Over the last few years, beer culture has been gaining a substantial foothold in Costa Rica. Gone are the days of having to settle for bottles of Imperial, which remains a popular and pleasant experience nonetheless. Beer lovers in Costa Rica now have many options to choose from, and they come in bottles, cans or on tap. What is the best way to serve beer in Costa Rica? This happens to be a question of taste, but there are health and sustainable matters to consider as well.
Serving Tasty Beer in Costa Rica
For beer lovers, nothing is more important than taste. There is one exception to this rule in Costa Rica: Those looking for the elusive $1 beer, who are mostly frugal expats who purchase cans of Milwaukee’s Best at Wal-Mart.
Up until the turn of the century, beer in Costa Rica was almost exclusively bottled. These days, however, even the iconic Imperial can be found in cans or poured from a tap (draft or draught, depending on where you are from). Is there really a difference in taste between the three?
A blind taste test involving Budweiser, Heineken, Sapporo, and Sierra Nevada published by the Huffington Post in 2012 yielded surprising results insofar as test subjects preferring canned beer despite the following assumptions:
Those who prefer bottled beer say the bottle keeps the beer colder longer, and they don’t drink canned beer because the aluminum imparts a metallic taste. But beer manufacturers have been lining their aluminum cans with a thin plastic since 1935 to prevent just that, so metallic taste should not be an issue unless you’re licking the can.
Beer purists will passionately defend their supportive stance of draft beer as being the best when it comes to taste, and they may be scientifically right in this regard:
- First of all, beer must go through a pasteurization process before being bottled in order to kill bacteria. This sanitary process may be killing taste along with bacteria.
- Also, beer stored in casks or kegs does not have a lot of room to share with air, which lessens the possibility of oxidization and staleness.
- Finally, bottled beer may become lightstruck, which is what happens when the hops are exposed to light. This explains why original Imperial bottles are dark: They help to protect the flavor. A few beers, however, actually achieve a pleasant bitterness when exposed to light; you can try this with the iconic Mexican brew Corona: Pour a glass from an ice-cold bottle and let it sit in the sun for half a minute before drinking -you will be surprised at the taste.
Although there is plenty of scientific evidence to prefer draft beer in Costa Rica on the basis of flavor, there is a caveat in this regard. Proper maintenance and calibration of the tap and pour system is a must in order to preserve taste. Costa Rica is predominantly a bottled beer country. Draft beer is known as “cerveza cruda,” and it is not a very popular serving method, which means that not too much attention is paid to the taps.
In nations such as Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom, beer lovers do not question the taste of draft beer. Those are countries where all aspects of beer culture are venerated, and thus brew lovers know that pub and tavern owners ensure that their tap systems are always in top shape. Consider the savvy of professional Guinness draft technicians in this Beer Travelers article from 1995:
He pulls out his Fyrete Gas Analyzer to check the proportion of nitrogen to carbon dioxide in the gas. It should be 75 percent nitrogen; it’s 59 percent. “Overcarbonated, overpressurized,” he says, turning down the pressure.
Back upstairs, he phones in an order for a fresh can of gas — one that will produce the proper ratio of nitrogen and CO2. He visited the gas supplier he has been recommending to bars, watched workers fill tanks with 75 percent nitrogen and 25 percent C02, then tested the cans in action and discovered the gas was coming out 90 percent CO2 at the faucet.
Such loving attention paid to tap systems is unheard of in Costa Rica; however, the burgeoning microbrewery scene in this country is improving and thus we are starting to see more draft options. Beer lovers should ask the right questions to bar and restaurant owners in Costa Rica who serve beer on tap so that they can make an educated decision before switching to bottles. Some of the topics to discuss would be cleaning frequency, temperature, gas calibration, etc., but asking for a simple taste test (about a quarter of a glass) should be sufficient.
Healthy and Sustainable Beer in Costa Rica
There is no question as to bottled and draft beer being healthier options in Costa Rica. We already know that beer cans are lined with plastic to protect from the nasty metallic taste, so we must consider this 2011 Buzzle article:
Plastic bottles health hazard is something we are all aware of. Plastics are made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) or polycarbonate resin, which tend to leach out a potent hormone disruptor called Bisphenol-A (BPA), which can impair reproductive organs. This chemical seeps into the beverage and enters the human body system. Glass does not have any detrimental effects, so it’s safe to use it!
Since sustainability is a major issue in Costa Rica, environmentally-conscious beer lovers take note: Although more than 50 percent of aluminum can material can be recycled, beer bottles in Costa Rica are sometimes used more than 40 times. Other nations take greater advantage of aluminum can recycling, but Costa Rica prefers bottles. However, draft beer is the most sustainable of all serving methods. Consider the following rationale by the New Belgium Brewing Company of Colorado:
We are often asked which container is the most sustainable option. Drinking draft beer from a reusable cup is the choice that we tend to recommend as the most sustainable.
The simple reasoning by New Belgium is based on leaving the smallest carbon footprint, which is in line with Costa Rica’s goal of becoming a carbon-neutral country in the next few years. It is not difficult to envision the lower environmental impact of walking to a beach bar and enjoying ice-cold beer served on tap on a sunny afternoon. To make this pleasant experience in Costa Rica even more sustainable, consider microbreweries that use locally-sourced ingredients.
Article by Costa Rica Star