As we travel the world in search of interesting barrels and Whiskey Goods™, we tend to stumble upon some interesting, yet lesser known aspects of the global beer scene.
When it comes to beer, the Bahamas are in a unique position. Because of the availability of rum, beer has really taken a back seat until recent years. The Caribbean is famous for their wide varieties of rums, Bahamas included. Pirates and rum have gone hand in hand since Blackbeard ruled the Seven Seas in the 1700s, and places like John Watling’s Distillery have helped keep the pirate and rum heritage alive and well in the Bahamas. But as the years have passed the Bahamas have left pirate gold behind and started to turn to a new liquid gold instead; beer.
Compared to other countries, the Bahamas are still young when it comes to brewing. It took until 1988 for the country’s first brewery to get up and running, and you can thank the pirates for that. With an abundance of sugar cane, it was only natural for the country to produce rum, which had many benefits for pirates. Other than making time at sea more bearable for pirates, they used rum as a preservative, mixing it into their water to prevent spoilage and make it more palatable. When they found out vitamin C could help cure scurvy, they worked lemons and limes into their rum to make a drink called Grog. But with the rise in beer and craft brewing, it was only a matter of time before the Bahamas joined in the craze.
We were able to tour the first and only craft brewery in the Bahamas; Pirate Republic Brewing Company. While only established in 2015, Pirate Republic’s history goes back much further than that. Their historic brewing grounds include a production facility housed in a 125-year old warehouse, complete with the original ceiling. Not only is their production facility historical but you can taste the swashbuckling history of the island in Pirate Republic’s beers. Island Pirate Ale, the Bahamas’ first IPA, is heavy on citrus notes that take you back to the days of slugging Grog. Captain Kidd’s Kolsch is named after William Kidd, who was known for being the first pirate to bury treasure. While your odds of finding his rumored treasure in the Bahamas are low, the gold of this Kolsch is almost as good. Gold & Haze of Piracy, a Belgian white, even uses Columbus hops, a nod to the explorer who brought the discovery of the Bahamas to the modern world. Even cooler, Pirate Republic is already experimenting with some barrel aging. We got to meet several of the brewers and even check out some of the rum barrels they were currently aging in.
We also got to sample the beer that started it all; Kalik. While technically under the Heineken umbrella, Kalik is brewed by Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau. Referred to as the “beer of the Bahamas”, Kalik is a light lager that has a nice touch of bitterness on the finish. We also sampled Kalik Gold, a 7% ABV beer released in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering the Bahamas. While it was only supposed to be out for one year, high-demand pushed it into regular production and it’s been found on shelves ever since. The name “Kalik” comes from what the locals call the sound of a cowbell, a popular sound heard during the country’s Junkanoo festival. Much like the pirates’ mixture of lemons and rum, Kalik has its own citrus tie-in with the Kalik Radler. The Kalix Radler mixes beer and lemonade to create a low-ABV drink that the locals call “breakfast beer”.
Our brew tour also took us to Hillside House where we tried beers from the Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company. Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company opened in late in 2007 with their flagship lager, Sands. From there they quickly expanded their portfolio, adding beers like High Rock and Strongback Stout. High Rock is a lager brewed using German Purity Law, meaning its ingredients can only consist of malt, water, hops and yeast. If a full-bodied, high ABV beer is what you’re after, then look no further than the Strongback Stout. Strongback is brewed using “special fermentation and powerful yeast that is cold-filtered” to give the stout a nice, smooth finish. Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company prides itself on its close ties to Bahamian culture. The brewery is 100% Bahamian-owned and employs over 50 island citizens. The Bahamian public was even given the privilege of naming the brewery’s first two beers through a naming contest, which produced Sands and High Rock.
While rum was certainly the drink of choice amongst pirates and remains the heart of the Caribbean, Bahamians are making a push for beer to become the beverage of the Bahamas. And with tried and true steadfasts like Kalik and Sands combined with a buzzing new craft-brewing industry, the island nation is well on their way.