Barley Mowat 

Cuban Beer

with 9 comments

I was warned that one doesn’t travel to Cuba because of the beer, and my experiences there reinforced that prejudice. In fact, if one were to compile a list of reasons to travel to Cuba at all, beer would appear somewhere between “free elections” and “flawless upkeep of public infrastructure.”


I really wish this was a cherry picked extreme example. But hey, at least they didn’t vote for this.

However, I’m a beer guy, and I was in Cuba, so I tried the beer. Both of them. Yup, there are two kinds of beer in Cuba, Cristal and Bucanero. Now, I know both are brewed by the same brewery with only slight variations on the recipe, and yes I know that there are actually a few sub-variants of Bucanero which might technically count as different beers (and some minor regional variants-on-a-theme like Mayabe), but keep in mind that in an economy as tightly controlled as Cuba, it is possible to so efficiently hide an undesireable product that it effectively becomes invisible to tourists.

Attesting to this point, the only evidence I saw of the rumoured Bucanero “Max” was an half full can on the street still being clutched by an all-full local. Despite my inherent desire to sample all that Cuban brewing has to offer, I did not avail myself of this rare tasting opportunity.

So back to the contenders; both are manufactured by a subsidiary of InBev, and both have reached near-theoretical levels of both market penetration and near-ubiquitous availability. Basically anywhere that sells anything sells both Cristal and Bucanero, generally for CUC$1, which is so close to CANUCK$1 as to be not worth the distinction. Restaurants mark this up, sometimes all the way to $2.50.

As well, both are really quite bad. Cristal is fairly obviously made to be a native-produced drop-in replacement for Heineken, down to the clear green bottle and red-green colour scheme. Taste-wise I think they did quite well here, as I doubt I could pick up the nuanced subtleties that distinguish these two near-identical piles of schleck. Cristal might be a bit sweeter due to the odd Cuban desire to spike every damn thing they encounter with extra sugar, but confirming this would require another sample of Heineken and frankly it’s just not worth it.


Good luck telling them apart with the lights off. Or even just dimmed.

Bucanero, by contrast, was about 10x better (so a solid 0.010 / 10). The fact that it came in a proper anti-skunking brown bottle instantly gave it some points, but honestly with the sun and UV levels down there even brown glass wouldn’t put up much of a fight. Simultaneously the best and worst things I can say about this beer is that it tastes like Old Style Pilsner, again only sweeter. Given the choice, though, I spent most of my beer pesos on this guy. Plus, it has a jaunty pirate on the label. Beer labels need more pirates. (Lighthouse, I’m looking at you here)

Beyond those two choices, the only variety exists in the form of Cuba’s solitary brewpub. Located on the Plaza Vieja in Havana’s Old Town, they produce beer in three variants: Light, Amber and Dark. Not a good start. I feared that these beers would only vary by how much molasses they slipped into the kettle, but somewhat astonishingly they’re brewed using fairly different recipes. The lowdown:

  • Light – You know what? It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. If they’d just curtail the freaking sugar it might even be a decent Pilsner.
  • Amber – Oh wow. Imagine the worst pale ale you’ve ever had. Now add about a cup of sugar to it. Reaffirming my faith in humanity, this vile concoction seemed to be the most popular option with the assembled tourist. Even worse than Bucanero.
  • Dark – Again, not bad. A dark mild without a lot of character and, no surprise, way too much sugar, but still worth drinking.

Yup, that’s right. The best beer in Cuba gets a “meh.” Oh well, at least it wasn’t endless Corona. I guess there’s no surprise that as my time in Cuba went on, I ordered more and more rum-based drinks, and less and less beer? Or that my standard drink was two mojitos.


I call it the “Cuban Double Double.”

Written by chuck

May 24th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Beer and You,Beers

9 Responses to 'Cuban Beer'

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  1. Have tried well over 300 different beers and attended many a craft beer fair (have tickets for some six months in advance) and I couldn’t agree with you less

    Rich

    14 Jan 14 at 09:38

  2. @Rich – Specifics help. You like Cristal? Bucanero? You contest that Cuban beer has sugar?

    chuck

    14 Jan 14 at 10:18

  3. This guy know nothing about beer ! He like corona,loll,the corona is full of gmo,and propilen,and soon going to be banned if few country,but here Mr professional like corona and not cuban beer,who have nothing in common with Heineken ! Just the smell of Heineken is skunked ! Anyway I would say to everybody , go to Cuba and make your own statement !

    Francisco

    20 Dec 15 at 11:41

  4. I’m not sure how you could read this article and come away with the impression that I like either Corona or Heineken. Both are abysmal.

    chuck

    20 Dec 15 at 12:04

  5. I am not sure that the author ever tasted Cuban beers. Maybe he/she is just a lowly troll. Bucanero is a better beer than any American beer that I have tasted since the 1970s while vacationing in America (like me and unlike Americans who do not visit their largest trading partner), 57% of Canadians visit he USA each year). I can only hope that Americans can embrace the fact that they can learn from others. You can do so much good if you could just “check your egos at the front door” when dealing with other nations. I genuinely wish you well!

    PS I expect that this comment may not last long before being removed, but I will be back to check whether I am right or wrong.

    Richard

    23 Mar 17 at 19:06

  6. PS ..PS Don’t be a Trump troll who lies. Just tell the truth. Your family and community will benefit.

    Richard

    23 Mar 17 at 19:25

  7. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Although, to be honest I’m not quite sure how you could read this article and come away with the conclusion that I’ve never tried Cuban beer. The article contains detailed descriptions of the varieties of beer available in Cuba, the branding, descriptions of the labels, pricing, and tasting notes. I visited the island in 2011 (shortly before this article was written), and consumed many beers during my trip through the western half of Cuba.

    The opinion on the beer tasted is my own, but as you can see from ratebeer.com, the general consensus is that it is not fantastic (https://www.ratebeer.com/beer/bucanero-fuerte/12085/). A score of 4% puts 96% of similar beers on the planet ahead of it. Compared to American macro lager, though, it’s definitely an improvement. Budweiser, for the record, gets a solid 0%. So you are quite correct that it is better than most popular American lagers.

    Lastly, I never remove posts that aren’t spam, regardless of the viewpoints. Readers are free to disagree with me, so long as they keep things civil. Cheers to you.

    PS: For the record, I am Canadian (your comment seems to suggest otherwise). The references to Molson Old Style Pilsner, Lighthouse Brewing (from Victoria), and a double double should have pointed you in that direction.

    chuck

    23 Mar 17 at 22:26

  8. Are sulphites in Cuban beer?

    John

    28 Apr 17 at 10:41

  9. Likely, as a natural by-product of fermentation.

    chuck

    1 May 17 at 15:27

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