Although Puerto Rico has been globally renowned as the rum capital of the world for many years, its beer selection has been mostly reduced to commercial brands. However, in recent years, there has been an upsurge of local craft breweries that seek to redefine Puerto Ricans’ perception of beer as they venture into a growing market. One pub on calle Loíza aims to expand visitors’ palettes while supporting local businesses, one pint at a time.
El Tap is an innovative destination in one of the most popular sectors in San Juan, offering 46 selections of tap beer and other alcoholic beverages. Unlike the bottled or canned varieties, tap beer provides a fresher and more enjoyable taste.
THE WEEKLY JOURNAL interviewed the pub’s owners, siblings Raúl and Rebecca Sierra, who reminisced both about their own journey as entrepreneurs, and the growth reported by Puerto Rican breweries.
Because Raúl and Rebecca have always been beer lovers, when they decided to open a drinking establishment on the island, they traveled to multiple cities in the U.S. mainland—such as Chicago, Atlanta and Miami—to gather industry insight. During their travels, they noticed that craft beer was gaining ground stateside while locally it was still uncharted territory.
“We got a lot of ideas from different trips, but one of the things that we were able to observe was the hype that was happening with craft beers in the United States, which happened several years before here. However, when we decided to do that here, [craft beer] was starting to take off,” Raúl said.
Although development of the product was increasing, they noticed that only a small number of establishments would include local craft beer as their main offering. “We wanted to create a space that was totally different and nonexistent in Puerto Rico,” Rebecca asserted. By May 5, 2017, El Tap had opened its doors, and has remained strong since then.
Raúl pointed out that the evolution of locally-produced craft beer resembles the renaissance experienced among culinary circles. According to the proprietor, several years ago, most popular restaurants served a cookie-cutter menu until different chefs began to create exotic fusions and more elaborate dishes with better ingredients.
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“The same thing basically happened with the beer industry. Craft breweries began to make better beers with better, far fresher ingredients. And then, people’s palettes began changing and they started thinking, ‘why should I drink this inferior product when there is something that tastes better,’” he stated.
This evolution in the industry is reflected in El Tap’s beer offers. Rebecca explained that when the business opened they only had nine lines of local craft beer and the majority was imported. Now, they still offer imported beer, but they offer 18 local craft brews. They also change the menu continuously to ensure they include all local brews while satisfying visitors’ demands for new options.
Moreover, twice a year, the pub offers all 38 selections of Puerto Rican craft beers. The siblings said that supporting local brands is an important aspect of running their business.
“We feel as if we have grown with local breweries. When we began, I can say that many of Puerto Rico’s craft beers were not at the same level as they are now. To grow and see them grow has been a truly rewarding experience,” Raúl said.
Rebecca added, “the industry is growing; it is still booming. Both of us have always liked beer, but I think that we fell in love with it while working here.”
Tips for Beginners
El Tap offers multiple types of beers that can come across as intimidating to people who are just starting to appreciate the complexity of craft brews or are entirely new to the world of beer. Rebecca personally enjoys sour and stout beers, while Raúl prefers India pale ale (IPA) and stout beers, but these types of brews can be overwhelming to beginners.
“We get a lot of people who don’t know much about craft beer and want to learn. So, the [employees] ask them what they consume regularly or which style they prefer and then they analyze the inventory to give the client something that they can taste so they can adapt,” Raúl said.
Lagers are a common option, but the siblings always recommend starting with a blonde or pale ale.
Another option for the adventurous types is the “Beer Flights” craft menu option. This item consists of four, five-ounce glasses with a different selection in each one, all chosen by the drinker himself. Raúl said that he enjoys when people choose their orders with a “beginning and end.” That is, the owners recommend to start with a blonde ale, followed by wheat beer, IPA and stout—essentially, a crescendo of flavors.
“When you drink craft beer you always want to try something new, so then you keep evolving and switching up styles to cover all the bases,” Raúl explained.
He also observed that, like with wine, beers have distinct undertones and textures. “When a brewer makes a beer he does it with specific intent. He wants the beer to feel a certain way and for people to feel a certain thing, and for the aftertaste to taste a particular way. When one does it from a tasting standpoint you can tell the difference between every style and every type of beer,” he added.
As for their most popular products, Rebecca confirmed that IPAs are their bestsellers, while local brews are more sought after than imported beers.
El Tap also serves different types of whiskey, sangria and wine. The sangrias are made by local business Sangria Ververena, with options such as red, acerola (Barbados cherry), and passion fruit. The wines—pinot grigio and merlot—are made with foreign grapes but packaged locally by Tap Art Bottling Project.
The establishment also boasts a menu designed by chef Ventura Vivoni. Unlike a restaurant, the menu was concocted to complement the beers rather than the other way around. It features classic pairing standards, such as macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches, but it also contains creative items.
One of the food menu’s bestsellers is the octopus “rinds” served over sweet potatoes. The chewy, saltiness of the octopus fuses exceptionally well with the sweetness of the root vegetables.
“We always make some adjustments to the menu and we always add one thing or another, but the core per se is always really good, sells well, and is geared toward allowing you to eat something and keep drinking,” Raúl said.
El Tap is located at 1969 Loíza St. in San Juan. Peak days and hours are Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. The pub opens Tuesday through Sunday with the following schedule:
- Tuesday: 3 p.m. - 10 p.m.
- Wednesday: 3 p.m. - 10 p.m.
- Thursday: 3 p.m. - 12 a.m.
- Friday: 3 p.m. - 2 a.m.
- Saturday: 3 p.m. - 2 a.m.
- Sunday: 3 p.m.-10 p.m.