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Nicaragua: The Land of Volcanoes, Surfing and Beer

“Reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to civil unrest, crime, limited healthcare availability, and arbitrary enforcement of laws.”

So says the U.S. travel advisory website, but I’m here to tell you to reconsider reconsidering traveling to Nicaragua. I just got back, the trip was great, and so was the beer.

Tell someone you’re planning to go, and you will receive one of the following responses: “What! Why?” “Where’s that?” Or some form of “Try to come back alive.”

You won’t have to try very hard to come back with breath still in your lungs, as Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America, even more so than Costa Rica, which sits right below, and Mexico, which is a couple countries up. As for why you might go, there are many acceptable answers.

For Matt Greenberg and Brendan DeBlois, founders of Nicaragua Craft Beer Co. and passionate surfers, the waves were beckoning.

Nicaragua is known for its premier surfing destinations due to consistent off-shore winds that keep waves shoulder to head-high on average, warm waters with minimal chop and best of all – uncrowded beaches. It is also one of two places in the world where you can surf on land, down a volcano. That's right. Many of Nicaragua's volcanos, some of which remain active, are now the home of one of the world's newest and hottest extreme sports, where boarders don orange jumpsuits and protective goggles while reaching speeds of nearly 60 miles per hour on a rocky 45 degree slope. 

Volcano surfing is one of the world's newest and hottest extreme sports, where boarders don orange jumpsuits and protective goggles while reaching speeds of nearly 60 miles per hour on a rocky 45 degree slope.

So in 2009, during their college years, Greenberg, DeBlois and future co-owner Bobby Hottenson would travel to the region, relishing the relatively undeveloped beauty of the area and especially the chilled vibes of San Juan del Sur, the country’s premier beach town. However, there was one thing that was totally un-relishable in Nicaragua – craft beer.

Like much of the region, the craft beer scene in Nicaragua was essentially nonexistent. If you wanted a beer you would likely just ask for a Toña, the ubiquitous 4.6 percent ABV domestic lager. Coupled with a fast-growing tourism industry which Greenberg identified as “about 10 years behind Costa Rica’s”, the friends saw a chance to build the Nicaraguan craft beer market before anyone else.

“We thought, ‘Why be the eighth brewery in Costa Rica when we could be the first?’”

So in early 2013 Greenberg and DeBlois quit their jobs in America, added Hottenson as a partner and moved to Nicaragua after raising $325,000 in capital.

They chose San Juan del Sur as the brewery’s home – a pleasant, walkable town on the Pacific coast with a strong tourism pull. Of course, it was also close to all the best surf spots.

Hottenson described the initial building process as both exciting and tense, as the brewery’s equipment had to be shipped by sea to Nicaragua where it was held up in customs for a whopping six months.

Once the equipment was cleared, it was just a matter of transporting the brewhouse via forklift through cobbled streets and low-hanging power lines. As Hottenson pointed out, there is far less red tape and regulation than you find in a country like the U.S., with thousands of breweries and dense legislature to accompany it. So beyond the initial customs hold up, the biggest challenge was the path ahead – introducing a country to craft beer.

It’s hard to imagine being the first brewery in a town, let alone the entire country. But this is a distinguishment that Nicaragua Craft Beer Co. has earned. The team is not simply in it for the money. A love of the country and culture came first, which ensures that business decisions factor in what is best for the community and the nascent craft beer scene.

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