Blues Cruise II
By Bobby Bush
Wherever I go, I make it a point to sample the local beer. But there are some trips, believe it or not, where beer takes a backseat to other agendas. A warm weather cruise in the midst of a cold, cold winter is such an adventure. Cruise ships are notorious for bad beer selection. Prepared for Heineken and Amstel Light, I packed two small squeeze bottles of Hop Oil. Available on-line at www.freshops.com, four drops made a rather bland beer much more tolerable.
This Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise was more about music than anything else. There were only three stops on the week-long journey, but each time the ship docked we were off to seek new and different beers.
On Puerto Plata, Presidente Cerveza Tipo Pilsener was available in liter and half-liter bottled. A liter was less than $2 American. While beach side, I stumbled upon Scandinavien Bar. The Norwegian owner told me that he had some locally made German beer, but it wasn't any good. After twisting his arm, he returned from the bar with what appeared to be a bottle of homebrew. Schober Weisbier was cloudy with sour nose. Black particles floated like pepper throughout its malty, slightly clove-tasting body. Not as bad as it looked. I bought a second bottle of the Weisbier and a different, crudely labeled beer home with me. Still haven't gotten up the nerve to open them.
Stop number two was St. Croix. In conjunction with our cruise, a big outdoor blues festival had been scheduled featuring entertainers from the ship and others, like Jimmy Thacker and Lil' Ed, who just happened to be in the neighborhood. Local vendors surrounded the baseball field where the concert was staged. Food of all sorts, island crafts and, low and behold, beer. Fort Christian Brewpub, located in Chritiansted just 20 minutes from our Frederiksted locale, was a sight for sore eyes. Brewer Tim Mason was pouring beer as fast as the kegs would flow. Before the night was over, he sent back to the brewery for more. Honey Wheat (lager-esque with honey tones), Blackbeard Ale (brewed under contract for Virgin Island Brewing), Jump Up Oatmeal Stout (complex flavor, heavy mouthfeel) and James Brown Ale (sweet caramel) made the concert even better.
Our third port was Tortolla, where a group 300 strong quickly departed by water taxi for Jost Van Dyke, a 30 minute boat ride away. Headed to a bar called Foxy's on a tiny private island, we had no idea what to expect. Foxy's, it seems, is a well known party bar. We raced to beat the boat crowd and plopped down at the bar closest to the beach. A beer tower with four handles gleamed from behind the bar. Unfortunately, the bartender spoke little English, so I ordered an Amber thinking it was Dos Equis Ambar.
And then Mike Ramsey introduced himself. He's Foxy's brewer. On the job only 90 days, Ramsey brews from a kit, like many beginning homebrewers but at a larger scale. Working with a Canadian brewhouse, which Mike installed, he was given three weeks of on-site instructions and a "Betty Crocker" recipe book. Ingredients for his eight barrel brews come in a box with simple instructions. Even specialty grain comes in the form of syrupy extract.
For what it was and for where we were, Foxy's beer tasted pretty damn good. Mexican Amber was malty, tangy and refreshing. The recipe for Crown Pilsner included corn extract and lacked proper bitterness. Rudolph Red was smooth from roasted maltiness while Get Fuggled, named for an English hops, was "brown Australian style," according to the brewer.
Looking for beer in the strangest places has it rewards. As for the music, it was fantastic thanks to Shemekia Copeland, John Mooney, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tommy Castro, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Saffire- the Uppity Blues Women, Terrence Simien, Duke Robillard, Taj Mahal, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Otis Clay and Tyrone Davis.
Next year's cruise is already being booked. If you're interested see www.bluesin.tv. Don't forget your hop oil.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush