Ellen and I love beer. In fact, I think it’s kind of a family thing – good beer is a passion for my siblings and most of my cousins as well. We had been warned before coming here that local beer in Central and South America is low-quality at best, and most brands would be like making love in a canoe. Indeed, in Costa Rica and Panama, the beer we found was cheap and light, as beer in hot countries is generally meant to be. A thick dark brew like you’d get in Germany or England would be too heavy to drink in the heat, and its flavour would be spoiled by serving it as cold as you’d like your drinks here. However, that isn’t to say you can’t get decent beer in Latin America.

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First of all, there is much to be said for drinking what the locals drink, even if it’s not your first choice of brew. In Costa Rica, we generally sipped Imperial, a plain but refreshing beer virtually indistinguishable from the other brands available. When that got old, chicha, the local pineapple or corn homebrew, served as a pleasant change of pace. In Panama, we picked out two local brands of beer, Atlas and Balboa. We found the second one slightly darker and more flavourful, but we were drinking both warm because there was no ice to be had on the boat or on the islands nearby. We also picked up a bottle of Panamanian rum and a white liquor, neither of which we were able to drink on the boat, but which made nice mixed drinks with Colombian fruit juice when we landed in Cartagena.

In Cartagena, the local beers were Aguila and Club Colombian – Aguila is the usual plain light-flavoured beer, while Club is the slightly stronger but in no way strong variety. We preferred Club, but both were pleasantly refreshing and drinkable in the 30 to 40 degree heat. In Medellin, however, we lucked out and saw a poster for a microbrewery on the wall of the hostel.

3 Cordilleros brewery is based in Medellin, and makes five different brews, of which we tried four. The brewery wasn’t open on the Sunday before New Year’s when we were passing through, but we were able to pick up their beer in the local grocery store, Exito Supermercado. They made a nice amber ale that was flavourful without being too sweet, and surprised me by being slightly darker than the Canadian versions of this style, with a rich full mouth feel and a hint of hops that balanced out the rich malt. 3 Cordilleros’ white beer was an unfiltered beer with a nice head on it and spicy undertones, but the one bottle we shared was sadly tainted when we only had metal glasses to pour it into. As soon as I poured it, I realized that it would have been better straight from the bottle, but it always seems a shame to drink an unflitered beer without pouring it. Ellen had trouble deciding which of the two pale ales was her favourite brew from the brewery, since the American pale ale was nicely hopped with a citrusy blend of American hops, and had a lovely rich flavour for such a light-bodied beer. By far, Hannah’s favourite of theirs was their limited edition IPA, which was a very good example of the style, with the strong hoppy taste we’ve been missing in the local beers in Latin America. At about $2 a bottle from a grocery store, the beer seemed expensive compared to fifty to sixty cents apiece for the local brews, but when you consider the flavour and quality and the price you’d pay for a similar beer at home, the price was well worth it.

Last but certainly not least in the local alcohol scene, we had a bottle of Medellin rum for New Year’s Eve, which was of very good quality. The rum comes in a variety of ages (I think ours was the eight-year-old) and is available in specialty drinks stores (and probably also grocery stores – we haven’t been to one yet in Pereira). The taste was smooth and very drinkable. I’m not much of a rum afficionado, but I would certainly drink Medellin rum again.

Overall, the drink in Latin America has been very pleasant, and we have nothing to complain about yet. I certainly hope our future experiences are similar!

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