Of all the countries within Central America, Costa Rica was our favorite when it comes to beer. If you’ve been to Costa Rica before then you’ve almost certainly had the ubiquitous Imperial. But there are lots of other goodies to try here in addition to this standby. During our most recent visit a small yet emerging craft beer scene seemed to be underway in the country, although you really had to look for it.
Beers in Costa Rica
We came across dozens of interesting craft beers in Costa, but first lets take a quick look at some of their standard and common offerings.
Cerveza Imperial, 4.6%, Pale Lager: This is the most popular beer in Costa Rica yet we found it to be no better or worse than the vast majority of pale lagers that abound throughout Central America. Its rather flavorless, watery and thin bodied. Its a refreshing thirst quencher when served ice cold but overall nothing interesting. There is also a Silver Imperial (4.6% ABV) which we found to taste similar and perhaps slightly sweeter. And there’s an Imperial Light version (3.7%), which was just a more watered down tasteless mess than the original, yet still refreshing.
Pilsen, 5.1%, Pale Lager: While Imperial tends to get all the love in CR, we throw our support towards Pilsen. The same brewery that makes Imperial is also responsible for Pilsen and the taste is not too different. But the higher alcohol makes this a better bang for your colón. And although still pretty flavorless, we found this golden lager to have a smidge more of a taste to it. Mild sweetness and maltiness were vaguely evident. It’s almost as widely available as Imperial and was our go-to beer when faced with the choice between Costa Rica’s two most common beers.
Bavaria Gold, 5.1%, Pale Lager: This third pale lager which is also brewed by Florida Bebidas (responsible for Imperial and Pilsen) is a German take on the pale lager but we didn’t find it to really stand out from its partners in crime. This beer is commonly found in convenience stores and supermarkets and not quite as common at bars and restaurants. I would drink this over an Imperial, yet it’s still just a rather bland and uninteresting lager. There is also a Bavaria Light version.
Bavaria Dark, 5.0%, Dark Lager: In this drinker’s opinion, Bavaria Dark is the best of the macro selection found in Costa Rica yet still nothing remarkable. Although a dark beer, it’s quite thin in body and still void of much flavor. This is hardly something comparable to a true Bavarian Dunkel and more reminiscent of Mexico’s Negro Modelo. It’s light enough to still be enjoyable on a hot day. And while the flavor is nevertheless lacking, you can find faint malt sweetness and perhaps some distant chocolate notes.
Craft Beers in Costa Rica
We were quite impressed with the craft beer Costa Rica was producing during our visit and found it to be as good as some of our favorites from back home in the US. But these microbrews were not widely available and you really had to keep a watchful eye out for them. There were actually quite a few Costa Rica craft beers to discover, so rather than try to list them all out, we’ll discuss some of our favorite and notable breweries that we enjoyed during our journey through the country.
Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co. produces the most widely available craft beer in Costa Rica, known for its Segua Red Ale (Irish Red, 5%) and Libertas Tropical Golden Ale (Golden Ale, 4.7%). We had high hopes for these beers that are the highest rated Costa Rica brews listed on ratebeer but we found them to be a bit of a let down. They are decent efforts and worlds better than the macros discussed above. Yet we instead favored beers found in smaller brewers. Both offerings are absolutely worth trying and we’d give a slight edge to the Segua Red for its caramel notes and slight hop bitterness that balanced nicely with the malts.
Adamá Brewing was perhaps one of our biggest pleasant surprises. We found it at a local Soda (typical budget-friendly Costa Rican eatery) in Santa Elena. When peering into a glass-cased refrigerator, we noticed something different. It was Adamá beers, produced in a small home brewery in neighboring Monteverde and is brewed according to traditional and simple methods. If you are lucky enough to find a few bottles of these excellent beers while up in the rain forest, do not hesitate to try them. We tried all 4 varieties available and here’s what we thought:
- Amber Ale (Amber, 5.5%): This amber was a bit flat and had a strong malt presence. You could taste the alcohol along with an almost oaky nutty flavor. This was our least favorite of the four.
- Café Stout (Stout, 7.5%): This light bodied stout really shined with predominant coffee notes and high bitterness for a stout that was tied together with a subtle smokiness. It was our favorite Adamá ale and we thought it was one of the best stouts in all of Central America!
- IPA (IPA, 5.0%): This malt-forward IPA was more along the lines of an English IPA and had minimal hop bitterness. Its floral onset eventually turned to a creamy caramel/toffee taste. Very good but just don’t expect an American IPA.
- Pilsner (Pilsner, 5.0%): This pilsner was brewed in the style of a Czech Lager. I’m not sure that the style was on point but I still really enjoyed its lemony, slightly sour, citrus flavor.
Lake Arenal Brewery was another extremely pleasant surprise. Formerly branded as Volcano Brewing Company, you can find Lake Arenal Brewery attached to the Lake Arenal Hotel, perched with a beautiful view of the namesake lake. Here is currently the only place you will find their two beers: Paradise Pale Ale and Brown Ale. There are only two labels in their lineup but at the time of visit there were murmurs about potentially adding a third, a wheat beer. Both were excellent and its difficult to say which we liked more.
