Earlier this month I had the chance to spend a few days in the Dominican Republic’s capital Santo Domingo. I stayed mostly in the city’s Colonial Zone, which is rich with history and a great place to visit. What follows are my observations on the local beer culture and some tips for where to get a good brew if you’re in town.
Presidente (a.k.a. ab-inbev antifreeze)
You will no doubt sip from a few green bottles of this watery rice “pilsner” if you visit the Dominican Republic. It’s a pretty generic macro brew that hits the spot after you’ve been sweating buckets in the sun all day.
Interestingly, twice I heard a rumour that Presidente is made with glycol to keep the beer from freezing at sub-zero temperatures. Why? So it can be served ice cold, and to keep competitors out of Presidente-branded fridges freezers (see image).
The same brewer (owned by AB-Inbev since 2012) also makes Bohemia Especial, which I enjoyed more — mostly because I am reasonably sure it’s not brewed with antifreeze.
This fact was made clear to me after ordering a Bohemia one afternoon. “Se congela,” the server said to me. I understood what he meant after he turned the bottle upside down — the liquid inside was frozen. I watched him pull up five more Bohemias, all frozen. The Presidente, of course, was flowing fine.
There’s also Presidente Black (not a dark beer) which is a bit heavier at 6% alcohol and Presidente Light which weighs in at 4.3%.
Another quirk: Presidente is always served with at least one napkin in the DR. Sometimes with up to three: one serving as a coaster, another wrapped around the base and one tied around the top of the bottle’s neck. If you get a Presidente without a napkin, you’re doing something wrong.
With two locations in Santo Domingo Cultura Cervecera is a great place to get a good beer in town. The bar has US craft beer on hand from breweries such as Dogfish Head, Rogue, Sierra Nevada and more. Also available: many Germans and a smattering of Belgians, including a full suite of Lindemans lambics. Prices range from $6 to $12 per bottle.
The newly opened second location was close to my hotel in the Colonial Zone, so I popped by a few times for a pint. On my last visit I asked the waitress for an “IPA fresco” so she went to ask the owner Ian, who came by and recommended a bottle of Chivoperro IPA from Casa Bruja out of Panama. It was enjoyable.
Ian and I got to talking about the Dominican beer culture.
It turns out the familiar story of red tape bogging down craft brewers is very true in the DR, with crippling taxes, inspections and other regulations serving to help the big brewers dominate the market.
To illustrate the extent of the problem, the lone local craft brewer, Santo Domingo Brewing, actually contract brews in Oregon and ships their product back into the DR. (I recommend their Montesinos hoppy red ale). Ian also had some Charley Horse beers available, produced quasi-legally by a local homebrewer. I had to try the Summer Ale by this bootleg brewer, and it was pleasant.
I can imagine how hard it is to grow a craft beer culture without being able to easily offer customers a locally-brewed option. Nonetheless Cultura Cervecera is growing and the owner has high hopes for the new location in the tourist district.
Kegs are also hard to find the DR. The original Cultura Cervecera location has 4 taps, which use one-way, disposable kegs. The new location has only bottles.
Presidente has convinced Dominicans that beer should always come out of a bottle, largely because they don’t want to rely on bars to maintain clean tap lines, Ian said. When he first opened his bar, a Presidente executive assured Ian he would fail without selling the macro suds. Three years later Presidente is scrambling to get into Cultura Cervecera and has agreed to sponsor a new 18-tap system for the bar, with very favourable terms (only four lines will be for macro product).
The local supermarket I visited had some decent European beers including: Erdinger, Paulaner, Franziskaner. Duvel, Fullers, Czechvar, Maredsous and Leifmans. There are also a handful of Beer Market pubs around town. They offer a Euro-heavy selection. When I visited one, many of the bottles I requested from the menu were out of stock. I settled on a 375 ml bottle of 2012-2013 Boon Oude Geuze which ran me about $15. I also came across an Erdinger Biergarten on the waterfront road (“El Malecon”). And better macro options like Leffe, Stella, and Hoegaarten are available at many better restaurants and stores.
The DR is a great tourist destination, but it’s no beer drinkers’ paradise. Change is slowly happening but most will have to settle for Presidente or Bohemia for the foreseeable future. However, good beer can be had in Santo Domingo if you’re willing to seek it out. Of course, you could always just drink rum!
What was your beer-drinking experience like in the Dominican Republic?