It’s taken a while to catch on in the Cayman Islands, but craft beer is officially hot here and the Cayman Distributors Group has jumped on the bandwagon to fill the growing local demand for well-made, flavorful and complex brews.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the variety of beers or ales readily available in restaurants and beverage stores on Grand Cayman numbered around a dozen, and most of them were light-style lagers.
That all started to change when Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink opened in June 2010 and part of their beverage menu included a selection of a dozen or so craft beers, which by definition of the U.S. Brewers Association are beers produced in a traditional way, in relatively small quantities, by independent breweries.
“We were surprised by the response,” says Michael’s Genuine Manager Remyl Coleman, who was part of the restaurant’s opening team. “People were passionately embracing [craft beers].”
Other restaurants and bars have since followed suit, adding craft beers to their menus. The Brasserie Restaurant carries several Brooklyn Brewery beers. Both Ortanique and the West Indies Wine Company also have selections of craft beers. Grand Cayman’s newest restaurant – Craft Food & Beverage Company– is themed around craft beers.
To discuss the intricacies of craft beer, Cayman Distributors Group’s Lee Quessy and Jodie Ehrhart sat down with Coleman at Michael’s Genuine to sample eight brews, ranging from an abbey-style Belgian beer to American-style wheat beer and Canadian re-fermented ales.
The rise of craft beer
When the movement toward traditionally made, flavorful beers produced on a relatively small scale started in the U.K. in the 1970s, the places that made the beer were called microbreweries. In the late 1970s, the microbrewery movement came to the United States, aided by the deregulation of beer brewing in 1979. Initially, the movement gained a foothold on the West Coast before moving over to the East Coast in the mid-‘80s. Eventually, some of the microbreweries reached a level of success to where the prefix “micro” no longer applied, so the more appropriate term “craft,” which takes into consideration the process of making the beer, has been adopted.
The rise of craft breweries is evident from the statistics. In 1980, there were fewer than 100 breweries in the United States. By mid-2013, that number had grown to 2,538, with nearly 98 percent of them being considered craft breweries.
Cayman Distributors Group’s Lee Quessy thinks that the trend toward the more flavorful craft beers is partially happening because consumers these days have more awareness about quality, who is producing a product, how it’s produced and the ingredients used.
“People are also looking for something different,” he said. “As with wine, people are looking for a sense of place in their beer.”
In addition, craft beer just happens to be trendy, Coleman said.
“People want to have what’s cool and undiscovered.”
The one thing that stands out with craft beers, as opposed to mass-produced American beers, is how varied they are in taste from one another.
The eight beers tasted over lunch all had very different taste profiles. They were sampled with two of the best beer-pairing foods there are: pizza and burgers. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink highlights one of those pairings with its Burgers & Beer events, which feature a variety of sliders and a selection of craft beers. Coleman said this year, Michael’s intends to offer similar events with a selection of pizza as well.
The beers were tasted in order of lightest body to heaviest body.
Blanche de Chambly is a Belgian-style white ale made by the Unibroue Brewery in Chambly, Quebec, Canada. This wheat beer still has yeast lees in the bottle, giving it a smoky gold color. The ale has a friendly 5 percent Alcohol By Volume, and flavors of lemon peel and coriander make it refreshing to drink.
“It was the first re-fermented white beer in North America,” says Quessy. “It’s re-fermented, so it’s kind of like Champagne, which is why the bubbles are so elegant and creamy.”
Michael’s Genuine Home Brew is a light-bodied American ale made of Florida-grown Sem-Chi brown rice and sugar cane. The beer is a collaboration between Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and the Back Forty Beer Company in Gasden, Alabama.
This light-amber ale has noticeable fruit aromas and a citrusy sweetness that makes it a good beer for pairing with food.
“Michael is a chef and he wanted a beer that’s food friendly,” says Coleman, adding that it was purposely formulated so as not to be too overpowering in any characteristic, but still have the complexities of taste associated with a craft beer.
Launched in 2012, the 5 percent ABV brew was originally available in Cayman only in large format 22-ounce bottles, but now is only available in 12-ounce bottles.
Leffe Blond is a Belgian abbey-style pale ale that seems lighter-bodied than its 6.6 percent ABV would suggest.
“I think it’s quite feminine in style,” said Ehrhart. “It’s fruity on the palate and not bitter.”
“It’s one of my favorites,” says Coleman.
Brilliant gold in color, Leffe is Belgium’s most popular abbey beer, although it is no longer actually brewed at an abbey.
Pyramid Hefeweizen is an American-style wheat ale made in Kalama, Washington. It is unfiltered, giving it a cloudy gold color.
The ale is medium-bodied with a 5.2 percent ABV and is very smooth to drink.
“It’s got body, but it’s refreshing,” said Quessy.
“Pyramid won the best beer in America two years in a row and is pretty much the standard by which American wheat beers are judged,” said Ehrhart.
Magic Hat #9 is a brew from Vermont that is marketed as “Not Quite Pale Ale.”
“It has a pale ale color, but it’s not really a pale ale,” said Quessy.
The mystery around Magic Hat #9 revolves around its flavoring ingredients, which the brewers keep secret. It’s a very fruity beer – which makes it very refreshing for Cayman’s climate – but it also has some caramel and spice flavors that keep it from being too fruity. It has a 5.2 percent ABV.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is made in Chico, California, and was one of the first entrants into the craft beer market back in 1980.
“[Sierra Nevada Brewing Company] pioneered the American style of Pale Ale,” said Quessy, noting that it was the company’s use of American Cascade hops that gave the ale its distinctive ‘hoppy’ flavor to go with notes of malt and fruit.
Sierra Nevada pale ale, which has a 5.6 percent ABV, is the best-selling American Pale Ale in the United States.
Dundee India Pale Ale is brewed in Rochester, New York. It is amber in color and has a 6.3 percent ABV. It’s made with a blend of four hops that give it a distinctive aroma and flavor, which is rich and a little bit spicy.
“I love the mouth-feel of this beer,” said Coleman. “It’s soft and round and the hops don’t really bite you.”
Dundee India Pale Ale is a full-bodied beer with lots of flavor.
“For me, this is more of a beer for food, just like people say that some wines are food wines,” said Ehrhart.
La Fin du Monde is a triple-style golden ale made by the Unibroue Brewery in Quebec. Sold in a large format 750ml bottle – the same as a standard bottle of wine – this is a full-bodied ale.
Although it has a heady 9 percent ABV, La Fin du Monde – “The End of the World” in French – is surprisingly smooth with a spicy floral aroma and flavors of malt, fruit, spice and yeast, and with Champagne-like bubbles and creaminess.
“This is a thinking beer,” said Coleman. “It’s got a lot going on; it’s very complex.”