April rolled in with sunny days and high expectations for the second annual Craft Beer Festival. Artisan brew culture is a new trend in Costa Rica which has gained an increasing amount of followers over the past two years. Even though the movement is small in comparison to other countries, Costa Rica based brewers are not backing down anytime soon and are determined to make themselves known.
The festival was a joint effort organized by the Costa Rican Craft Brewers Club and Product © Restaurants. Tickets were available for a reasonable $30 which entitled attendees to a commemorative t-shirt, 3oz sampling glass and a passport allowing access to 22 samples! That totals 90 ounces of beer per person, for all you non-math-whiz individuals! The festival was also open to the public and those without a ticket could choose between 5 varieties of beer available for purchase.
If there are two things you can be guaranteed to see at a beer festival, it would be tattoos and cool shirts. The II Craft Beer Festival had plenty of those in stock and even though the beer flowed freely for about 8 hours, the celebration was wholesome good fun; many even came with their families. The nicely distributed layout was divided into 4 main categories. Patrons worked their way through Microbreweries (establishments with distribution permits), Brewpubs (establishments producing exclusive in-house brews), Brewing Supply Shops and Future Projects (microbreweries awaiting permits).
The activity program for the festival offered a roster of beer gurus speaking on topics of beer tasting, home brewing and building your own equipment. A colleague of mine Gustavo Villalobos, the executive chef of Centro Gastronomico Sabores, collaborated with the festival by teaching spectators how to use brewing ingredients to make a dish. TicoBirra Homebrew Shop donated hops and Patagonia Caramel Malt which Gustavo used to prepare a hops cured trout canapé with a roasted barley spread. I was invited to teach a class on beer based cocktails. Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company sponsored my demo with their Libertas Tropical Golden Ale and their new Costa Rican Oatmeal Stout. I designed a ginger jalapeno beerjito and a dessert cocktail named 3-2-1 (I will share recipes in a future post).
I was happy to find that all the microbreweries and homebrewers that presented beers at the festival seemed focused on offering variety, personality, flavor and quality. Pezuña Negra was the first stamp on my passport; the Pata Negra Coffee Porter was succulent and a great way to start my tasting rounds. Perro Vida has a team behind it with as much personality as its Zaguate IPA. Their photo booth and their ale were very popular with the festival-goers. My friends from Volcano Brewing Co. were on site with their Witch’s Rock American Pale Ale and Gato Malo Nut Brown Ale, both of which make you want to kick back, relax and enjoy the view.
Calle Cimarrona, the only 100% Costa Rican brew crew, showed up with strong entries. Hard to miss, the colorful stand was adorned with giant papier- mâché heads that are traditional in many Costa Rican festivities. They even had a suggestion bowl where drinkers could propose a name for their Belgian dubbel. The winning name was La Pecadora (english translation: The Sinner)! Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company paid tribute to local culture with oxcart wheel adorned bottle caps and labels commemorating old wives tales. Costa Rica Meadery stood out not because it was the sole mead producer present, but because their hidromiel is the only spokesperson they need. The mead is wonderfully balanced with a subtle aroma and I look forward to what they will come up with next.
Treintaycinco was a huge contributor with 6 beers and a variety of styles including ales, a stout and even a barleywine. This brewery instantly hit my soft spot with its bold labels and sassy names that could make a few goody-two-shoes blush. I love culinary industry rebels as long as their product lives up to their image and Treintaycinco did not disappoint. Bribri Springs Brewery visited city-slicker beer drinkers from the Caribbean coast and brought some local flavor with them, presenting their Oso’s Honey Mango Brown Ale. It was an unusual combination that worked exceptionally well and made me wish I could stamp that passport page twice.
La Perra Hermosa Coastal Brewery showcased the skills on the lone woman brewmaster, Courtney Cargill. The brewery transported batches of Malpais Ale and La Rubia del Campo Blonde Ale to the festival. The latter is a saison style brew which pays homage to Belgian farming traditions. It was among my favorite 5 beers at the fest. Two brewing supply stores doled out tasty batches of ale. La Bodega del Chema started some chain reaction smiles with their Cahuita Amber Ale. It was hard to get a clear consensus on the Jack Daniel’s Old Ale offered by TicoBirra; the lip-smacking was too loud. A very good sign if you ask me.
Another big part of the brew celebration was the home-brew tournament, which brought 36 contenders to a head. I missed the awards because I could not stay for the entire festival, but I asked around and would like to congratulate Carlos Padilla on his third place win. He was the only Costa Rican to take home a place medal and deserves accolades for thinking outside the box by adding whiskey soaked oak chips to his Costa Rican Old Ale to create an “aged in oak whiskey barrels” flavor. Second place was taken by brew-team Andy Myers and James Wood. They created a hoppy pale ale that the judges liked quite a bit. First place was awarded to hop-tastic duo Paul Peck and Troy Moulaug and their Black IPA which was reported to be rich in color and intensely flavorful.
Even though the main focus of the festival was obviously the craft beer, it should be noted that the ambiance was much improved by the mixing skills of DJ Julie B. She dropped some classic hip hop beatz that had numerous party-goers lip-syncing between sips. Her style dominated the airwaves and put everyone in a feel good mood. A serious spinner with style, DJ Julie B was lost in the music and so were we. If you want to hear some of her style you can give it a listen here.
Numbers don’t lie. The second edition of this festival was a HUGE success and proved Costa Ricans are ready for a change when it comes to their beer. 2000 people showed up to try craft beer which is 400% more than the first festival, 47% more beers were available and the amount of brewers was increased by a whopping 120%! I was honored to be a part of this great event, enjoyed myself a great deal and had time to sample 19 of the 22 brews. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be invited back next year.
Keep an eye out for my cocktail recipes which I’ll post soon and in the meanwhile I encourage you to go find a local craft beer, serve it up and have a little brew-versary of your own.
Until next time…