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At the edge of Cartago, just before you hit open country, sits a small warehouse with the words Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company painted out front.
Seemingly inconspicuous and intentionally unadvertised, the building is the home of Costa Rica’s and Central America’s only microbrewery. It is definitely worth a visit. Here’s why.
The first thing guests will notice after stepping inside is a laid-back ambiance, including a small semi-circle of comfortable couches usually filled by a group of beer drinkers enjoying a pint or two of CRCBC’s two production ales.
The second thing is just how small and personal the country’s only microbrewery really is. The brew staff consists of two people, a master and his assistant, who literally take a hands-on approach in every step of the process. Busily working around two bronze-colored mash tanks, bags full of hops, and racks of brown bottles, the brewers work exclusively with all-natural ingredients.
While visiting, there is a good chance guests will have the opportunity to chat it up with two of the brewery’s three founders over a pint. Peter Gilman and brewmaster Christopher Derrick spend their days working with a staff of locals doing what they love, brewing beer and spreading the culture of craft brewing.
“Brewing beer is not just a business for us, it is a way of life,” Gilman said.
A Unique Philosophy
CRCBC has a philosophy behind its product rooted in the rich culture of craft brewing. According to Gilman and Derrick there is not, nor should there be, one beer to trump all other beers.
“We don’t think our ales are better than anyone else’s,” Gilman said. “They’re just different. That’s the whole concept of craft beer; the variety of styles and flavors. It’s not that one is inherently better than another. The beer you want depends on the day, what you feel like, and what food you are pairing the beer with.”
While CRCBC doesn’t claim its beer is better, they take special precautions to make sure their product is of the utmost quality. First and foremost, Craft Brewing Company is technically an “alehouse.” They only brew ales, whereas most of the beers available in Costa Rica are lagers. CRCBC doesn’t use any artificial ingredients nor corn, rice or sugars. They only use the ingredients directed by the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. The beer is unpasteurized, kept in cold storage and delivered cold in refrigerated trucks so it can be enjoyed fresh.
Founders Derrick, Gilman and Brandon Nappy started CRCBC in August 2010 with the goal of introducing Costa Ricans to the unique culture of craft brewing.
“There are microbreweries all over South America and North America, but for some reason, microbreweries had previously eluded Central America,” Gilman said.
CRCBC currently has two beers it produces commercially, Libertas Tropical Golden Ale and Segua Red Ale. Both were crafted under the direction of Derrick using the alehouse’s small pilot system, a process that Gilman said took six weeks.
Brewer’s assistant Stefano Marín said Libertas is an introductory beer designed to appeal to the Costa Rican palate and acquaint his fellow Ticos to craft brewing. The refreshing Libertas ale goes down smoothly and yet has a distinct full flavor.
“Our blend of hops gives the beer its unique flavor and character,” Marín said, pointing out that hops are not a grain but rather a flower. Marín also pointed out that Craft Brewing Company imports its hops from the United States because Costa Rica doesn’t have a climate to grow the flower.
“As the beer matures we blend in the other ingredients and everything comes together in a beautiful manner,” he said.
Segua is a full-flavored and generously hopped ale. Mahogany in color, it features a rich overall flavor profile that has a smooth, bitter finish.
“The body lends a balance to the beer that makes it unique,” Derrick said.
The Legend of La Segua
After going through name after name for the stronger of their two commercial beers, Gilman said CRCBC settled on Segua. The name comes from a traditional Costa Rican legend that originated in the colonial capital of Cartago.
A beautiful woman with milky white skin, large, piercing black eyes, and long black hair was in love with a Spanish officer who broke her heart, invoking a terrible curse. She was transformed into a monster, which preys on men riding alone on deserted roads.
According to legend, “La Segua” asks an unsuspecting male traveler, often drunk, for a ride on his horse, saying that she
needs to see her ill mother. The rider lifts up La Segua and soon finds out that she is in fact a terrible monster, with the face of a horse’s skull, burning eyes, and large menacing teeth. Gilman said they decided on the name because they wanted to make a beer that was not only produced in Costa Rica by Ticos but also rooted in Tico culture and customs.
The Future of Craft Brewing
In the short term, Derrick said the brewery wants to expand its unique product line.
“We are trying to use Costa Rican ingredients and intelligence in brewing our beers,” Derrick said. “We want to use a little touch of smoked malts in our next production beer. We are going to use green mango wood to smoke the malts. Green mango wood is the preferred wood to smoke food here in Costa Rica.”
Gilman said the brewery has gotten offers to export the beer back to the United States and other countries in Central America but has decided to keep it local.
“Our philosophy is about looking and seeing what the local people want,” Gilman said. “We want to emphasize the fact that we are a Tico brewery. Our only goal is to see the culture of craft brewing, something we love, grow here in Costa Rica.”
The brewery is 800 meters west of Riteve in El Guarco, Cartago. Tours are by appointment only, Wednesday to Friday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. For information on where to buy Libertas Tropical Golden Ale or Segua Red Ale, visit www.beer.cr or call (506) 2573-3724.