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About Hygge and Pura Vida

Eileen and Rhaiza are a good example of how to turn a friendship into something more. Sounds like the shallow opening of a romantic affair? Don’t worry, it’s not just a simple love story that follows. But the story of two best friends who become business partners. And that’s not all: they are also the first and currently the only women who have founded a (craft) brewery in their home country of Puerto Rico. How they came up with the idea, how Hygge and Pura Vida are linked to it, and what it is like to found a brewery in Puerto Rico – I was given the opportunity to talk to them about all that and, of course, I want to share this exciting story with you.

It all started back in 2009, when the two of them, at the time studying Business Administration, got to know each other. “We made like an instant click and were inseparable from then on,” says Eileen, who was not a beer drinker at the time – her best friend only made her one three years later. Rhaiza was already eagerly tasting her way through the Puerto Rican craft beer world, which was just about to emerge: “In Puerto Rico we grew up with exactly one beer – Medalla. It’s the national beer of Puerto Rico; people all over the Island have always drunk just that. Then about ten years ago the craft beer scene, influenced by the USA, arrived in Puerto Rico and has been growing ever since. There are now a few bars that specialize in international and local craft beers.” And because Rhaiza was enthusiastic about these new beers so early on and saw an opportunity to start a business with her best friend in this emerging industry, she persuaded Eileen to try (craft) beer as well.

The entrepreneurial spirit lying dormant in both students was reinforced by a course at the university. “Our lecturer has always encouraged us to not only consider working as an employee, but also to think about starting a business on our own.” Nevertheless, after graduating, Rhaiza decided to work as a SAP consultant first, while Eileen initially worked as a financial accountant. However, they continued to pursue the idea of founding a company in the craft beer scene, and so they enrolled in a home brewing course. “We were the youngest participants and the only women in the course, but we were very eager to learn how to brew our own beer.” From then on they met every weekend for one whole year to brew and decided in 2014 to turn their ideas into reality – and Pura Vida Brewery was born.

Obstacles on the way

However, there was still a long road to go before they could sell their first own beer, with certain obstacles and challenges ahead. While the business administration graduates had no problems with preparing the business plan, they first had to further improve their knowledge of the brewing business. “We didn’t know anyone in the scene and had to teach ourselves everything completely by ourselves – unlike most other brewers, we didn’t have a biochemical or engineering background either. So we acquired all our knowledge in our spare time besides our full-time job, in the evening or on weekends”. In addition there were bureaucratic hurdles with the government, of which there are more than enough in Puerto Rico, according to the entrepreneurs. Three years later it was time: The Pura Vida Brewery was ready for the launch event. So it would have been. If it hadn’t been for an unexpected hurdle, Hurricane Maria, which struck the entire island in September 2017.

The launch event was therefore postponed to February 2018 and it was after all an unexpectedly huge success. Eileen and Rhaiza brought two kegs with about 10 gallons of their Hyggelig Amber Ale – and within 25 minutes everything was gone. “It was a wonder, we never expected that in our lives. To be honest, we were a little afraid because we are women and this industry is about men. Here, in Puerto Rico we have like 16 breweries right now, but men own them all. So, in a stern way, we were like, we are women and we’re young, what are people gonna think about us? What are they gonna think of the beer? Also, here in Puerto Rico, there is this perspective that it’s men who make and mostly also drink the beer. We were not sure if the people would like or accept our product. But in the end, it was amazing!”

Enjoying pure life

The icon beer of Pura Vida Brewery, Hyggelig Amber Ale, is an American Amber with an addition of regional honey, which then makes a perfect mix of bitterness and sweetness. The unusual name for the beer is no coincidence. Eileen and Rhaiza want to use it to convey a message: “Hygge means how you can create a cozy atmosphere with the people you love the most, in the simplest day or in the simplest thing. And this is exactly what we want people to experience with our beer. An American Amber is a beer that you can enjoy at any time of the day and at any moment – so you can make every moment hyggelig.” And also the brewery’s name has a special story to it: inspired by an Instagram post that immediately appealed to Rhaiza during a difficult period in her life, the power women chose ‘Pura Vida Brewery’. “It’s magic, Pura Vida is pure life, the good in life. We want to represent with our brewery to enjoy life.”

What happened after the successful launch event? Rhaiza and Eileen continued to put a lot of work into their company. On the one hand, they renovated the brewery and purchased micro-brewing equipment for it. “In early 2019, we started the renovations, which were to last a few months – but as there were again some bureaucratic and budget obstacles, we ended up renovating for a whole year.” In addition to their Hyggelig Amber Ale, they also developed other beers that they actually wanted to introduce in spring 2020 – but in between came another unexpected hurdle, this time: the coronavirus.

But with so much courage, perseverance, creativity, and passion, I am sure that things will continue to improve for these Craft Brewers after the crisis. They didn’t want to tell me too much about their plans yet, but we will surely get the news on Instagram and Facebook or maybe even – a little day dreaming is allowed here – on a trip to the Caribbean island. I however was thrilled by so much young girl power, and who knows, maybe Rhaiza and Eileen with their exciting story will soon be regarded as a role model for other craft brewers with entrepreneurial spirit. “We certainly hope so”, the two best friends told me at the end.

Photos: Pura Vida Brewery; Wilhelma Ortiz

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