Taste Testing the Beers of Costa Rica

Having moved to Costa Rica from Boston, a city with more than a dozen different breweries, one of our first orders of business was to try every beer that we could find. Although we have discovered some delicious microbrews around the country, sadly they are not widely distributed and are hard to find. Instead, there are only a few brands that dominate the market. So what exactly can you expect when ordering a cerveza here in paradise? This post will cover the three most common beer choices in Costa Rica and give you beer lovers a take on what to expect.

 

The Beers of Costa Rica

1.  Imperial

Imperial is by far the most commonly served beer in Costa Rica. This beer has been around since 1924 and has become a recognizable symbol for tourists and locals alike. Practically everyone who visits Costa Rica goes home with a T-shirt, shot glass, or some sort of Imperial souvenir proudly displaying the label’s black eagle logo.

 

Costa Rica's Imperial Beer

 

Tasting Notes

Imperial has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 4.6% and around 140 calories per serving. It’s a pale, light lager which is comparable to the mass-market beers of the US like Budweiser and Coors because of its low bitterness, mild malts, and modest alcohol content. It is golden in color and usually has a small, white fizzy head when poured. This makes the beer more watery and very drinkable for Costa Rica’s hot weather. The light aroma and grassy taste profile can become somewhat ‘skunky’ when warm, however, so drink up quickly or do as the locals sometimes do and order a side of ice and limes.

Imperial also makes variations on the original, including Imperial Light and Imperial Silver. Could you tell the difference in a taste test? Probably not, but we lean towards the Silver when switching it up.

The Verdict on Imperial

Although it’s watery and doesn’t have much flavor, like many other people, we associate the laid back pura vida mentality with a cold Imperial. Therefore, we love it. But it’s a love-hate relationship.

2.  Pilsen

Pilsen is the second most popular beer in Costa Rica. This beer has been around since 1888 and is easily recognizable by its red and white label.

 

Costa Rica's Pilsen Beer

 

Tasting Notes

Pilsen is also a light lager but has a slightly fuller body (but still watery) and very slight hop bitterness, which leaves a drier taste on the tongue. Pilsen has an ABV of 5.1% and is around 150 calories. Like Imperial, this beer is golden in color (although just slightly darker) and has a small, quickly disappearing head when poured. It also shares the grassy aroma, is light and drinkable on a hot day, and can become ‘skunky’ when warm.

The Verdict on Pilsen

Overall, Pilsen is very similar to Imperial but when tasted side by side comes across a little heavier. We prefer it to Imperial because it has more flavor and it’s usually our drink of choice at smaller local restaurants and bars.

3.  Bavaria

Finally, we have Bavaria, which can be found in most restaurants and bars in Costa Rica. For this taste test, we chose Bavaria Dark but there is also Bavaria Light and Bavaria Gold which are both pale lagers, similar to Imperial and Pilsen.

 

Costa Rica's Bavaria Beer

 

Tasting Notes

Bavaria Dark is a Munich-Dunkel style lager which basically means that it contains a lot of malt and only enough hop to dull the sweetness. This beer has an ABV of 5.0% and around 150 calories per bottle. Bavaria Dark is amber in color and tastes lighter than you would expect by looking at it. The aroma is of strong malts and there is a dryness at first that disappears after a few sips as the malty sweetness take over. Bavaria has been brewing since the 1930s, but the Dark is the newest in the collection, first coming to market in 2001.

The Verdict on Bavaria

We like Bavaria Dark because it is a heavier, more complex beer and is readily available in most bars and restaurants in Costa Rica. Is it a replacement for a microbrew? Definitely not, but we’ll take what we can get.

 

Overall, the most common beers in Costa Rica are mediocre at best. Sure we used to crave a frosty Imperial when on vacation, and while it can still hit the spot sometimes, now that we live here, we often want something more hoppy and flavorful. Thankfully, the craft brew movement is slowly spreading across Costa Rica so if you happen to see Segua or Libertas from Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Co., or anything from TreintayCinco or PerroVida, go for it! We still have to try some of these craft brews ourselves and will bring you a post on our favorites soon. Until then, try out Imperial, Pilsen, and Bavaria and let us know your take.

Which of Costa Rica’s brews do you prefer? Let us know below!

Post by: Matthew Houde and Jennifer Turnbull-Houde

 

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21 Comments

  1. I have the same relationship with Red Stripe that you have with Imperial. I love it because it’s part of the Jamaican laid-back culture but there’s nothing particularly pleasing about it, taste-wise. It’s more about what the beer symbolizes than anything — good times, good weather! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Love that you did those brewery tours just for the experience. And, yes, psyched about craft beer. We actually just heard that a new brewery is opening up close to where we’re living- you can bet We’ll be first in line for growlers!

      1. You should visit the new brewpub at Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing in Ciudad Colon if you are after high quality brews.
        It’s a real brewpub inside the brewery and the beer is amazing.

  2. 2nd day in Costa Rica and we’ve already decided we prefer Pilsen to Imperial. I find it to be a cleaner tasting beer and more drinkable than Imperial as it warms up. And that happens fast on the beach.

  3. nice article, imperial and pilsen are actually really great for a heavy drinking night haha, but you are right, they are not the best beers in CR but they represent a lot of stuff in our culture, next time you are in San Jose or San Pedro (Montes de Oca) basically every bar has craft brewing beers! cheers from Costa Rica!

    1. Hi Andy, They are definitely a big part of the culture and we love them for that. Don’t get us wrong, we like Imperial and Pilsen just fine and drink them often, but sometimes something a little heavier is nice. We’re loving that the craft beer scene is growing in CR- hopefully it makes it down to the beach where we live soon!

  4. Hi! We are visiting in December this year and are REALLY interested to know what other microbrews are out there now! My husband homebrews and is a bit of a beer snob. We’re from Alaska and are drowning in microbreweries, so we’ll be really bummed if we don’t hit up a couple of local brew houses when we visit.

    1. Hi Lindsay, There are more options for craft beer in Costa Rica now. Still not a ton, but if you do some research, you will find good options. We like Treintaycinco the best overall. They started doing a tour of their brewery near San Jose recently. Costa Rica Craft Brewing is near there too and has a brewpub.

      This news article has a map with some places that serve craft beer. There’s also a new brewery in Playa Dominical called Fuego and a small brewery down on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula near Montezuma called La Selva. Not sure if they are doing tours yet but you can find it on tap in Montezuma and elsewhere in CR. One of the best bars is Stiefel Pub in downtown San Jose. We liked Microbar in Playa Samara too.

  5. When we visited Jaco , I found the La Selva Rubia (brewed in Cabuya, Puntanrenas) in a local sushi restaurant. It’s a Belgian Golden Ale and it was surprisingly delicious. I am originally from Belgium and I am very particular about beer, especially the Belgian styles. Can’t wait to try the other beers from La Selva when we come back to Costa Rica in November.

  6. Thanks for this article! I am an avid craft beer fan here in the U.S. and have tried local beers all around the world when my wife and I travel. Thrilled to check out some of these beers when we visit in December! Any tips are helpful!

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