Visibility zero, ceiling unknown, altimeter 200 feet and dropping. The rain which pounded the windows of the tiny plane had submerged our primary landing strip, a grassy patch in the town of Tortugerro just south of the Nicaraguan border. Our alternate field was an asphalt strip somewhere north of the flooded coastal city of Limón. Suddenly the tree tops came into view. Good news-we were still over land and we hadn't run into the central mountain range. Bad news-the pilot yelled in Spanish into the mic "I don't recognize anything, I don't know where I am." The response from the radio came back, "when you get to the ocean turn left." I wondered if this was the Latin American version of Visual Flight Rules. As the coastline appeared the panic began to slowly fade from the young pilot's face. The white-knuckled grips of the passengers however didn't weaken as the runway came into view; rain-soaked, 800 feet long and barely 10 feet wide.
The ground journey was no less thrilling, nearly two hours by river in rain slickers with the precipitation arriving more horizontally than vertically. When our final destination, the Tortugerro Lodge, came into view my first thought was that they better not be serving only light beer. As the young manager greeted us my expression must have conveyed my immediate wish, he handed me a cold bottle of Costa Rica's finest. From Cervercería Costa Rica, the Imperial at 4% Alcohol By Weight (ABW) was a clear straw color, well carbonated, and offered a light hop flavor and very even balance.
The Atlas Bar at Avenida 4, Calle 4-6 in the capital city of San José offered a unique atmosphere. Here you'll find an indoor biergarten nestled between the busy street front, a dark back bar, and two all-night discos. Menus were in Spanish and English and the light food was both spicy and tasty. Served in ceramic mugs, the Tropical at 3.9% ABW had a profile of light hop aroma, light smooth body, and a very light hop flavor which left no aftertaste. The Pilzen at 4.5% ABW was also light-bodied and carbonated but had a hop flavor which started strong then finished subdued. The Bavaria, at 4% ABW was, surprise, light-bodied and packed a pronounced malt over hop flavor. Prices were reasonable at 80 Colones per bottle (40¢). The brewed under license canned Guinness and Heineken were untried.
Having the nation's beer industry dominated by COKE (Cervecería Costa Rica) and PEPSI (Cervecería Tropical) might make for some interesting "Beer Wars" commercials however these two multinationals appear content putting their money into buying up the channels of distribution rather than advertising.
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - November, 1995
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