Friday, August 21, 2015

Beer Abroad Vol. I: Dominican Republic

Ah, the Dominican Republic. Home to beautiful beaches, gorgeous waters and...

Well, I didn't actually know what else.

Admittedly, the island nation never made it onto my "short list" of countries to visit. Actually, it never registered on my radar. Once you've been to one beautiful island you've been to em' all, right?

Well, no, of course not - I'm not that astonishingly ignorant - but I truly had little idea of what to expect, aside from that oh-so-glorious phrase "all-inclusive resort".  The country burst onto my itinerary on account of my cousin's destination wedding (it was actually pretty awesome, thanks for asking), and away I went.

Completely hideous, obviously

So, how was it? Pretty great, actually, but I'll leave the travelogues to travel bloggers. My job is to talk about beer.

Well, in this instance, beer. As in, singular. Cuz' that's pretty much all ya can get. Allow me to introduce:

Uh-oh. A green bottle...

Presidente, and it's svelter brother President Light, are the apparently sole offerings of La Cerverceria Nacional Dominicana (The National Dominican Brewery), a pale lager of the pilsner variety that tastes exactly like how you think it does. Interestingly, Presidente started out as a darker beer before lightening up in the 60's into the golden shade it is known for today. It was then bought by a cigarette company.

And then AmBev.


But I suppose I'll spare you that soapbox for now - this one one isn't much of a loss.

It's clear that the Dominican Republic takes great pride in this label- signs, billboards, bodega fridges- all adorned the Presidente insignia. It is the figurehead of the movement to "build a successful international awareness of Dominican quality brands." Which is a noble ambition, I grant you, but that goal is ever-so-slightly hindered by the fact that it really isn't all that good.

There was, however, nary a Budweiser in sight. So that's something.

I'm being over critical, of course - when you care about beer to the somewhat alarming levels that I do, it can admittedly be difficult to be impressed - but Presidente represents a dearth of imagination and adventure in beer in this (and many other parts) of the world. Kinda bubbly, definitely timid, and featuring a flavor that I can't even really fully recall, it is an inoffensive beer that lends itself to mindless chugging as you wade around a pool. If you've had a Corona, you're in the right ballpark, though Presidente has a slightly more robust mouthfeel than its Mexican cousin.

But even that comes only after you realize that Brugal (a completely solid local rum) and Coke Light might be adding up pretty damn quickly and it's not even noon, you tourist heathen.

And, really, that's what it's designed for. Mindless chugging. Beer pong. Not getting wasted while you get a sun burn. And that's fine. Some beers are good for that. The problem with places like the Domincan Republic is the utter lack of variety. When the only variety your brewery offers is how clean the draft lines are (avoid drafts from the clubs. It's a disaster), ya tend to get fatigued very quickly, and go for things served in pineapples.

Not that there's anything wrong with that
One soapbox I would like to stand on for a moment, if you'll allow me, is the idea that beach and barbecue beer must be shitty beer. Shall we diatribe?

"Ben, you snobby beer bastard," people will tell me, "sometimes I don't want to drink the craft shit. Sometimes I want to drink 30 cans of piss water." I may be paraphrasing, but the point stands: 30-packs of the big-beer offerings make sense for things that involve mass-quantity day-drinking. And they're not necessarily (totally) wrong. I'm not so much an elitist that I recommend using Avery's Joe Pils for your next Flipcup Championship Games.

But if you, do please invite me.
But the misconception that craft beers are universally filling and inebriating is an antiquated one - session beers with sub-4% ABVs have been dotting the craft landscape for a few years now. Look around at your favorite beer store before picking up that 30-pack. You may be surprised.

Back to the theme at hand - the Dominican Republic. I'll readily admit I was not able to explore the country as much as I would have liked to, with much of my time being spent on a very tourist-centric resort. This fact could have obscured some more interesting options from me, but I'm not optimistic. All I know is that I had a Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale on the flight home, and it was, however briefly, one of the biggest reliefs I've ever experienced in my life.

One of my favorite things about beer is flavor. Weird, right?

Furthermore, I completely recognize that not every vacation can (or even should) be about beer - I had a truly wonderful time in the Dominican Republic and certainly would recommend if you have a pulse and enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. But what I also recognize is the stranglehold that the sorta-cold, sorta-crappy, sorta-pilsnery have on many places in the world. What this means is that we're missing out on some beer in what could potentially be untapped reservoirs of creativity, and that's the true shame.

But hey. Enjoy the beautiful beaches. That sort of thing can't be ruined by a mediocre beer.