San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bodega gives San José’s beer lovers a home

It’s safe to say that Josemaría Mora loves  beer.  He  doesn’t  love  it  like the goal-oriented weekend warrior drinker during a fuzzy Saturday night drinking marathon. 

Mora, who goes by “Chema,” respects beer. He’s studied the creation process, history and ingredients, and he’s familiar with thousands of international beers. Mora is an aficionado. 

Last month, he turned his passion for beer into a business and opened La Bodega de Chema, a quaint beer vendor in the eastern San José neighborhood of Los Yoses. 

La Bodega de Chema is a novelty in Costa Rica. It’s not a cantina, restaurant or corner store. In a small office space Mora opened his own beer education center. Beer posters and books about brewing line the walls; a beer encyclopedia and beer dictionary sit on a shelf. 

A selection of beer glasses and mugs is on display, and a back cooler is stocked with Libertas Tropical Golden Ale and Segua Red Ale, two microbrews produced by the Craft Brewing Company in Cartago, east of San José (TT, July 29). 

One thing Mora does not offer at the bodega is commercial beer – the usual suspects of Costa Rica’s beer market are nowhere to be found. Mora said his decision to omit the popular national brands was to enlighten customers about other options available in the beer world. 

“The beer experience for most Costa Ricans is limited to only a small selection of options and flavors. Most people here haven’t tried many types of beers and are uninformed about what other flavors are available,” Mora said. “The world of beers is extremely large, and what we are trying to do here is educate the Costa Rican public about what other types of beers exist.” 

Mora said his appreciation for beer was cultivated when he lived in upstate New York in the United States. A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Mora said the exposure to the U.S. beer market sparked a curiosity that led him to try as many different beers as possible. 

During his era of experimentation in the U.S., Mora studied the home-brew process, different variations of hops and barleys, and how carbonation affects taste and the drinking experience. 

When he returned to Costa Rica last year, he was intrigued by the newly established Craft Brewing Company, and met with the company’s owners and assistant brewer. He said he was impressed with the quality of Libertas and Segua, which won a silver medal in the Patagonian and American Ale category at the Copa Cervezas de América (American Beer Cup) in Chile last September (TT, Sept. 22). 

“There have been several microbrewers in Costa Rica that have come and gone,” Mora said. “But I knew when I visited Craft, I saw that they had a talented staff in place and the makings of becoming a successful beer distributor.” 

After meeting and befriending the Craft team, Mora realized how hard it is to stock Libertas and Segua in grocery or corner stores. While the beers are offered in several San José area restaurants and bars, the only way to purchase a case of beer was to drive to the Craft headquarters in Cartago. 

“I would have to take a half day off work just to go out there and buy a case,” Mora said.

Yet Mora saw an opportunity. He decided to become a beer vendor.  

Though only two types of beer are currently sold at the bodega, Mora is trying to develop a community of microbrewers and small national beer producers. Last Sunday, he hosted his first tasting and beer-share with Costa Rican microbrewers. About 20 people attended, bringing their own stout, holiday, wheat and rye beers. 

Mora hopes Sunday’s tasting is the beginning of a national microbrewers network. He said that although dozens of people brew their own beers in the San José area, they rarely have an opportunity to share them publicly. 

“We want the bodega to give an opportunity to small microbrewers that are making beer as a hobby but might have aspirations of making a profit,” Mora said. “Hopefully the bodega will soon begin to offer a much wider variety of artisanal beers.”

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