What’s the perfect snorkel beer?

Conch fritters and Red Stripe at Vies Shack on St. John, the Virgin Islands.

Conch fritters and Red Stripe at Vie's Shack on St. John.

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.

In The Tap Room of St. Johns Brewery

In The Tap Room of St. John's Brewery

14 Responses

  1. This sounds great! I could go for some west indian curry with the mango beer. I love trashy holiday beers 🙂 Although I was looking for holiday destinations this year based on where there were microbreweries that I could visit. It turned out that I couldn’t afford to go anywhere with sun and sea and a micro brewery (the girlfriend demanded the sun and sea). I’ll be drinking Mythos in Greece for two weeks (unless I can get Craft beer on the island I’ll be on…), but I’m thinking that I might be able to stash a few nice bottles in the suitcase for when I want a little flavour!

    Did the brewery do any bottled beers? And I hope you bought a couple of those glasses, they are pretty sweet!

    • It seems like in the US microbreweries really are everywhere! The brewery did bottles but I didn’t buy any, as I was trying to travel light. I do regret not getting one of those pint glasses–the design was ace! (My brother-in-law got one–he was drinking the brewery’s energy drink doctored with a Jager shot. Crazy!)

    • Oh and Greece sounds like it will be spectacular. Looking forward to the report back, beer or no.

  2. No strangers to oppressive weather here in south east Texas, we are fortunate to have a lawnmower beer that almost makes mowing the lawn worth the pain


  3. Oh that looks lovely. Plantain = win, and I’m glad mango beer worked out well. My recent trip to NZ and then to Seattle was greatly enlivened by random encounters with microbreweries. (I’m more concerned for myself, it taking me quite a few seconds to answer the voice in my head saying “I don’t *think* this is St John Street…”.)

    • Hi Ewan! What kind of microbreweries did you find in NZ? I know a few in Seattle that are marvy. Indeed this is very far from St. John Street! Thanks for reading.

      • I went to a few brewpubs in the South Island and in Wellington, the best being one in Christchurch called the Twisted Hop, doing English-style beers, hand-pulled cask conditioned, excellent quality. In general, though, the local style over there is definitely for more chilled European-style lagers and ales, which can be refreshing. Another Christchurch brewpub, the Dux De Lux, did a very decent proper ginger ale (4%), which is something I’d like more of over summer…

        • A proper ginger ale sounds amazing! I wonder if I can try to brew one?

  4. Hey, tourist.

    • That’s me–the Eternal Tourist!

  5. I do know that Moorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew is brewed under license in Cyprus.

    • Interesting– have you had it there? That beer has a cool name. What’s it like?

  6. Moorhouses Pendle Witches Brew is an amber-coloured 5.1% beer brewed in Burnley, Lancashire, quite sweet but without losing the hop taste. I’ve only ever had it in the North of England; I’d like to try the Cyprus version, but never having been there is an obstacle. Whenever it’s put on in my local it tends to disappear quite quickly, especially if I’m there. I feel it’s rather odd that a Lancashire beer is brewed in Cyprus under licence, but better that than one of the usual suspects, like London Pride, Deuchars or Greene King IPA.

  7. Well you learn something every day, I never knew that Moorhouses Pendle Witches Brew was brewed in Cyprus. I’m going out now to see if I can find some!

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