A lot of beer connoisseurs resort to local lager in the holiday heat. It’s true things we value in good beer can’t really be tasted if the beer is served cold, so if you are overheating why not drink something like a super-chilled, crap lager? Is this what’s known as a “lawnmower beer”? Having never had a lawn to mow, these beers seemed exotic, but after sweating off sunscreen while hiking and swimming for a week, I think I get it. What would be my “Snorkel Beer”? For most of my holiday in the Virgin Islands last week, I drank Red Stripe. I confess I have a weakness for the stuff. I love how the little squat bottle feels in the hand, the simple screen-painted label is perfect branding. Plus, I like the sweet malty character and it went perfectly with things I was eating like conch fritters, fried plantains and red beans and rice.
But, luckily enough, my drink of choice wasn’t reduced to rum cocktails and Red Stripe, as there is a microbrewery on the island, St. John Brewery. It was located in a charming villa of shops called Mongoose Junction (the island seemed totally overrun with rikki-tikki-tavis). The Tap Room of the brewery had some beers from other east-coast micros on, and two of its own seasonal beers, the Tropical Mango Pale Ale and the Island Summer Ale. As far as names go these are pretty unimaginative, and I had my sights set rather low.
Mr. Malting had the Island Summer Ale, which was too malty-sweet for me but he loved it. I then tried the Mango Ale, worrying it might be even sweeter, but I was pleasantly surprised. There was mango, but it was mainly a sweetness from the malt, totally cut with a dominant, grapefruity hop. This wasn’t really a fruit beer at all, any estery-earthiness reminiscent of mango came from something other than fruit, though according to their website this beer contains “essence of mango.” (Hey, the sun’s out, I’ve been swimming with garish, gregarious fish and I have the Caribbean sea soaked into me; does it really matter what “mango essence” is?) In the dense heat this beer became addictive and brought on a buzz happy enough to buffer any and all Jimmy-Buffet-Bob-Marley saturation (the Muzak of the Islands).
The brewery’s story began in 2001 with two castaway college grads and a $50 brewing kit. They decided the island didn’t have the kind of beer they wanted to drink so they made their own. Their response seems perfect to the place, the “demands” of the islands, the sabor. The mango ale would have been great with saltfish, johnny cake or West Indian curry. In short it tasted of the genus loci of the island, something only a good microbrewery could capture.