Beer in Guatemala: “A dream for fans of canned dishwater”

Musician Frank Zappa famously said that “you can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” In his memory, I embarked on a quest to find the best beer in each of the Central American countries we visited. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Right?

Next up: Guatemala.

What’s the similarity between Guatemalan beer and sex in a canoe? They’re both “fucking close to water!” With my apologies for sloppily adapting that old Belgian Heineken joke into a more Central American variant, but it was needed.

There are many reasons to visit Guatemala, but beer is not one of them. Four months in the country brutally tested raped my taste buds. Sure, you can have everything in life, just not at the same time. All good, but please don’t enlighten me with that kitchen-sink wisdom when I’m trying to down a can of carbonated dishwater.

Here are some of the Guatemalan beers I drank (but definitely not enjoyed):

Gallo (5%)

Plate of tacos with a bottle of Gallo in Flores.
A staple meal in Guatemala: tacos and Gallo.

Gallo is the pride of Guatemala, an omnipresent beer with a rooster on its label. This lager is so light and thin that it’s almost transparent. Having said that, Gallo is drinkable – nothing more, nothing less. Then again, Donald Trump’s gastric acid is technically drinkable as well.

Dorada Ice (5%)

I doubt that the design of this beer can has changed much since 1996 and it looks like it would be bought mainly by brainless chavs in night shops. As a general rule, these people cannot be accused of having an exquisite taste.

Nevertheless, Dorada Ice is probably the beer I drank the most in Guatemala. Not that it was better than Gallo, no. But it was considerably cheaper. If I had to drink crappy lager anyway, then preferably without blowing up my travel budget.

Road side shop that sells beer in Guatemala.
Walking with our backpacks in Livingston: is it time yet for a Dorada Ice stop?

As the name indicates, Dorada Ice is best drank cold. But there’s the catch: as soon as it started to heat up, the beer turned rancid quite quickly. Alas, Guatemalan temperatures weren’t on our side. It was always a race against the clock to swig down a can of Dorada Ice before it became completely undrinkable.

Brahva (5%)

Most Guatemalan beers weren’t to write home about, but this one beat them all. Brahva is a bottled crime against humanity, the kind of beer a Belgian wouldn’t even drink as an ironic joke. This would be passable for gutter water, but it’s not in the same category as beer.

Moza (5%)

Anete eats tacos and drinks Moza on the fun fair in Cobán.
Tacos and beer. Again.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Or, in this case: in the land of terrible beers, the semi-flavourful one rules. Like any Jamaican who owns ice skates can become the national champion, no matter how clumsy he moves on the ice, Moza is the beer that sets itself apart from the rest. Not because of its own merits but because of its lack of faults. This dark beer was the one I liked the most of all the ones that could be found regularly in shops. Sadly, it was far less present than the aforementioned Shitty Trinity of lagers.

And also…

>>Dorado Draft Cerveza (4,4%). It’s called draft, but it comes in a bottle.

>>Cerveza Dorada Premium (5,3%). Slightly different name, slightly different label, but the same nasty beer. I start to suspect that Cerveceria Centro Americana – the brewery that makes most of this soap water – just brews one gigantic batch and pours it into different bottles.

>>Cabro Extra (5%). This was the one and only slighly more flavourful Guatemalan lager. The reason why I didn’t drink it more often: wherever this was available, Moza usually was too.

>>Gallo 502 (4,2%). I have no more words to describe the piss beers of Guatemala.

>>Monte Carlo Premium (5,3%). Meh.

Craft beer in Guatemala

Anete drinks craft beer from Antigua Cerveza in No Sé, Antigua.

The good thing is that craft beers don’t even have to be very good to beat the competition. I tried a couple of beers from a few craft breweries and they were all lightyears ahead of the garbage produced by Cerveceria Centro Americana.

The best ones came from Antigua Cerveza. I drank a blonde ale called Muy Noble (4,5%), which was very decent. But my favourite was the Cuchurucho, an 8% heavyweight stout with touches of Antigua coffee. Mmm!

In Xela, microbrewery Güin produced IPA (4,5%) and stout (4,5%). Once more, it was the stout that won me over. I also found a honey corn IPA (6,5%) in an off-licence in Xela. But alas, despite the gorgeous label picturing volcano Tajumulco, the beer itself wasn’t as good as its image.

What is a michelada?

Micheladas in Flores.

One of my most shocking experiences came when I bought a Michelada Marinero in Livingston. The non-transparent bottle with a pinkish label made me think it was either a cocktail or a sweet fruit beer. It was neither. I almost immediately spat out the gulp of fermented tomato juice.

Later, I realised it was simply not the best introduction to michelada, a mix of beer, tomato juice, lime, Worcester sauce and all kinds of spices. I reluctantly tried again in a small neighbourhood bar in Cobán. This time, I drank a michelada like it should be: not from a bottle, but freshly made. It was amazing!

Tom drinks michelada in Flores.
“Finally found a way to make those beers drinkable.”

Finally, I understood why Guatemalans are so fanatic about their micheladas. Although I, too, would try to find ways to mask the crappy flavours of the beers.

Foreign beers in Guatemala

Mainly Mexican and American beers, like Modelo, Corona and Busch Light. Once, when I got so fed up with the Guatemalan beers, I bought myself a Busch Light. Worst. Idea. Ever.

Drinking beer in Guatemala

Not every comedor or street food shack offers beer, but almost all allow you to bring your own. Just ask to be sure and run to the nearest shop.

Chapins are quite the boozers themselves. During the weekend, many love a beer (or ten) whilst lying in a hammock or sitting in a restaurant. This leads to a lot of noise and the occasional sink full of vomit.

Guatemalan cowboy drinks Gallo on a horse in Cobán.
Drinking and driving.

What about the price of beer in Guatemala?

Depends on the beer and the place. The cheapest ones are Brahva and Ice Dorada, which set you back around Q5 (€0,58) for a small can in a shop or local bar. A big can costs Q6 (€0,69). Gallo costs around Q7 (€0,81), Moza and Cabro around Q10 (€1,15), all small. Restaurants are more expensive and ask up to Q18 or Q20 (€2,08-2,31).

(Prices were recorded in 2018.)

Our favourite places to drink in Guatemala

My favourite places where always the small, often unnamed bars where you get the can straight out the fridge (remember the race against time!), with a plate of salt and lime pieces for free.

>>San Felipe de Lara: nameless shack near the port. Our trips to the land to drink Dorado Ice helped us through the boat sitting on Lago Izabal.

>>Antigua: No Sé. A dark bar with plenty of craft beers on offer.

>>Poptún: the terrace of Mundo Perdido. We sanded so many chairs in Poptún that we deserved a beer every once in a while.

>>Cobán: nameless cocktail shack. If you ever want to convince yourself that it’s not weird to pour tomato juice in beer, let this be the place.

Tom drinks michelada in a nameless shack in Cobán, Guatemala.
The king of michelada (and yes, this is my michelada drinking shirt)

What’s your go-to beer in Guatemala? And what are your favourite drinking spots? Let us know in the comments!

Tom is drinking beer in a tube in Sarteneja, Belize

Read about beer in Belize.

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