How can a person justify spending a dollar for a can of beer they don't even like? I can't.
And here starts my search for brewing on a budget in a developing country. I am living in Nicaragua, regretting every penny spent on the national beers. I do the math. Here, a six-pack runs about $6. With the money to buy four or five six-packs I could make a batch of decent homebrew. But . . . homebrewing in the United States is a lot simpler and cheaper than in Nicaragua — a country that has no homebrew supplier.
Admittedly, I am not an expert homebrewer. I grew up with a homebrewing father, and then I took it on myself as a hobby during our snowed-in Midwest winters. I took time off from brewing when I started to work at a brewpub and was rewarded with shift beers and half price growlers. I love a great beer, but I am content with one or two, so making beer while working at the pub was unnecessary.
Things have changed and making beer has become necessary, but seemingly impossible, unless I give in and drop wads of cash on shipping. I wrote to American homebrew suppliers to find out about their international shipping standards and rates. The results knocked the pint glass out of my hand as they were grim and expensive.
Nicaragua does have a neighboring country that is getting into the homebrew scene — Costa Rica. They even have two microbreweries (Volcano Brewing Company and Craft Brewing Company). With a taste for good beer, the Costa Rican homebrew scene has been bursting with homebrewing zealots. In 2011, Ticobirra, Costa Rica's first homebrew supplier, was born out of necessity. I finally saw the light at the end of the pallid beer row — I could order my supplies from the neighboring land of Costa Rica. My excitement was short-lived as I learned that the only homebrew supply shop within thousands of miles was unable to ship to Nicaragua. Back to square one.
I talked with Luis Arce, owner of Ticobirra, who himself used to spend more than $150 in taxes and shipping just to order a $35 beer kit. He says about Costa Rican homebrewers, "I think since the economic crisis the news media have played a great role in creating consciousness of how we use our money. Homebrewers are not the exception. Certainly we do see a good number of our customers trying to budget by building their own wort chillers, buying grain in bulk or making beer with friends to distribute the cost." Taking these measures in a country with limited or no hombrewing supplies are vital.
First, I need the homebrewing basics: A fermenter, airlock, bottles and bottle caps. The ingredients would be the tricky part. Shipping these from the U.S. was out of the equation. So, the only way to get them would be bringing them back after visiting home or taking the 10-hour bus ride to Costa Rica.
To brew thrift, Luis recommended using local ingredients as substitutes or complements in recipes. For example, in Costa Rica, there is a vast diversity of very cheap, high-quality fruits that can be part of the fermentable bill. He also suggested the parti-gyle method in which you can make two beers from one grain bill. Other options I am looking into are growing my own hops, cultivating yeast and even trying my hand at growing barley and wheat. One rule of homebrewing seems to ring clear no matter where the brewer lives: Do what you can with what you have.
As homebrewers, we take the role of chemists, idealists and inventors. So, I've decided to embrace the road to brewing thrift, learning on
the way. Because, what would brewing the good stuff be, without the learning curve?