Pity the poor beer connoisseur heading to Latin America. In many countries, one brand dominates. In others there are several labels—all brewed by the same company. In general it’s a sea of light lagers meant to be served very cold on a hot day.
Mexico has long brewed some of the best beers around, but even there the multitude of brands are produced by just two companies. And now one of those companies is fully owned by the Anheuser-Busch/InBev conglomerate. The behemoth bought what it didn’t own of the brewer for $20.1 billion.
These monopolies or duopolies survive because friendly governments have put up lots of barriers to keep anyone else from spoiling things. Until a few decades ago, laws weren’t so loose in the U.S. either. Once local brewers were allowed to flourish, they did so in a hurry.
There are a few bright spots in the region that can give us hope:
Costa Rica – This country, formerly dominated by one brewer, is now home to five start-up microbreweries. That’s enough to justify a real Microbrewery Beer Festival this past April. Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company has the best distribution so far, though oddly enough they don’t have a website—just a Facebook page.
If you like a good beer or three, stay where it’s served and you won’t have to drive. Volcano Brewing Company on Lake Arenal is also a hotel! (Rates are great too.)
Chile – Lots of Germans settled here, so there must be good beer—right? A lot of them seemed to land in Valdivia, the epicenter for the craft beer movement in Chile. One brewery is even called Kuntzmann. I had the pleasure of trying a Svot amber ale while I was in Chile on a wine tour (shhhh, don’t tell), and it was divine.
Brazil – This could be the market that really makes it for the craft brew industry. A huge population, rising wealth, regional advantages because of distance, and a populace that drinks as much beer as soda. According to this article, “Some of the most popular brands that are all worth a try while in Brazil are Colorado, Coruja, Dado Bier, Bierland, Mistura Clássica and Bamberg.”
Mexico – It’s not that there aren’t any microbrews in Mexico: you’ll just have a really hard time finding any of them. I lived in Guanajuato for seven months before I even saw one in a restaurant or bar. Thankfully you’ve got Bohemia and Negra Modela from the big boys (two of the few with an alcohol content over 4.5%), but seek out the others in Mexico City or Guadalajara.
Have you found any craft beers in your travels in Latin America? Clue us in!