Sailboat cruising has its downsides but periodically one stumbles on something that gladdens the heart. The road up from Prickly Bay marina is steep, grueling even, but takes one up to a height from where the sweep of the bay, with its sandy beaches fringed with palm trees, can be better appreciated. Previously, Chele and I had walked along this stretch of road and passed a sign which proclaimed the words ‘The Brewery’. Now I don’t know about you but certain words attract the attention more strongly than others. For example, ‘The Park’ does little to get the pulse racing – unless, of course, you are walking a dog. Neither does ‘The Hospital’ unless in need of some urgent medicinal attention. But ‘The Brewery’ has that certain ring about it that ups the heartbeat and lightens the spring in one’s step.
Thus, it was that late one morning I was trudging up the same track bound for a local hairdresser. Being, as my friends will testify, of a generally abstemious nature – meaning a moderate soul so far as brewed concoctions were concerned – I was winning any impulses not to explore The Brewery further when, to my surprise, I found myself abandoning the road, swerving hard to port, crossing a shady forecourt, and entering a cool and sparsely populated chamber with a bar and an array of tables and chairs.
Behind the bar stood a young man smiling widely. Behind him was an array of highly polished vessels, taller than the height of a man, gathered as might armour-clad warriors on parade. The visual effect was stunning. For a moment, I wondered whether I had been transported through a mysterious portal and wafted up to some sort of galactic stage set. Heaven even.
“Something to drink, sir?" enquired the young man. Quite of its own volition, I could feel my head nodding. “Perhaps a beer?” he suggested. There was my head, nodding again. “Our selection is on the wall over there, sir. If you fancy an English bitter type beer, I think you should try our Rogue Pirate? At four-point-four percent it’s a good lunchtime strength for those who might have to work in the afternoon.”
My knees nearly buckled. It’s over three months since we left the UK, during which I had become at least partially conditioned to lager-type beers, yet still found they never really quelled my thirst for the genuine stuff. Yet here I was on the Caribbean island of Grenada being taunted by the promise of real ale. Could this be true? And, if so, what an irony. Then doubt overcame me. I’ve tasted various beers around the globe professing to be authentic in the context Brits understand only to discover that some were downright disgusting. Notably, I remembered some decades ago, then living in Texas, being lured to an excruciatingly bogus pub manned (if that’s quite the right word) by waitresses costumed in mini-skirted Tower-of-London yeoman outfits. Hearing the word that a ‘genuine English pub’ with ‘genuine English beer’ had opened in Houston, I had driven over 30 miles to sample it. The distinction ‘genuine’ didn’t survive the first sip. The so-called bitter had been chilled to a temperature the Titanic would have recognised and was as bogus as the costumes.
Yet there was something quietly reassuring about The Brewery. I was toying with the options and thinking that in the interests of research the haircut was history. “Why don’t you try some first?” he suggested.
Now that shows confidence. Within a few seconds a smallish glass was in my hand and I took a first sip. SUBLIME! Before long, and to make a more considered appraisal, I had abandoned the glass and substituted it for a vessel more suited for the purpose. Speaking as a journalist, I have long believed that where there’s research to be done it should be done thoroughly so, entirely on your behalf, I tasted a couple more brews to see how they fared. You can’t get more self-sacrificing than that, don’t you agree? Anyway, by now I had spotted the chalkboard lunch menu and thoughts of a haircut were fading.
The Brewery was the inspiration of brewmaster Mark Heath, originally from England, who started the enterprise in a small wooden hut on the banks of neighbouring True Blue Bay. It seems the feedback was encouraging from the first. Perhaps it would have been inevitable that demand outstripped supply so before long they were obliged to move, first to nearby Lance Aux Epines in 2016 before moving just up the road to their current, much larger, premises. Theirs was to be Grenada’s first new brewing licence in over 50 years. Until they acquired that licence, they were barred from accepting payment for their beers, so dispensed the stuff free until officially sanctioned. A decidedly brave way to build up a satisfied customer base, don’t you think? But worth it, judging by the current attendance.
I never thought I would rank a brewery among the countless other delights of the Caribbean. But this one really is something special. My only regret is that in the interests of my waistline, I may have to find another route out of Lance Aux Epines. Or maybe I’ll just buy another belt a size or two bigger.
More info on www.westindiesbeer.com