By Bobby Bush
Now this was no beer holiday, just a simple getaway, a relaxing respite from the
dog-eat-dog. We’d always wanted to tour those St. Somewhere tropical Caribbean
beaches that Jimmy Buffett waxes so poetically about, so this was the perfect cruise of the
Eastern Caribbean islands. On shore time did not allow for brewery tours, but great effort
was exerted to sample the local brews wherever available.
Boarding in San Juan, Puerto Rico we set sail immediately for Barbados, the
southern-most stop of the trip and the easternmost island of the West Indies. We’d signed
up for a tour of Mt. Gay Rum Factory, where sugar cane becomes rum. This shore
excursion in Bridgeport, Barbados ended with stops at two pubs for a sample of local
beer. That’s where we found our first island beers of the cruise. (The best of the cruise
ship’s selection was limited to Bass, Grolsch and Guinness). Brewed on Barbados since
1960 by the brewery of the same name, Banks was the locals’ beer of choice. A light
German-style pilsner, its body was somewhat fruity for style. Keg and bottle versions
proved to be the same, as it was with Banks Light. Banks was a perfect hot, humid
weather beer and that’s just what the weather on this 14 by 21 mile coral land mass is year
Not much larger and just a short cruise away, St. Lucia was our next port of call.
One of this British Commonwealth of Nations island’s distinguishing features are the twin
peaks of the Pitons. The local beer derives its name from the 2400 feet towering pair.
Brewed by Windward & Leeward Brewery of Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, Piton Lager Beer,
and its corresponding Light version, was a tad more dry and lager-y than Barbados’
Banks. Carbonated zip introduced low malt flavor and a trail of crisp, yet non-intrusive
hops bitterness. Lawnmower beer but, hey, we were dressed for the occasion.
On St. Kitts, once known as St. Christopher, we discovered locally produced Carib
Lager, named for the 65 square mile island’s original inhabitants and brewed by St. Kitts
Breweries Ltd. in Basseterre, our port of call. This 275 ml, reusable brown bottled beer
was similar in taste to Piton, if not a bit more stingy to the tongue. Under contract by St.
Kitts, Skol Lager, brewed in Brazil, was also available, though unremarkable.
St. Maarten is an island peacefully split by two countries, France and the
Netherlands. We tendered ashore to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, and quickly noticed
our first sighting of Budweiser. Seated at an outdoor bar near a restaurant advertising
“trendy local food,” we saw megabeers hawked two-for-a-dollar by street vendors. I
couldn’t pass up the deal and dropped two small 250 ml cans of Bavaria Beer from
Holland into my travel bag. The Dutch side had no brewery (and I’m not sure about the
French, but they probably had a winery), so we sipped Carib, this version brewed in
Trinidad and boasting 5.2% alcohol. Brewed in the Dominican Republic, Presidente was
another pilsner style beer. Brewed with corn grits, it was actually quite refreshing.
Heineken from Holland and Amstel Light (in a clear bottle), brewed “in the Caribbean”
and spiffed up to look like Carib, were also on sale. At EvryTing’s Cool, a touristy water
hole, a sign listed the wind chill factor at 91 degrees. The forecast? Winter.
Just 40 miles east of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas covers an area of only 32 square
miles. Part of the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas has a population of 56,000, which bulges
by as many as 10,000 when the port is full of cruise ships. Luckily, when we docked there
was only one other ship in the harbor. Stopping in at the first bar we found, the only
close-to-local beer available was Blackbeard Ale, brewed by Virgin Islands Brewing
Company on St. Croix. What a nice break to sample an ale that wasn’t Bass. Not
distinctively hoppy or malty, Blackbeard was a pleasing middle-of-the-road American Ale.
Two doors down we discovered a Virgin Islands Brewing store. Along with t-shirts, hats
and bottled beer to go, we were able to sample Blackbeard and the St. Croix micro’s other
brew, the light pils-style Foxy’s Lager, a take on Carib, Banks and Piton. Virgin Island’s
beers found stateside are contract brewed in Minnesota.
For good measure, I bought a can of Medalla Light in the San Juan airport.
Canned somewhere in San Juan (no mention of a brewery), I’m assured by the notation on
this golden can of as-yet-untasted cerveza that “los ingredientes mas finos.” Fine, indeed.
Sun, fun and ice cold pilsner lagers in the islands of St. Somewhere - yeah, the
living was easy. Too bad the real world was waiting on the other end of the cruise.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush