Welcome to Quito, Part 4: Beer

Nearly anywhere in Ecuador, you can always find a Pilsener — no small feat in a country whose geography poses constant challenges for beer delivery.

Several of my buddies have asked me about the beer situation in Ecuador (I love it that this is what my friends consider to be important). If you are into quirky imports and microbrews, the situation is grim. But if you’re willing to go with the flow, so to speak, it’s not bad.

As I mentioned, there are two national brands, Pilsener and Club (pronounced “Cloob”); they’re sort of like the Budweiser and Miller of Ecuador – though in my opinion, they taste much better than either of their U.S. counterparts. Of the two, Pilsener is cheaper, less refined, and utterly ubiquitous. Regardless of where you are in Ecuador – from the depths of the Amazon jungle to the dustiest Andean town to the Galapagos Islands, 500 miles off the coast – you can buy a Pilsener. (While en route to a remote Amazonian jungle lodge in August, Katherine and I saw no fewer than three Pilsener trucks plying jungle highways to deliver the national brew.)

Both Pilsener and Club are very drinkable – a fizzy, ice-cold Club under the hot Ecuadorian sun is heavenly – but they’re never going to win any awards for taste.

Ecuador has very tight import restrictions on alcohol, so only a few foreign beers are widely available in the country: Corona, Heineken, Budweiser, Negra Modelo (a very good dark Mexican beer), Brahma (a cheap, watery Brazilian brew) and Edinger (a tasty German import). That’s pretty much it. And with the exception of Brahma, they’re quite expensive – a six-pack of Corona, for example, will set you back $14 at a supermarket. That’s a bit steep, but it gets worse: Some bars that cater to expats in Quito actually have Guinness on tap – for $14 a glass!

There is some good news, though: There are at least two microbreweries in Quito; one in particular is quite good and not too pricey. It’s a nice escape from the native “macrobrews.”

Beyond beer, though, the scene is pretty dim: Wine and spirits are very expensive in Ecuador because of import taxes; President Correa essentially considers any alcoholic beverage other than beer to be a luxury item, and his government taxes it accordingly. A bottle of decent Chilean wine that would cost you $9 in the States is $20 here (never mind Ecuador’s relative proximity to Chile). And sadly, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey is somewhere around $80, if memory serves (I think it’s somewhere around $35 in the U.S.).

Needless to say, the duty-free shops in Miami International Airport are popular stops for Ecuadoreans returning home.

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