As soon as I heard that Cuba was running out of beer I knew I had to get out there to help.
Beer is akin to a basic human right. It provides health and happiness to billions of people around the world each day, lubricating conversations, slaking thirst, and bringing communities together. A nation starved of beer is no nation in my book.
I knew something was amiss when I checked into my hotel. (No I’m not going to reveal which one, it’s hard enough getting a room at the best of times.) Ernesto, the night manager, welcomed me with a gloomy expression. Hucksters had been coming round and offering three times the going rate for cans of Bucanero. “But sir, it’s OK, I have kept some back for you, especially.”
That’s my man.
Cerveceria Bucanero makes Cuba’s favourite beers – Bucanero and Cristal. You can also get Mayabe and Princesa but they’re not nearly as good. Bucanero is the best, and as well as the standard ‘Fuerte’ in some places you can get the delicious Bucanero Max, a stronger, punchier brew.
But the influx of tourists in recent months has taken its toll.
Cerveceria Bucanero is a government run joint venture with Anheuser Busch InBev, the world’s biggest brewer, and maker of that dreadful bathwater Becks, Budweiser, and Corona. And the brewery is running out of beer.
Cuba’s 3.5 Million visitors are a thirsty bunch and supply hasn’t been able to keep up with demand. Stocks are dwindling, and the famous beer fridges all around town are looking half empty.
Even with government backing and Anheuser’s investment and expertise, there’s still a crunch.
It reminds me of so many places in Africa in the 80s and 90s. One big local brewery, not much competition, making unremarkable strong beer. Any idiot can make strong beer taste OK. The challenge is getting beer to taste good at ‘normal’ strengths.
Thankfully Cuba has an emerging craft brewery scene. La Taberna de la Muralla, on the beautiful Plaza Vieja, is Cuba’s first microbrewery. Set up by a pair of Austrians it serves a mean pint with really good food.
This all screams out to me one thing. OPPORTUNITY.
An opportunity to invest, bringing in much needed capital to build brewing capacity.
An opportunity to bring in skills. Brewing is an art as it is a science, and these days it can be highly technical business.
An opportunity to create the right supply chain – from sourcing the malt, hops and yeast, to getting that bottle or keg into the right bars in the right condition.
And an opportunity to create and market brands. Beer brands are some of the most enduring and culturally relevant symbols of modern life (Guinness, anybody?) and because the right brands speak to people they have enormous value (Bud is worth $22Bn.)
So I for one, am more than happy to offer my expertise to the Cuban people.
If there was ever a sector which defined a nation it is the common man’s drink, beer. Where you find beer you find a small, trusting, and passionate community of people. And where the beer is good, the company is usually even better. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.