You hear it all the time: Some bearded guy from Oregon decides to brew beer. He loves beer. He loves gastropubs. He reads all the beer blogs. He has dreamed for years of building his own mush tun. Finally he gets together with some buddies and they try some recipes in the basement. They throw a party, people like the first batch, and the next thing they know, they’ve started a brewery in an old watermill…
Re’em Jacob is the creator of La Selva Cerveza Artesanal, and he is nothing like that. Originally from Israel, Jacob never gave much thought to beer. About 14 years ago, Jacob and his girlfriend decided to take a backpacking trip around the world. They started in Seattle and worked their way south, but then something happened: They arrived in Costa Rica, and they just stopped.
“To tell you the truth, I saw no point in continuing,” recalls Jacob. “I’m a very logical person. I loved the country, so I stayed. Before that, living in Israel, I wasn’t accustomed to staying in the same place more than four months.”
Jacob lives near Cabuya, on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, but he’s not your typical resident: He has worked mostly as a computer engineer and architect. His personality is direct, methodical, and philosophical. He likes to design and build houses. Jacob was not the kind of guy to do beer-bongs in college.
When a friend suggested they try homebrewing, Jacob was hesitant. “I’m not really a big beer drinker,” he says. But he wanted to consider a new skill, so he gave it a shot. They brewed a batch, tasted it, and the taste intrigued Jacob enough to continue experimenting. For an entire year, he developed every variety he could think of, manipulating the recipes with outrageous flavors.
“I brewed the craziest beer you can think of,” he says with a laugh. “I brewed wasabi beer, for example. It was different, it was interesting. But I became obsessed with trying all new types of flavors. Then my wife said, ‘Why don’t you take it seriously?’”
La Selva means “the jungle,” and the company’s attitude is extreme simplicity, reflecting Jacob’s own outlook. Jacob loves his remote Pacific home because the life there is uncomplicated. He finds cities overwhelming, with their constant bombardments of advertising. Even in Israel, he could barely endure his bicycle commute to work. Jacob markets La Selva in an almost mystical way: The website shows images of hills and rainforest, and the beers themselves have simple names like “Naranja” (“orange”) and “Oscura” (“Dark”). He has great affection for the water in Cabo Blanco, which he says gives La Selva its unique bouquet. Jacob has numerous colleagues and collaborators, but he is sole proprietor of the business. Like a Vedic sutra, the website proclaims: “While some say less is more, we believe less is all.”
Only two years old, La Selva has rapidly attracted an audience: When a San José restaurateur tried La Selva at a craft beer festival, he immediately contacted Jacob and asked to serve it. Since then, Jacob has cultivated relationships with several pubs and eateries in the Central Valley. After slowing down operations for the holidays, Jacob’s small brewery is now producing 50 liters per day in order to accommodate the high season.
Despite his unusual temperament, Jacob is openly enthusiastic about the brewery’s success.
“’Less is more’ doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to hide in a corner,” he says jovially. “It means ‘less talking and more doing.’ It is a paradise here, but it’s so, so different from the commercial world. And that’s what attracted me. It was open. Whatever dream you had, you could do it.”