North Rock Brewpub: Bermuda's first

August 31, 1998

By Kurt Epps

- Bermuda Triangle mystery

With Bermuda's ancestral links to England, and England's historic links to beer, one wonders why it took until 1997 for the first -- and only -- brewpub to open on this picturesque, twenty-square-mile island.

David and Heather Littlejohn, the "nicest people in the world" according to their manager Kim Sadlowski, were unavailable during the PubScout's visit to the North Rock Brewpub. But they need not worry. Their pub was in the excellent hands of this raven-haired, statuesque, classy Canadian beauty who was as charming as she was efficient. Full of seemingly unbounded energy, Kim attended to a wide array of duties: setting, waiting and cleaning tables; bringing drinks, seating a substantial queue of guests for dinner, taking phone calls and -- oh, yes -- finding the time to provide a gracious in-depth interview to a visiting beer writer.

There is much (besides Kim) in this brewpub to attract the eye. The classic Bermudian vaulted and beamed ceilings, a gorgeous hand-carved mahogany bar, the understated country cottage elegance of a first class establishment, an unending stream of diverse customers--nearly 90% of whom are local-- and a wide array of sumptuous-looking dishes that emerged from the kitchen.

Not just pub-grub, this was upscale fare -- akin to the successful formula used by some brewpubs in New Jersey, like Trap Rock, Basil T's and Long Valley. Though I did not sample the food, the long lines and the waiting list for the dining room at the door along with five separate eating areas were strong indications that North Rock was well worth a gourmand's consideration. Indeed there are two menus -- lunch and dinner -- and they are quite different from each other in offerings as well as price (lunch is cheaper), an important consideration on pricey Bermuda.

It was the beers of Bermuda's first and only brewpub that attracted the PubScout this night. The head brewer is none other than the owner himself -- David Littlejohn, and he uses a 3.5 barrel full mash system along with one 7-barrel and three 3-barrel fermenters. Two 3-barrel "brite-beer" tanks are used for aging and kegging.

From this system emerge seven fine brews, though one, Johnny's Scotch Ale, was unavailable at this sitting. Whale of a Wheat, Island Pilsner, Somers' Amber, Old Colony Bitter, West India Pale Ale and North Rock Porter rounded out the other selections. All beers are available in 12 oz. "half-pints" for $3.25 and 20 oz. Imperial pints for $4.75. Tasters of four 4 oz samples are $3.25.

Whale of a Wheat beer, served with the requisite lemon, was light, clean and citrusy. Probably aimed at American tourists, it had surprisingly more flavor and body than I expected.

The golden-colored Island Pilsner, which serves as a sound transition beer was also very smooth and flavorful. Recommended to accompany fish and chicken, it could easily fit the requirements of a session brew as well.

Somers' Amber, named for the shipwrecked Englishman who jettisoned barrels of beer to save women and children (give him a break -- he was under great stress) while "founding" Bermuda, was a wonderful example of Littlejohn's brew craft. Amber with a hint of red, its nose was wonderfully floral, and its complexity yielded flavors of malt and citrus, held up by a smooth, clean, dry finish.

Old Colony Bitter must have been brewed with the local landed gentry in mind. Hardly carbonated, full bodied and malty and served on the hand-pump, it was easily a session beer reminiscent of those in British pubs in England.

The PubScout's choice for a session beer, however, was the West India IPA, a classic British IPA designed to please hopheads from Bermuda to India and all points in between. This beer grew even better with each sip. One of the blackest porters I've seen is North Rock Porter, but the color hints at the strong coffee and chocolate notes that come in on a smooth, velvety body. Manager Kim toyed with the idea of plopping a dollop of chocolate ice cream in the porter to make a float, but decided to wait until the owners returned. My guess is that it would make a great dessert.

Interestingly, the pub sells standard beer brands as well as its own, perhaps recognizing that the predominantly local folks, who (ironically) seem to revere their Heineken and Amstel, need to be won over gradually. The method seems to be working, because North Rock is packed almost every night, and that includes from November to March when most sunseeking tourists seek hotter climes than Bermuda's, which can dip into the sixties and below.

Still, beer fanciers from around the world who visit Bermuda should know that North Rock Brewpub is up and running, and quite nicely, thank you. Less than ten minutes cab ride from Hamilton, Bermuda's first and only brewpub is easy to get to and well worth the trip when you get there. Given North Rock's success, maybe Bermuda's second brewpub isn't far behind.

It would, however, have quite a tough act to follow.

®Kurt E. Epps 1998 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps