A quick pause and I sucked my teeth a little, letting the full flavor of the beer swirl around in my mouth.
“What’s this called again? Sorrel Stout?” What is sorrel? The leafy plant?” I searched through my mind to every edible I knew.
No matter, the flavor was delicious – every Christmas spice married with sweet hops and malt.
It was Belikin‘s bestseller in years; the product of the brewery’s newest beer expert and brewmaster, Nolan Michael. Michael is the first Belizean at the helm of Belikin Beer, part of the country’s largest business conglomerate, Bowen and Bowen, Ltd.
The cool, dark interior of the taproom made me forget about the morning hour. I had 45 minutes to drink all that I wanted. It was propriety, not my taste buds that made me stop at two sample-sized glasses.
Belikin’s brewery was a morning stop on my first day of food touring around Belize. The beer is in every house countrywide, and on every restaurant menu.
Tourists and locals alike see the slogan, “Belikin: The Beer of Belize” emblazoned on the factory that abuts the runway of the national airport. The front gates open onto an well-manicured emerald city; a campus that houses the jewels of the Bowen Crown: Belikin and Coca-Cola.
I was met by Justin Hulse who wears two hats: inventory manager and tour guide. He led the twenty-minute tour through Belikin’s state-of-the-art, designed facility. It is a marvel of engineering, both in the physical structure, and in the software that manages the process. Brewing is almost entirely automated, save the quality assurance lab, monitor and cleaning maintenance.
Hulse explained beer making: the grain, mixed with water, is heated, cooled, and filtered, all the while given additions of sugar,hops, and yeast. Water from the Belize river is the base of all the beers. Sugar from Orange Walk, and imported malt, yeast and hops finish the mix.
Behind the gleaming hardware, an ancient beer making recipe was underway, wrapped in new, state-of-the-art clothes. Bowen captures the CO2 that is produced during the brewing cycle, and filters it to reuse in its sodas, a point that doesn’t go unnoticed in tour groups that are ever-attracted to hints of sustainability and “green-ness”.
Room after room filled with custom fabricated sills, filters and tanks, lead to the upper hall and reception area. The hall is lined with photos of the the company’s history, and print after print of container ships, exporting the brewing equipment from Germany. If you weren’t impressed enough with clean cold steel of the brewhouse, then surely the awe that comes with ship and manpowering the pieces one by one across the Atlantic, has to impress and inspire.
Hulse led me out the door to the bottling plant; part of the original factory built in the 1970′s. Its there that the assembly whizzed by; intoxicating me and the workers alike, as bottles soldiered down the line to be filled and labeled. That day, it was Guinness that filled the room, one of Bowen and Bowen’s licensed products.
Hulse explained, “We have four beers we make as our own, one also as a seasonal brew. And then of course we have the Guinness, bringing the total to six.” Belikin makes a lager, stout, premium, and lighthouse, a pale yellow pilsen served in pony-sized bottles. Guinness sends its base mixture directly from Ireland, complete with semi-annual visits from inspectors who test the final product.
The sorrel seasonal stout was so tasty, the planned batch sold out quickly.(Sorrel, also known as Roselle, is a Caribbean fruit that looks like a juicy version of the bleeding-heart flower. It ripens just before the holiday season. )
The beer contained a spiced juice mixture that was wildly popular. Belikin brewed an additional batch in time to be on Belize’s holiday table. A new beer is in the works for Easter 2012.
Note: Tours of the Belikin Brewery tours can be arranged through the main office at 501-225-2058. Tours are 20 minutes, concluding with an additional 45 minutes in the taproom. There is no limit on the amount of beer you can drink. Tours can be booked M-F, 8am to 3pm. Cost is $15 US. www.thebeerofbelize.com