot under the Lake Arenal Brewery name–they offer much better beer than Volcano Brewing Co. brewed there. Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company has expanded their selection, but the quality is still below average for what you can get. They will always be the first Craft Brewery in Costa Rica, but they are far from the best. Fortunately new brewers have come to market and what was once a waste land is now ripening into a beer paradise.
Craft Brewing’s Increase
The number of breweries continues to grow rapidly, sadly the availability–especially outside of San José–of craft beer is very hard to come by. In La Fortuna it was very difficult to get craft beers–especially on tap–for a long time. The most ubiquitous offerings were Cervecera del Centro’s Ambar and Trigueña and are available in various grocery stores (click for an overview). Now there are a few more options with beers from about a half dozen different micro-breweries available at the various grocery stores. Likewise a few of the local restaurants are starting to stock some bottles of craft beer as options alongside the typical domestic offerings.
As of October 2016 a new location opened up in La Fortuna called the La Fortuna Pub which as of this writing has six beers on tap from the Lake Arenal Brewery. They’ve begun the process of brewing their own beer on site as well, but it will take some time to get the necessary permissions to make it available for the public. For more information on La Fortuna Pub click here.
The number of truly great breweries continues to increase; Angry Goats, Tierra y Libertad, and Uno Cero Uno all have offerings that I would put in an elite category. Others like Treintay Cinco and Cervecera del Centro have above average offerings as well. The number of new breweries continues to grow seemingly every month, and there are one’s we’ve yet to try. My goal is to be objective; most beer is “good”, but I want to give a clear, honest idea of what is really worth finding and what isn’t.
Our plan is to find the Craft Beers of Costa Rica and find out what is worth drinking and what’s not worth your time. I’m not an expert beer reviewer; however, I do know what tastes good and what doesn’t. The idea is to leave pretentiousness at the door and give a simple, straightforward review of the craft beer of Costa Rica.
List of Craft Breweries
Below is a list of the known commercial breweries; as we write up reviews of each they will link to the respective reviews. Some breweries are still very small and have little to no online presence even to find information about them. If we’re missing something please let us know in the comments (English equivalents are in parenthesis for Spanish names).
- Angry Goats Brewery
- Beéche Cervecería Artesanal (Beéche Craft Brewery)
- Bora Brewing Co.
- Bribri Springs Brewery
- Calle Cimarrona
- Cervecera del Centro (Center Brewing)
- Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company
- La Micro Brewing Company
- La Selva (The Wild)
- Lake Arenal Brewery
- Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty)
- Treintay Cinco Fábrica de Cervecas (Thirty Five Beer Factory)
- Uno Cero Uno (One Zero One)
Not all breweries are open for touring or publish their location. For those that do we’ve put them on the map below. In a few cases they give the neighborhood, but an exact address is missing. The map will at least get you very close if not to the exact spot.