Beer and Surfing in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is well known for its beautiful beaches, lush, wildlife-filled jungles, and ideal climate, not to mention low cost of living, bargain real estate, and low-cost medical care. “There was only one problem with Costa Rica,” says California native Joe Walsh. “No pale ale.”

So he solved the problem. Joe’s enterprise, the Volcano Brewing Company, not only produces delicious craft ales and beers, but it allows him to live the life he wants, with plenty of time for surfing and spending time with friends and family.

“I first came to Costa Rica in 2001. Right after college, some friends and I—and my Dad—drove down in an old school bus and opened a surf camp on the northern Pacific coast,” says Joe.

The camp has slowly grown into a pretty large operation, and that meant Joe was ready for a new challenge. The key to making it happen began when he struck up a friendship with fellow expat J.P. Cazedessus, who’s been in Costa Rica more than 20 years.

J.P. owned brewing equipment from a previous brewpub that had closed down in San José, Costa Rica’s capital. The pair started experimenting and after making some adjustments to a British recipe they came up with Witch’s Rock Pale Ale.

In November 2011 Joe and his team leased and refurbished J.P.’s hotel (modeled on an ancient Minoan palace, no less), a short drive from the Arenal volcano, and opened Volcano Brewing. It’s a bar, restaurant, and hotel.

Craft beer is made in small batches and is known for unique flavors and interesting takes on traditional styles, like pale ale, brown ale, stout, and more. “As well as our special in-house craft beers, we also have tasty gourmet fare on the menu,” says Joe.

“We’re committed to a ‘farm-to-table’ approach for the restaurant, just like the ‘brewery-to-mug’ model at the bar.” The restaurant gets much of its produce from organic gardens out back and makes cheese from the cows on the on-site dairy farm.

“We’re trying to get as much as we can from our gardens. The rest we try to know where it comes from and how people have raised their crops or livestock. It’s an easy way to reduce your footprint and keep the money in the local community.”

Today, there are 16 people working in the brewpub and hotel, as well as four brewers. Joe divides his time between the surf breaks of Tamarindo and the lake views of Arenal overseeing his two ventures.

The drive is only two hours but the climate and vibe are totally different…from bustling resort town on the beautiful Pacific to the tranquil shores of the lake and all the opportunities for wildlife-watching and hiking. Guests are also attracted by signs along the road around Lake Arenal. Many of the area’s growing community of expats are regulars. And plenty of thirsty tourists stop in as well.

Volcano Brewing is growing slowly. And Joe likes it that way. “I’d rather have a small company doing a lot of cool stuff than have a 100-room hotel you have to run like a small corporation.”

If you’re in Costa Rica, Arenal is worth a visit. And while you’re there, drop in and grab a beer. It might just be the only brewery in the world to have howler monkeys in the trees outside the front door.

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