“When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin,” the Irish-American playwright J. P. Donleavy once remarked.
Insalubrious as the idea is, lovers of smoky pubs likely recognize something familiar in Donleavy’s beyond-the-bitter-end loyalty to his public houses. A pub is a refuge, a port away from the storms of life outside – beer, smoke, food and friends are the bulwarks.
Stan’s Irish Pub, located 125 meters west of Casa Presidencial in the southeastern Zapote district of San José, offers such a port from the daily grind in the nation’s capital. With more than 75 beers available and drink specials every day, sweet release is never in short supply. Smokes, for the time being, are still sold from the bar and one assumes there are no dead authors lurking in the beer kegs.
“I never liked clubs,” said Stanley Salas, owner and manager of the bar. “I wanted to have a relaxed atmosphere where I could have a supply of quality beers, where I could sit and talk with my friends. That’s what I’m trying to bring to my customers.”
Besides the warming comforts of stimulating conversation, Stan’s offers a wide range of activities held in an event hall found after wending one’s way through the dim and inviting bar out front. On March 3, Stan, a former Green Beret in the United States Army, held a beer and food pairing in the event hall.
“People in Costa Rica aren’t used to trying good beers,” Salas said. “I wanted to have events like this in order for them to be exposed to a wider variety of beers.”
Apart from the country’s go-to brews – Imperial and Pilsen – Salas said there has never been much of a beer culture here in Costa Rica.
“It’s a way to teach our customers about different kinds of beers and different kinds of food they can pair with them,” Salas said. “People in Costa Rica are just now starting to try beers from outside or recently from guys like Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company.”
The theme of the March 3 beer-pairing get-together was Belgian beers. Charles Jansen, of Distribuidora Isleña, which brings Belgian beers to Costa Rica, officiated the event while rattling off a mind-blowing collection of Belgian beer facts.
“Belgium has more the 700 brands of beer,” Jansen explained to a crowd of about 70 people convened at long tables in Stan’s event hall. “That includes 100 active breweries, 53,000 bars and restaurants and an average annual consumption of 100 liters of beer per capita.”
Jansen’s beer enthusiasm was infectious as the food and beer pairing kicked off.
“Marvelously sweet,” Jansen cooed over a glass of Tuborg Gold, a lager/pilsner served with an herbed chicken tender and a splash of green salad. The combo started the night off with something light and crisp, but still flavorful. At 5.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), Tuborg Gold is technically a Dutch beer, but none of the attendees seemed to mind.
A few minutes later, as Jansen continued spilling over with beer lore, the second pairing arrived – a nicely sized knob of pork tenderloin with a berry glaze and a side of steak fries served with a glass of Leffe Brune.
At 6.5 percent ABV, Leffe Brune, or Leffe Oscura as it’s known here, is a high-fermentation beer, meaning it is fermented in a temperature range of 15-25 degrees Celsius for a period of three to seven days. Toasted malt used in the brewing process gives Leffe Oscura its dark coffee color, Jensen said, and unlike many dark beers Leffe Oscura tends more to the sweet side than the bitterness usually associated with dark beers. He suggested substituting the beer for a glass of pinot noir.
As Stan’s staff hustled to bus empty plates and foam-ringed glasses from the tables, Jensen held an impromptu pop quiz on beer-brewing, handing out beer glasses to guests able to supply the correct answers from early in the expert’s spiel.
The third pairing turned things up a few notches with the strongest flavors and strongest beer of the night.
“Duvel,” Jensen said, “has a round, dry flavor in the mouth with a long bitterness.”
Stan’s guests noshed on black-peppercorn beef and cabbage salad, washing things down with the 8.5 percent ABV brew.
The fourth and final pairing ratcheted up the sweetness and dropped down the alcohol content for a dessert wrap-up. Jensen selected a Hoegaarden Rosé, at 3 percent ABV, paired with lime cheesecake.
After the pairings, as guests discussed their impressions of the different beers’ flavors and qualities, Stan and Jensen signed certificates vouching for each guest’s completion of the “Tasting and Pairing of Belgian Beers.”
Stan said he plans on holding another beer tasting and paring in August, and an exposition of home-brewed beers from Costa Rica is also in the works. Before then, he’s gearing up for Saint Patrick’s Day with a celebration that will begin Friday on St. Patty’s Eve and continue on the 17th.