CUBA has been hit by a severe beer shortage during one of its hottest summers on record, sparking hoarding and driving thirsty drinkers to pay greatly inflated prices.

A sharp fall in production at the island’s main brewery, Bucanero, at the beginning of the year has trickled its way down the supply chain at the worst possible time: the third-hottest summer since 1951. That has caused many consumers and the communist country’s newly legalised private restaurants, or “paladares”, to stock all they can.

Bucanero makes four brands of beer: Bucanero, Cristal, Cacique and Mayabe. The company has a virtual monopoly in Cuba, though some imported beers are also available, albeit at a large mark-up.

“It was an odyssey to find beers for a going-away party on Tuesday,” said a Chilean expatriate.

“I covered half of Havana going to supermarkets, gas stations and liquor stores before I finally had to buy them at a restaurant” – where he had to pay 15 percent higher prices, he said.

Cuban media said the problem was caused by delayed imports of malted barley in the first four months of the year.

“Now in the summer more than ever, you go to look for a cold beer at this moment when you needed it the most, and you can’t find any,” an agonising islander said on local television.

Reports said hoarding by consumers and restaurants had exacerbated the problem. – Sapa-AFP