Sampling the local beers is one of the (many) fun things about taking a holiday. What is considered to be a fancy imported beer in your country (and is priced accordingly) is just the local stuff when on holiday. In German speaking countries, you would ask for a bier. In French speaking countries, you order a bière. Fortunately, the pronunciation of both of these words is pretty much identical to their English language counterpart, so there’s little room for confusion. It’s not like you’ll try to order a beer and will then be presented with a platter of braised pig’s feet. When you go to a Spanish speaking country, you need to ask for a cerveza (pronounced sair-vay-zah).
You might not be familiar with the types of beer on offer, so you would generally just gulp down whatever the barman (or barwoman) puts in front of you. When you’re in Cuba, what kind of beer can you expect to be served?
It totally depends on whether you’re in a bar mostly frequented by tourists or have found your way to a watering hole that is largely populated by locals.
It’s Cristal Clear
When you do go into a bar in Cuba and order a cerveza, you’re probably going to be given one of the two major beers in the country: Cristal or Bucanero. Cristal is available outside of Cuba, although it’s sometimes actually brewed in other countries, under license, to the manufacturer’s recipe. It’s infinitely cheaper in its home country, and the Cuban stuff is produced at the company’s brewery near Holguin (which is a city well worth visiting).
It’s a light, crisp tasting beer (even though it has a fairly standard alcohol content of 4.9%) and the popularity of its light taste makes sense when you consider Cuba’s sultry heat.
It’s really a perfect beer for this type of weather.
A Dark (Yet Refreshing) Beverage
Bucanero is made by the same company that makes Cristal, and is produced at the same brewery in Holguin. You might have also tried this one in your home country, although it’s sold as Cubanero in some places (because another company had already registered a copyright for the Bucanero name in many territories). It has a darker, deeper flavour than its labelmate and has a slightly sweet aftertaste.
While both Cristal and Bucanero are popular throughout Cuba, you should be careful about drinking too much Bucanero, too quickly. It has a slightly higher level of alcohol than Cristal (5.4%), and you can easily overdo it when drinking it on a hot day.
More Beers in Cuba Than the Two Dominant Brews
Sure, in most bars and restaurants you’ll be offered either Cristal or Bucanero, but there are many more beers in Cuba than just the two major players. Long story short: If you didn’t already know, there are two types of currency in Cuba.
There’s the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) which is linked to the value of the US dollar, and there’s the standard Cuban peso (CUP). As a foreigner, you will almost always pay and be given change in CUC. If you go to a bar or store off the beaten track, you might be given change in CUP. It’s off the beaten track that you will find a couple of beers very popular with the locals, Cacique and Mayabe. The beers are honestly not that remarkable, and the closest equivalent would probably be something like a Coors. They are still very refreshing, and certainly hit the spot on a hot day. When it comes to beers in Cuba, these are the best value for money.
You could easily get drunk for the equivalent of a few dollars… not that we’re suggesting you should drink to excess.
Great Boutique Beer in Old Havana
The slightly hipster (and yet still rather awesome) concept of the microbrewery is not so widespread across Cuba, but there are a few. There are a fair number of boutique beers in Cuba, and the easiest to find are right in the middle of Havana’s sensational Old Town.
Located on the Plaza Vieja, Factoria does not have a wide variety of beers, but their quality makes up for the lack of quantity. There’s light, dark, and black beer, although the description refers to their color, rather than their alcohol content (which hovers at around 5%). Both the light and dark beer are excellent and full of subtle flavour, but the black beer can be avoided. It’s like Factoria doesn’t put enough hops into it.
It’s fine, but you really don’t need to bother when there are two high quality boutique beers in Cuba on offer.