Craft Beer in Paradise >> Chelsea McDowell
here may be few places left in the world that haven’t seen an explosion of interest in craft brew. For beer-minded travellers like me, it’s nice that we now have international options other than classic pale lagers. During my recent visit to Costa Rica I drank an awful lot of Pilsen and Imperial, but was pleasantly surprised to see craft (albeit at rather inflated prices) in the beer fridges of the Mini Supers around the country. A number of craft breweries are popping up in Costa Rica. Many of them were initiated by expats relocating to this Paradise, and their growth is assisted by the tastes and expectations of tourists. Festival Cerveza Artesanal has been celebrating Costa Rican craft beer since 2012; over 30 breweries participated in 2016. Abroad, like at home, it is difficult to discern true craft from “crafty.” Seeking the real stuff, I was told to visit La Selva Cerveza Artesanal in Cabuya, a community at the tip of the Nicoya peninsula whose only road requires an off-road–capable vehicle. La Selva is quite a success story considering it started in home brewing less than 5 years ago.
nities are quite spread out and taxis can be expensive. When Google Maps announced that we had arrived, all I could see was a dusty gravel road and a few scattered houses. A second look revealed a larger outbuilding behind one of the homes. We went closer. A wooden bar with tap handles stood right out front. It was more hot and humid than I believed possible, and I wondered if the tasting room was a mirage brought on by heat-induced delirium. Re’em Jacob, the owner, spotted us and exclaimed, “It looks like you could use a cold beer!” Truer words were never spoken. In moments, I had Zubia, a Belgian golden ale, and my sister had Naranja, a reddish ale. The restorative effects of a ceiling fan and a cold beer are remarkable. I asked Jacob if it was unusually hot out that day and he laughed. “It’s like this every day here!” Formerly an engineer in Israel, Jacob came to Costa Rica 15 years ago looking for a different way of life for his family. Wanting to limit government and corporate influence, he setted in Cabuya. Good-humoured and lighthearted, he still has an intensity about him; he sets the bar high and is driven to achieve.
For this quest, from the capital San José I took a bus, ferry, and another bus to Montezuma, where I took an all-wheel-drive taxi to Cabuya. The trip took about 5 hours, and only cost about $20 USD. Most of the prices quoted to tourists are in US dollars. The local currency, colones, can also be used, but it doesn’t really make a difference to prices or the Canadian exchange rate. Having cash is essential in Costa Rica, so visit the ATM before you completely run out. We had a bit of a scramble one weekend when a machine ran out of money and wasn’t topped up again until the following week.
“Everything happened out of necessity,” he says when I asked why he started a brewery. When he arrived, he had to learn how to build his own house, because there was no construction company locally. This developed into starting his own construction company with a specialty in concrete, which was the only material reliably available in such a remote area. Brewing began with a friend bringing over a kit and some equipment. “At first we tried it and thought something was wrong with it. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker to start with, but it didn’t taste like what we were used to. We tried it again a few days later and realized there wasn’t anything wrong with it. Maybe this was what beer is supposed to taste like.” Jacob was hooked. Living in such an isolated area, the only way to discover the flavours of beer was to experiment with brewing his own, which he did extensively over the course of the next two years, in his small kitchen.
La Selva was within walking distance of our beachside hotel, but a rental car is desirable in this area, because the commu-
His wife tired of having to share her kitchen with a brewer and told him he either needed to get serious and build a brewery
Published on May 30, 2017
Volume 27 Issue 2 is the Travel & Touring issue. Its 48 pages contain 20 stories and features on topics ranging from BC breweries to global...