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Oakes Weekly - November 25, 2006

My Trip to Cuba
Oakes Weekly November 25, 2006      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

There isn’t much to say, really, about the beer scene in Cuba. But it’s where I’ve been, so it’s all that’s new in my beer world this month. For the average visitor, there are precisely four local beers. There’s Cristal – the insipid, sourish brew that InBev exports to the world. This is mainly consumed by elderly and female foreigners, and even then only as a break from mojitos and Cuba libres. There’s Bucanero, a fuller-bodied pale lager with actual beerlike qualities. Most tourists prefer this. Bucanero Max is a similarly well-constructed lager in the mold of a Polish mocne. Mayabe is a lighter option and has little character to speak of. It gets exclusivity in some places, probably because that’s the only way anyone will buy it.

The only imports with any distribution – that is to say are distributed by the ubiquitous Bucanero Brewery – are Heineken, Beck’s and a few of the Bavaria brands. Amazingly, I saw Pilsner Urquell in a couple of places, but only in green bottles. Tropics + green bottles = not good.

Local and regional brews have been all but eliminated, especially from the CUC world that most foreign visitors live in. Cuba has two currencies. The CUC is the “convertible peso” (known as dollars locally) and is used by foreigners and wealthy Cubans. The local peso, moneda nacional (known as pesos locally), is used by most Cubans and is not considered hard currency. You can use pesos to buy what few local beers remain. I was able to find Hatuey in Bayamo and Tinima in Camagüey, but only in peso bars. Neither of these are very good at all, being sickly sweet and lacking any particular beer character.

There is anonymous draught for the masses, sometimes dubbed “Claro” and of indeterminate origin. It is very thin, sweet and grainy...barely beer at all.

Otherwise, Havana has a brewpub, La Taberna de la Muralla, which is centred on Plaza Viejo in Old Havana. This has light and dark draught, theoretically German in style. In practice, the light is terrible though the dark is at least palatable despite numerous brewing faults.

But overall, a trip to Cuba is an endless stream of Bucanero.



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