When an expat pours a drink of alcohol, there is a possibility that the glass contains home brew of some other substance.
Costa Rican law enforcement officials raided two storefronts Sunday and confiscated 7,000 bottles of alcohol. These were not bottles smuggled in from Panamá to avoid taxes.
The alcohol was bootlegged, and the contents of the bottles included impure water and undistilled alcohol among other substances, and the bottles lacked the tamper-proof tops usually found on alcoholic beverages.
The twin raids brought out a litany of enforcement agencies: The Ministerio de Salud, the Ministerio de Trabajo, the Municipalidad de Pococí, the Fábrica Nacional de Licores, Tributación Directa, the Policía de Control Fiscal, agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fuerza Pública de Pococí,
The number of bottles shows that the alcohol was not just for local consumption. Such adulterated bottled usually work their way into the chain of legitimate commerce. Blindness and death can be a result.
There is a long tradition of making home brew alcohol in Costa Rica. The usual name is chirrite, and this is mainly for local consumption. The various fruits and sugar cane juice make it easy to do small-scale bootlegging.
But the major confiscations are products that are headed for public consumption.
So far Costa Rica has been lucky that it has avoided mass deaths like those that have taken place from bad alcohol in other countries. There also is a possibility that the kidney diseases that affect agricultural workers in Guanacaste and elsewhere in Central American are the result of home brew.
Obviously there must be some form of corruption or illegal activity involved to move the fake alcohol into the normal supply chain.
Typically traveling sales people tell bar owners that the alcohol is smuggled. The bottles and labels are good counterfeits, too.
A still in Tibás three years ago was producing brand name guaro that appeared to be identical to the original product.
Depending on where the fake products enter the supply chain, the retailer may not be aware that he is selling bootlegged and dangerous alcohol. So even brand name alcohol purchased at a reputable store, even a chain store, may not be safe.