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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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