This article on homebrewing in Costa Rica is not a review of common things that come from the monopoly distillery of the country or the mega-breweries, it is rather a treatise on traditional drinks made by rural people of the country.   There are different regions in the country that make their own signature brews, and the province of Guanacaste has two well-known homebrew products, coyol wine from the coyol palm and “chicheme” made from purple corn (maíz pujagua).   These drinks can also be enjoyed in other countries of Central America, such as bordering Nicaragua and Honduras.  Below I also include some recipes from the Limón province for good measure.

Coyol Wine

The spiny trunk of a coyol palm.
The coyol palm (Acrocomia aculeata) is harvested during the summer months in Guanacaste province, when it is hot and very dry, because the sap production is the highest during this season.  The tree is cut down and it is handled carefully because (1) it has spines all along the trunk and (2) tree trunks that are less abused produce more sap.  The 2-3” long spines can cause painful puncture wounds and can elicit a fever.

The sap is collected day to day in a canal that is made about 50 cm from the shoot-end of the trunk that may be up to 15 meters long.  This canal is made about 2-3 days after the trunk has been felled.  The length of the collection channel increases each day that the sap is leeched and it may gradually reach 2 meters in length.

Another photo of a coyol, showing a fruit cluster.
To protect the sap in the canal from ants and flies during the extraction period, the trunk is covered with the bark of a tree known as burío (peine de mico) or the leaves of anono (Annona cherimolia). 

The collection process may last as long as 2 months, yielding about one hundred 20–ounce bottles of wine per month.  In fiestas, like the Fiestas Civicas de Liberia, you will see booths selling the wine packaged in bottles used for drinking water or soft drinks.   A booth that sells this wine is labeled “Coyolero.”  Vendors are also occasionally see on the sides of the main roads in Guanacaste.

The collected sap is naturally fermented outdoors in the sun.  It has a creamy white appearance and a mild sweet odor.  It takes 3-4 days to get what is called sweet wine.  Sweet-strong wine is ready in 4-8 days and in up to 22 days of fermentation results in strong wine which can then turn into vinegar.  The vinegar is sometimes used to make a pepper sauce (chilero). 

The wine is believed to cause drunkenness as a result of enzymes that are activated after imbibing.  Sun exposure is believed to be a catalyst is the process of inebriation..  Some claim that you can feel the effects the next day after sun exposure, without any additional consumption.

Chicha de Piñuela

Penca plants.
Chicha is a general term used for a special drink.   It can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic.  Chicha made from Piñuela, or penca (Bromelia penguin L.) as they say in Guanacaste is made from the fruits of the plant.  The fruits are crushed and placed into a pot where they are boiled together with the crushed shells.  Then the shells and fruit pulp are strained out.  Water and sugar cane syrup are added, then it is allowed to sit and ferment for a few days. 

To make the non-alcoholic drink, mix water and the crushed fruit and strain.  Add table sugar and ice and it is ready.


This drink uses purple corn that is re-hydrated and then ground to a fine texture.  From this comes a substance that is like a thick pudding.  This is put in an earthenware pot and then cooked in an open outdoor oven.   After it is cooked and cooled, water is added and the mixture is poured in a narrow-necked pot called a nimbuera grande.  This pot is pre-cured in some way for the fermentation beforehand.  Ground nutmeg is added for taste as well.  The vessel is allowed to ferment for a few days.  This drink is used in prayer services for those members of the community who have passed away and sometimes at celebrations of baptisms.

Agua de Sapo

Agua de Sapo, or Frog Water, is made with tapa de dulce (conical, solid crude sugar bricks as shown on the left), ground fresh ginger, limes and water.  Specifically, there is 1 block of crude sugar, 2 ounces of ginger, 1 gallon of water and the juice of 5 limes.   The crude sugar is cooked with the ginger and the lime juice is added.  This mixture is covered and set aside for a week before serving.  It should be served iced or very cold.  This recipe is from the province of Limón, on the Caribbean side of the country.

Fermentation Basics

Some basic advice about fermentation.  All four of the processes mentioned above use naturally present microorganisms to produce the alcohol from sugars that are present in the liquids.  As most people know from experience, fermentations can frequently go wrong when one doesn’t use commercial yeasts as an additive.  Additionally, sanitation is important.  Some home brewers in Costa Rica use baker’s yeast to help out with starting the fermentation, as in the recipe below.

The use of Campden tablets is also recommended during bottling to help prevent post-bottling oxidation. 

Rice Wine

This is another recipe from the Limón province.  Instead of relying on whims and potential problems of natural fermentation, baker’s yeast is used.  Here are the ingredients:  2 cups of white rice, 4 lbs of sugar, 1 orange, 1 lime, ¼ ounce of yeast, 1 gallon of water, 1 lb of dried fruit and six cinnamon sticks. 

The rice is washed and then dried.  Then it is put in a glass jar with the water and the dried fruit and cinnamon.  The yeast is then added on top.  The orange and lime are peeled and cut in half, and then added to the glass jar.  Remove the lime after one week and the orange after two weeks of fermentation.  After three weeks, strain out the rice and bottle the wine.  If you have Campden tablets, use them.  You now have cheap un-distilled saki with the citrus and cinnamon flavors!



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