In honor of the Mets signing Yoenis Cespedes (!!!!!) we at Brew and Orange will feature the returning superstar for the inaugural edition of our Hometown Brewery series.
In this case, “hometown” should be understood a bit loosely, since Cespedes was born and raised in the small town of Campuchuela, Cuba, which certainly doesn’t feature a craft brewery. In fact, craft brewing in Cuba as a whole is very hard to come by. As is typical for a Caribbean island, the country’s state-run brewing operation churns out fizzy, watered-down adjunct lagers. Unfortunately, Cuba’s Cristal and Bucanero are a major step down even from neighboring offerings like Medalla Light (Puerto Rico) and Presidente (Dominican Republic). However, there is one place on the island that produces surprisingly decent craft beer: the Taberna de la Muralla in Havana.
Some think the location of the Taberna de la Muralla is its greatest asset. It sits prominently on Plaza Vieja in the heart of Old Havana, offering ample outdoor seating with great views across the Plaza and endless opportunities for people watching. But for the cerveza-loving traveler who is tired of drinking rum, the reason to go to the Taberna is undoubtedly because it features the best beer on the island.
The Taberna de la Muralla offers three beers on tap, each of which is brewed and fermented in-house, in true brewpub style. The beers are described simply according to their color, as Clara, Negra, and Oscura. When I visited a few years ago I was lucky enough to receive a behind-the-scenes tour by the brewmaster, Rubén Maceo Rabi – a descendant of Cuban independence leader Antonio Maceo – who described the process by which the beers were made. While the names of the three beers do not indicate it, they are authentically brewed to-style as German lagers. Specifically, as labeled on the fermenters, the Clara is a Helles Lager, the Negra is a Marzen, and the Oscura is a Dunkel.
All of the grain and hops for the beers are imported from Europe, as was the brewing equipment. So, how do the beers taste? Surprisingly good.
The beers pour a bit hazier and taste a touch less crisp than would be ideal. And the taste has a bit of yeastiness, like you’d expect to find in a homebrew. In a different situation (like an American brewpub) you would probably think they are solid, although not spectacular. But this is Cuba! Given the context – and the lack of anything else approaching decent beer on the entire island – the existence of these beers is truly remarkable.
Cuba will never be a destination for beer tourism. But if you ever find yourself in Havana, there are far worse ways you can spend an afternoon than sitting in the plaza outside the Taberna de la Muralla with a pint or three.