- Paradise Pale (American Pale Ale, 5.0%): Excellent and on-point pale ale that drinks almost like an IPA. It has a nice medium+ bitterness with citrus grapefruit notes coming from the combination of cascade, citra and galaxy hops used in the brew process.
- Brown Ale (Brown Ale): This smooth brown ale also had a little hoppiness to it but it was well rounded out by the malts, which all together gives the beer a somewhat sweet nutty flavor and even a slight spicy kick that was oh-so-good.
Treintaycinco had a vast variety (by CR standards) of notable delicious brews, many of which you can find on tap at the Stiefel Pub in San Jose. The standout for us was their barely wine, Maldita Vida (9.8%) which was quite strong yet deceptively smooth with sweet molasses and dark fruit notes. But their sweet stout, Mama Candela (7.8%) was a superb runner-up. Their Belgian-style offering (Lora, 8%) was likewise yummy and outshined their IPA (La Palona, 6%) for our tastes.
International Beer Costa Rica
Imports in Costa Rica consist of your typical mass-produced beers you’re probably familiar with. Heineken was perhaps most widely available but its actually brewed locally in Costa Rica under a licensing agreement and therefor not really an import. Coronas are fairly common as was Tona from neighboring Nicaragua. The largest selection of imports we found was at a restaurant named Los Amigos in Jaco, which carried beer from as far away as Japan.
The most interesting import we stumbled across was Bucanero Fuerte (Pale Lager, 5.4%), from Cuba! It is technically illegal for an American to consume any Cuban product even while abroad due to the embargo. So, umm, of course, we did not have any. But if we did, we would have thought it was a pretty good pale lager and had grassy notes of sugar cane. 😉
Best Beer Places in Costa Rica
Lake Arenal Brewery: There are only two house brews here but those two beers are done up extremely well. And you simply can’t beat the view of the lake down below surrounded by mountains and volcanos. We could have just sat hear and enjoyed beer after beer for hours. The bar staff is friendly and quick with a pour. They offer pints and a smaller size of both of their beers. They also offer a full restaurant menu. They even have a skate park here, should you feel the need to thrash around after a few brews. But really what is best about this place is simply to enjoy a great brew with a great view!
It’s not just a brewery though. Lake Arenal Brewery also operates as a hotel. We didn’t stay here but wished we did! The views of Lake Arenal are spectacular. It would have been awesome to end a day of touring the area with some of their fresh brews and then stumble to back to our hotel room on top of the brewery itself. Check rates for Lake Arenal Hotel and Microbrewery here.
Stiefel Pub: Hands down, our favorite beer spot in Costa was a bar called the Stiefel Pub in San Jose. They had about a dozen taps, all of which were Costa Rican craft beer including lots of Treintayico, a Calle Cimarrona handle, and other microbreweries I’d never heard of before. They even offer flights so you can try a variety of these different specialty beers. It has a great laid-back, fun atmosphere and good music.
During our visit the friendly owner noticed our interest in trying all the different beers even offered us complimentary glass of Tequila-Barrel Aged Beer Brandy (not listed on their beer menu) that was definitely the most interesting, complex, and strong beer we had while travelling all through Central America. We’d highly recommend a visit to see if there may be any left. If not, you’ve got over a dozen other interesting selections to choose from and you really can’t go wrong. We can personally vouch for the pub grub there too which was a nice break from typico food and a good base for the beers to follow.
To be within a close and safe walk of Steifel Pub, we stayed in a private room at Hostel Casa del Parque. This boutique hostel was a really cool place, set in a former mansion! We felt like a king in the enormous room they gave us that came with a private bathroom. But perhaps best of all, it’s only a 3-4 minute walk across the park to stumble back here after you’ve had one-too-many strong brews at Steifel Pub 😉
It’s a great value with private rooms usually running around $39-$49. Check current availability and rates for Casa del Parque on hostelworld.
San Jose Costa Rica Beer Tasting Tour!
The craft beer scene in San Jose Costa Rica has flourished so much that it now supports a beer tasting tour throughout the city! The tour takes you on a journey to discover the best and newest beer-centric establishments throughout San Jose Costa Rica. Along the way are lots of tastings and even tapa pairings to compliment all the Costa Rica craft beer. The 3-hour tour departs at 4:30 pm everyday except Sundays. The tour ends at Steifel Pub too, where you can linger and indulge even further. This fun beer stroll through San Jose has top-notch reviews. Check Viator here to see reviews, availability, and pricing of the San Jose Beer Tasting Tour.
Final Thoughts on Costa Rica Beer:
If traveling through Costa Rica, put down the bottle of Imperial and take the time to seek out some of these other most interesting offerings. Craft beer is brewing up in Costa Rica, many of which has proven to be quite well done. So go seek out that IPA with tropical fruit notes while you’re actually in the tropics! Beer is not a reason to travel to Costa Rica, but if you are traveling here, some of the beers and pubs we’ve mentioned are absolutely worth seeking out. After seeking out craft beer in every country throughout Central America, we firmly believe Costa Rica has the best.
Have a great trip to Costa Rica! Did you find any good brews while in CR? Let us know in comments. Pura vida!