Are you a Northeast Floridian who travels south of North America for surf with any consistency? Do you experience nostalgia initiated by the following phenomena: A marathon session during a rare, quality summer swell at your homebreak? A well-executed plate of Huevos Rancheros, perhaps? How ‘bout a sip from a can or bottle containing a crisp, refreshing—OK, watery—lager? 

You’re not alone. For those who’ve diversified their surf-travel experiences beyond Costa Rica—long since one of the easiest, most-accessible destinations for North Florida surfers—it’s likely there are a half-dozen beers capable of bringing to the surface memories of lazy days and warm-water tubes. Whether Mexico or Nicaragua, El Salvador or Costa, Puerto Rico or even the Bahamas, virtually every surf destination within striking distance of the First Coast has its own lager. 

A little history: While fermented lagers were common in Latin America and the Caribbean prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Spanish dropped the first European-style brewery in Mexico in the mid 16th century, according to the Home Brewer’s Association. While brewing didn’t become big industry during the colonial period, after Mexico gained independence from Spain in the early 19th century, immigrants from other parts of Europe brought different brewing traditions to the country, including light, refreshing Vienna style lagers. Balanced, palate-pleasing, and generally low in alcohol, these lagers spread in popularity throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. 

Today you can find variations on those lagers—with names like Toña, Pilsen, Medalla, Kalik, and Corona—pretty much everywhere you find quality surf. And though they are similar in taste, color, and their ability to instill the aforementioned nostalgic episodes, we thought it was about time to crown a queen of the surf lagers. 

We enlisted a team of locals who froth for both surf and suds and setup an in-no-way-scientific taste test, asking the crew to rank these watery bevvies from 1-5 in the following categories: Look, Taste, Smell, and Nostalgia (this last category being by far the most subjective, as it’ll have as much to do with whether one’s scored harder at K-59 or Pavones). 

Let’s charge it!

Our Crew (counter-clockwise from left): style-y longboarder, brewer, and founder of Mayport’s Reve Brewing, Eric Luman; high-performance lip-basher, Void Presidente, and novice homebrewer, Tye Wallace; proficient noserider, firefighter, and owner of the now-defunct craft beer-centric Insta handle @beerandtedsexcellentadventure, Ted Garland; and your humble Editor-in-chief.

Imperial

Place of Origin: Costa Rica
3.46
Taste: 2.75
Look: 3.5
Smell: 2.86
Nostalgia: 4.75
Nearly every Northeast Florida surfer’s first surf trip, Costa Rica trips bring to mind the fearlessness of youth in Hermosa’s thumping closeouts and tank tops emblazoned with this beer’s ubiquitous bird of prey logo. 

Toña

Place of Origin: Nicaragua
3.54
Taste: 3.19
Look: 3.86
Smell: 3.63
Nostalgia: 3.5
Notes: Offering more power and a wider diversity of setups, for many Nicaragua’s surf (and its national lager) in many ways represents a step-up from its neighbor to the south. 

Presidente

Place of Origin: Dominican Republic
3
Taste: 4.19
Look: 3.25
Smell: 3.5
Nostalgia: 0
Notes: Held back a bit by our group’s lack of surf-related familiarity with its country of origin, Domican Republic’s Presidente is intriguingly tasty. Next trip? 

Victoria

Place of Origin: Mexico
3.45
Taste: 3.56
Look: 3.25
Smell: 3.3
Nostalgia: 3
Notes: One of the oldest continuously brewed beers in Mex, this lager crushed the more well-known Corona in many categories. It’s a Mainland Mex staple, as are some of the best pointbreaks in North America. 

Corona (Familiar)

Place of Origin: Mexico
3.15
Taste: 3.15
Look: 3.75
Smell: 3.25
Nostalgia: 3.25
Notes: While Corona is perhaps the most recognizable of the surf lagers–they even have a surf team–the Corona Familiar we tasted is more of a fixture in Baja and less prevalent here in the states. Blame it on the brand’s mass appeal, but our group found Corona to be the least palatable. 

This feature originally appeared under the headline “Watered Down: A highly subjective surf-lager taste test” in Void Magazine’s July 2019 issue.