James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Cold Beer Is Cold Beer, Just Drink It Already

Cold Beer Is Cold Beer, Just Drink It Already

Costeñitas in Colombia

We arrive at La Popular in Barranquilla. The decoration, the chairs, the tables and, of course, the name of the bar, are meant to emulate the ambience of the traditional tiendas–-street corner stores that also serve beers. If it weren’t for their night-club-like prices and their location on the ground-floor terrace of a shiny new mall in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, they might have pulled it off.

My friend, El Flaco, asks us what we want to drink, but before we can reply he orders a bucket of Costeñitas.

“Just for starters,” he says.

Ever since I can remember, this brand has been marketed as a beer for women. It’s 4 percent ABV, but comes in small, green bottles, just 6 ounces. When I was a kid, my mom would drink no more than three whenever we went to the beach. But about four or five years ago, everybody on the north coast started drinking Costeñitas. I know El Flaco from high school—around 25 five years ago—and he has lived in Barranquilla his entire life. I figure he must know how this trend started.

“I don’t know. I just like it. I love the taste, it’s unlike any other.”

I take a very cold one from the bucket, let the water of the ice slide down the bottle. It’s been many years since the last time I had one. I take a sip, El Flaco is right: it tastes like no other. I remember why it was never my favorite. It’s like they tried a to combine bitterness and sweetness but failed to balance the two. At least it’s really cold. El Flaco and I await the opinion of my German fiancé.

“It tastes rusty,” Sabeth proclaims.

I take her bottle and clean its top with a napkin. With the warm weather it’s not unusual for the cap to rust a little. A Barranquillero knows that. She tries again and grimaces with disapproval.

“I’m not sure. It tastes like… I don’t know. It has a weak flavor. Also, the bottle looks like a lemonade bottle.”

For the next round, El Flaco sticks with Costeñita. I order Águila, a beer created in Barranquilla in 1913 that has been produced here ever since–the bestselling brand in the country. Sabeth orders a Golden Club Colombia, a stronger, premium version of Águila. All three brands are produced and distributed by the same company: Bavaria. There is no way of deciding which beer is the best, and as soon as the alcohol kicks in we forget all about it.

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