February 20, 2018:
My producer’s managed to get in contact with me today. Never a good sign. Apparently the half dozen or so telegrams that I’ve misplaced over the last month were trying to communicate that if I intended to continue charging all my expenses to the official “Beerx.ca Business, Beers, & Bromance Account,” than I will need to actually produce a report on my time exploring the Latin American beer scene.
It appears this is a rather serious request, and after a few beers of consideration, I’ve concluded that maintaining my routine of loonie drinks, shaking off sand, and sleeping in hammocks is worth a little written word, so here it goes.
What is the beer scene in Latin America like you ask? In a sentence, it’s just okay.
February 21, 2018:
I’ve been told by my producers that my assessment is insufficient for the number of bills they continue to receive back in Toronto, so I’ve been sternly implored to please write more.
What is the beer scene in Latin America like you ask? Well, I’ve only spent time in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama thus far, and despite there being a growing craft beer scene in Central America, all three of these nations continue to champion the crushable and inexpensive light lager. And I’m totally keen on it.
Whenever I tell people I’m a beer sommelier, they ask how can I endure drinking these cheap, nearly flavourless beers, such as Toña, Imperial, and Balboa. Well when you’re beving on the company dime it’s an easy decision between free beer or no beer.
February 22, 2018:
The bigs Ps told me to be more serious or else reap what you sow.
In all seriousness, there are a handful of reasons why I would encourage any beer snob abroad to embrace the cerveceria nacional.
First off, these types of beers are specifically brewed to suit the climates in which they are consumed. When one spends all day in the 30+ degree heat, reaching for an uncomplicated and refreshing lager makes the most sense. For example, Toña, Nicaragua’s most popular cerveza nacional, has a subtle cereal flavour with the lightest of bodies and a clean finish, making it the ideal bev for drinking after a day of pretending you know how to surf or a sweaty evening making fast friends around a game of cards. Don’t get me wrong, if I come across say an Imperial Stout I’ll enjoy it, but consuming beers with higher ABVs and bigger bodies can quickly get to your head in these tropical climates.
Also, drinking a couple Toñas at a beach side bar while observing the surf just feels right. Your brain is offline, your body is relaxed, you want a beer that you don’t have to think about. In other words, there is a time and a place for every beer, and even though you might never drink light lagers at home, consuming these beers in these settings just tastes and feels right. In my experience, drinking more complex styles of beer that are synonymous with micro breweries doesn’t always fit with the laid back vibe of Central America. Hence why you’ll find locals and tourists alike choosing the light lager over other styles of beer.
These types of beers are also readily available, cheap, and usually cold in any location a tourist could find themselves. Craft beer on the other hand is sometimes difficult to come by and significantly more expensive than the macro breweries’ products. Coming from a golden age of craft beer in Toronto, a city where it’s impossible to come across a liquor licensed establishment that doesn’t carry a single craft beer, finding small batch brews down here requires a lot more effort. Some of the tiendas and bars are beginning to carry local craft brewery’s brands, but those diamonds are few and far between. And in terms of cost difference, if you’re traveling on a budget it’s hard to justify drinking $5+ craft beers all day when you have the option to spend less than half of that on bevs that are more suitable for your current time and place.
That being said, when you come across a local brewery, it’s very exciting and sometimes worth splurging for. Most of the beers I’ve tried have been a brilliant change up from the light lager. It’s honestly exhilarating to drink a bursting with flavour IPA after only consuming Toñas since what feels like the dawn of time. Plus, the folks in charge of these Craft Breweries are genuinely stoked to host beer lovers from around the world, and most will gladly chat to visitors about the industry down south.
So by all means, when you come across it, please don’t ignore the micro scene down here, but I would encourage any traveler to embrace the idea that every occasion has its beer and for one to maximize their brew-sperience in Latin America, you must keep that in back of your mind.
Alright I’ve got to go change my name, passport, and location in the hopes that my Producers will stay off my trail for the next while. DD out.