We loved Guatemala for so many reasons… the awesome recreation, the beauty of the highlands, the friendly people, and the terrific value for your money. Although there are plenty of great reasons to come to Guatemala, beer tourism probably isn’t one of them. But if you are making your way to this wonderful country, here are some things to know about its brews.
Not surprisingly, pale lagers ruled the land, as yellow fizzy beer has been a reoccurring theme for all the Central American nations we’ve been visiting. Gallo brand beer was definitely the most popular and also apparently has the largest advertising budget. Gallo branding was everywhere throughout the country.
On a bright note, Guatemala was the first country in which it appeared commonplace that they would offer a glass with your bottle of beer, which was always accepted and appreciated.
Main Beers in Guatemala
We talk about the new Guatemala craft beers and imports in a later section. But first let’s review the main beers in Guatemala that you’ll find in most stores and restaurants. We’ll take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Our Recommendations for the best Guatemala beer:
1) Moza, Dark Lager / Dunkle, 5.6%: This dark brew became our go-to beer in the country. Although nothing too remarkable overall, this bock certainly stood out above its pale ale colleagues. Faint tastes of caramel, roasted malts, and brown sugar, yet not very sweet. It’s not a great beer, but I still hold firm that its the best Guatemalan brew in the country.
2) Brahva Extra, Pale Lager, 5.0%: When in the mood for a light beer, I’d recommend Bravha Extra over the widely prevalent Gallo. Maybe it is just another Central American pale lager, but I’ll attest that this has more flavor than the rest. There’s a tad of appealing wheat notes that is not present in the other Guatemalan pale lagers. Again not a great beer, but its among the best in Guatemala. Definitely worth a try.
3) Dorado Ice, Pale Lager, 5.0%: I expected this to be horrible. I almost hate to admit it but there was something about Dorado Ice that I not only found tolerable but also slightly liked. It had some subtle grain notes and a bit of a sweet finish. Perhaps my tastes are getting twisted, but as far as shitty Central American pale lagers go, Dorado Ice is okay in my book.
The Middle of the Pack:
Gallo, Pale Lager, 5.0%: The most popular beer in Guatemala was not offensive in taste, but not particularly great either. It’s another yellow fizzy beer. What else is there to say? If you’re going to Guatemala and you drink beer, you’ll almost certainly have one at some point.
Brahva, Pale Lager, 5.0%: I’m not sure how many different words I can find to describe another watery pale lager. This was okay, but get the Brahva Extra instead.
Victoria, Pale Lager, 5.0%: Another standard watery pale ale that was uninspired yet not offensive by any means. This one seemed perhaps slightly more watered down than the others but only by a very slim margin.
Gallo Dark Lager, Dark Lager / Dunkle, 5.6%: Perhaps Gallo’s answer to Moza? Although dark in color, it seemed deceptively light on flavor. If you’re going for a bock, try Moza instead.
Cabro, Pale Lager, 4.8%: I had high hopes for this beer brewed in Xela, the city we called home for over a week. Instead, I found another watery, flavorless, and slightly unpleasant tasting pale lager. It had a slightly metallic taste similar to some of the bad macros found back Stateside. I later heard that there are a few places in Xela which serve Cabro on draft and that the draft version actually tastes different and is great. We’ll have to go back to Xela one day and drink it to believe it.
Monte Carlo Premium, Pale Lager: There was nothing premium here. This is not a good beer and I wasn’t able to finish it. Don’t waste your time with this one. This was the worst beer I had while in Guatemala. Yuck!
Price of Beer in Guatemala
A 12 oz. bottle of common domestic beers such as Gallo, Moza, or Brahva cost around $1.50 – $2.00 at restaurants and bars. Liter (or “grande”) bottles seemed to vary a bit more in price, as we saw them for as little as $2.50 and as much as about $5.00. More commonly it was on the lower end, which is obviously a better deal than buying a regular bottle if you’re planning to have a few beers. Beers in the store or happy hour will usually cost a bit less, around $1.00-$1.50 for a 12 oz. and $2-$3 or so for a liter.
In Guatemala, it is not uncommon to see drink specials with mojitos or cuba libres for about a buck or less. It’s hard to choose the country’s yellow fizzy beers over these delicious drinks. They are made with good Guatemalan rum and fresh mint for the mojitos. The value proposition of cocktails in Guatemala makes it even tougher to choose a beer since often mojitos cost less than those subpar brews. We love beer, but rum drinks may be the better option when roaming around Guatemala.
Guatemala Craft Beer:
Unfortunately Guatemala craft beer simply does not exist. We found out that laws make microbreweries prohibitive and none of the major breweries delve into craft beer styles. I asked around and heard rumors of expat home brewers who would sell their beer under the table, but was unsuccessful in finding them. (There is apparently a German guy in Xela and a French man in Antigua who brew. Ask around.) Although there are no craft beers officially on the market with a Guatemalan label, you can, however, still find some imported craft beers to whet your appetite.
Update (February 2016): We briefly returned to Guatemala in February 2016 and discovered that the major Guatemalan brewery, Cerveceria Centro Americana (producers of Gallo), has begun brewing three craft beer styles. Rejoice! There is now craft beer in Guatemala. The brand of this Guatemala craft beer that they produce is called Utz Pin Pin. There are currently three different styles:
- Utz Pin Pin Cafe (coffee)
- Utz Pin Pin Chocolate
- Utz Pin Pin Especias (Spices)
The label on the bottle claims the Utz Pin Pin brand was first launched in 1919 and they’re now bringing it back. The name comes from the Maya. The beer’s origin was initially Xela. So how is this Guatemala craft beer?
