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High on Hops: The Black Sheep Pub, Costa Rica’s Mountaintop Craft Beer Bar

I’ve been to the top of the mountain.

Perched on high, you can see the Pacific Ocean. In between you and the flat horizon line of bright blue water is a lush, tropical jungle. Howler monkeys scamper in the trees to your left. An immaculately manicured garden of native plants stands guard to your right.

And there is beer.

The craft-brewing boom has truly taken over the world, and now even the traditionally sweet-lager crazy country of Costa Rica has several boutique cerveza artesenal brands within its beautiful borders. If your travels take you outside of the capital city of San Jose, beers from Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company and TreintayCinco can be very hard –if not impossible –to find. Instead, long-established makers Imperial and Pilsen line the market shelves, leaving no space for these younger and more adventurous upstarts.

To find great craft beer in Nosara, one of Costa Rica’s most scenic beach towns, you need a four-wheel drive truck and directions to the Black Sheep Pub.

The drive from Nosara up the mountain to the Black Sheep feels nearly vertical in places. In the rainy season, the road can be washed away in large chunks. If coming from the north, you may have to cross rivers. At night, giant cows snooze in the middle of the road behind blind corners. Fortunately, it’s worth every nail-biting second.

The Black Sheep is owned by Joe Wygal, formerly of Massachusetts, and his wife Helen. Set slightly apart from his home and guest cottages, the bar is comprised of two indoor rooms – one strictly UK with English and Irish influences, and the other more widely European with a Belgian and Czech flair. Those spaces are complemented by an outdoor German Bier Garden.

To call the pub authentic would be a disservice. Walking inside from the wilds of an untamed landscape to find proper glassware, antique beer ephemera from the old country, and beer that excites as well as refreshes is nothing short of a mountaintop miracle.

There’s a traditional beer engine mounted to the gorgeous locally-made bar and multiple taps for the best selection of small-batch Costa Rican beers in the province. While pouring a pint, Joe is likely to tell you a story about attending the 1969 Woodstock Festival or meeting renowned beer critic Michael Jackson. Or better yet, the story of shipping all of his barware and paraphernalia, thousands of pieces, to Costa Rica on barges.

It’s a true pub in the European spirit, as The Black Sheep is not just a place for enjoying beer. It’s also a place for talking and forging friendships. Add that convivial atmosphere with the surrounding natural beauty and it becomes one of the most inspirational drinking spots on earth.

The Black Sheep may be hard to find, but it’s a must-visit destination for beer lovers touring Costa Rica. If it’s a pilgrimage you’d like to make, be sure to do it soon. The property is currently on the market and the last open event is scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day, 2015. It will be available by appointment until June when Joe plans to move The Black Sheep to a new location in San Ramon. You can make arrangements to visit by calling or messaging through Facebook.

Lee Heidel
Lee Heidel is the managing editor of Brew/Drink/Run, a website and podcast that promotes brewing your own beer, consuming the…
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