To Pablo Formal, sharing a cultural experience is even better when you’re also sharing a good beer. Last year, the co-founder of NuShark Media brought a large-scale Oktoberfest to Costa Rica, drawing 4,000 guests. This weekend, Formal and his collaborators are going Gaelic: They’re bringing an enormous St. Patrick’s Day celebration to Escazú.
“It came together because of a lack of things to do around Costa Rica,” says Formal. “People are tired of doing the same thing. These kinds of events can transport you to different cultures.”
Unlike the somber traditional church day that native Irishmen know, Formal’s two-day bonanza replicates St. Patrick’s Day as it is celebrated in the United States – a rollicking beer festival overflowing with laughter, games and music. The theme is fairly loose: Buskers will dress as leprechauns, knights, and damsels in distress, and the scenery will include an Iron Throne (of “Game of Thrones” fame), and “a kind of Nazgûl” (the undead horsemen of “Lord of the Rings”). Last year, in preparation for the event, Formal and his girlfriend visited the citywide celebrations in Chicago, which is world-famous for its parades, pub crawls and rivers dyed green.
“There won’t be a parade,” concedes Formal. “But maybe next year we will have more activities like that.”
Formal has become a champion of Costa Rica’s craft beer movement, and the festival is a chance for local brewers to showcase their work. One such beverage has been brewed specifically for the occasion – the “Mirada de Duende,” or “gaze of the leprechaun,” is a green-tinted malt beer that incorporates actual Irish moss. A collaboration between brewer Bodega de Chema and San José’s Stiefel Pub, the concoction boasts 6.5 percent alcohol.
“It’s not that strong,” says Formal. “But Ticos are used to 5 percent.”
The festival will take place in a grassy lot in front of a Walmart in Escazú. The field is usually empty and desolate, but Formal plans to put these acres to good use: There will be carnival tents, kiosks, food vendors, and even trampolines. A stage will host five bands per day, including traditional Celtic musicians, rock bands and electronica DJs. An improvised parking lot will accommodate 750 cars (parking will cost about $3), and for guests who enjoy themselves a little too much, a taxi stand is located only paces from the main entrance. Despite the boozy atmosphere, the event is designed to be family-friendly.
Although Costa Rica doesn’t have much Irish culture, Formal hopes that the themes of St. Patrick’s Day shine through.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Irish or not,” he says. “It just matters that you come in a good mood, and you’re willing to participate. It’s about friendship. It’s a magical event. It’s not just have-a-beer-be-with-your-friends. It’s a full experience.”
The St. Patrick’s Day celebration takes place March 15 and 16 in front of Walmart, Escazú. Sat., 11 a.m.–12 a.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. ₡10,000 ($20). Info: Event ticketing site.