For our tastes, the Utz Pin Pin Cafe was the clear winner. Guatemala knows how to produce a coffee and they’ve done a nice job now incorporating it into their beer. The spice beer was a mediocre attempt at a pumpkin spice flavor and tastes of potpourri were a bit overpowering. The Utz Pin Pin chocolate just tasted like someone added Hershey’s syrup to a beer. It was drinkable but not very good, in our opinion. Yet we applaud the brewery for returning styles of Guatemala craft beer to the market.
International Beer in Guatemala
Imported beers were not particularly common in Guatemala. Occasionally Corona or Heineken would show up. More common Belgian staples such as Leffe and Hoegarden could likewise be found in tourist areas of Antigua and San Pedro La Laguna. We also noticed some German beer at a few cafes in Xela.
I was surprised when we got to San Pedro La Laguna to find a bar serving Brooklyn Brewery beers. In fact, they had three different types: Brooklyn Lager, Pennant Pale Ale, and Brooklyn East IPA. If I were to come up with a list of my top 50 IPAs, Brooklyn’s East IPA would definitely not make the cut. (That’s just my opinion and my tastes. There are plenty of other Brooklyn beers I like very much.) But after drinking mostly watery and flavorless beers for the last few months and then indulging in a Brooklyn East IPA, it tasted oh-so-great. I always try to drink the local beers first (as we listed in our rules) but after going through all the Guatemalan offerings, it was really nice to have this IPA.
These same three Brooklyn Brewery beers were also relatively common in bars and restaurants throughout Antigua, Guatemala. They were usually only about USD$2.50 and I was very confused by the economics of this. A Brooklyn beer back in the States would probably cost somewhere around $5, maybe down to $3 during a particularly good happy hour. Shipping the craft beer to Guatemala would certainly have to add transportation cost and import/export taxes. So how is it possible that these beers are less expensive here in Guatemala than back in the States where they’re made? If you can help explain this or just have a theory, please comment below and enlighten us all.
The other craft import we found in Guatemala was Cadejo Brewing Company, imported from neighboring El Salvador. We only tried Cadejo’s Red Ale, which was on draft at Hops & Tales in Antigua (the only bar in Antigua serving it) and thought it was excellent! This 5.7% American Red Ale with moderate bitterness was floral, a bit spicy, and downright delicious. The Salvadorian brew was the best beer we had during our month in Guatemala. Whether you’re in Antigua or venture south into El Salvador, I highly recomend.
Notable Beer Places in Guatemala
1) Hops & Tales: (Update: Unfortunately, Hops & Tales closed in November 2015.)
( This new pub in Antigua opened just two months prior to our February 2014 visit, so its not yet listed in any of the guidebooks, online directories, or beer sites. While in Antigua we attempted to find some good beer places, so we had visited some bars with the word “Beer” in its name, but struck out as none were really anything special. I about gave up on beer in Guatemala altogether when we luckily happened to take a wrong turn and stumbled upon this place. We saw a sign which read “The only bar in Antigua with craft beer on draft” and immediately turned in to Hops & Tales. Hops & Tales is the pub which had the red ale from the Salvadorian brewery, Cadejo, on draft which was absolutely fantastic. The owners Marco and Ellie were just as delightful as the beer we were sipping on, as I actually found someone in Guatemala to talk beer with. Marco explained to me how they were originally looking to open a small micro or nano brewery, but the laws prevented that, so they are instead aiming to have the best beer selection in Guatemala. They also typically have Cadejo’s Stout and Pale Ale but those taps were dry during our visit. They claim it’s the only place in Antigua with craft beer on tap and I think it could be the only place in the entire country. But its not just the beer selection that is good, as the bar has a nice, fun atmosphere, plays good music, and has friendly owners who tend bar. There’s no food served here but we saw other folks who brought in a pizza with them. If you’re looking for a good beer in Guatemala, this is the place to find it. They had all the standard Guatemalan beers, every single import I saw anywhere throughout the country, plus the delicious Salvadorian beer I mentioned. The bar had only been open for a few month when we were there, so by the time you stop by, they may even have some additional tasty treats to imbibe. You can find their location and contact info over on their Facebook page.
2) Buddha Bar – This bar has the best beer selection in San Pedro La Laguna and perhaps all of Lago Atitlan. It has all the major Guatemalan labels, three Brooklyn Ales, and a handful of the more mass-market Belgian beers (Leffe, Hoegarden). We ordered dinner there one night too and was surprised at how good it was. We thought the food was even better than the raved-about restaurant up the street. If you’re in San Pedro, simply walk down the main walkway and you’ll find it about midway between the Pana and Santiago docks. It has three floors and each one has a different vibe, so check them out and decide what is right for you. (Update: they now carry Salvadorian Cadejo craft beer.)
3) Cafés in Xela: When in Xela we found that it was the cafes rather than the bars which had more interesting beers. There are many cafes throughout the city. Wander around within a few blocks or so of Parque Central and you’ll certainly run into a few cafes that that have some imports to your liking. We saw a few random German bottles pop up in some of these cafes.
Final Thoughts on Guatemala Beer:
- If you’re looking for a decent beer in Guatemala, give Moza a try.
- You’ll almost certainly have a Gallo at some point but for lighter beer check out Brahva Extra instead. And don’t completely snub the Dorado Ice either.
- If you can find Cabro on draft in Xela, please give it a try and let us know how it is.
- Be sure to stop by Hops & Tales in Antigua to try the Salvadorian beer on draft and anything else they may have added to their inventory since our last visit.
- In Guatemala you can often get a tasty mojito for less than the cost of a beer (< USD$1 during happy hour), which may be a better option to drink than more of the yellow fizzy suds.