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Beer is a bit like music. When clients are home after a Caribbean vacation, they may find themselves transported back to the islands when they listen to “soca,” merengue or reggae music. It’s the same with opening a bottle of Red Stripe, Presidente or Carib; chances are, clients will feel like they’re right back at their favorite beach bar in the islands. A seemingly ordinary bottle of beer can be a powerful sensory memory that ignites all kinds of enjoyable recollections.
These signature Caribbean beers will help remind travelers of those breezy tropical memories. By no means are we laying claim that the brews below are the best in the Caribbean. Just as — for better or worse — Budweiser (in its various forms) is America’s beer, the brews highlighted below are the ones omnipresent on their respective islands.
A word of advice as you peruse the list? Sip back and relax.
Carib, Trinidad & TobagoTrinis are known for their ability to party hearty, especially during the island’s annual Carnival. The destination’s fuel of choice is Carib (though rum is a close second), a lager that varies from 5.1 percent to 5.4 percent alcohol by volume (abv). The company also has breweries on Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis.
For something strangely different, try a Shandy Carib, a beer-based beverage flavored with either ginger, sorrel or lime, with no more than 1.2 percent abv.
Medalla Light, Puerto RicoPuerto Rico’s most popular beer is Medalla Light. While the 4.2 percent abv pale lager probably won’t be winning many best in shows, it is nonetheless the beer of the island.
I find the ideal place to enjoy a Medalla Light is Rincon, a laid-back surfing destination on the island’s west coast. There’s a tradition in town of showing up at one of the area’s numerous beach bars an hour before sunset to toast the end of the day. One of the most famous spots for this is Tamboo Tavern, which regularly shows up on lists of the world’s best beach bars.
Piton, St. LuciaThis 5 percent abv pilsner lager is brewed and bottled on the island and was named after St. Lucia’s iconic twin mountain peaks.
One afternoon, I ended up at the docks of the seaside town of Soufriere and took in awe-inspiring views of the Pitons. I set down my bottle of beer on a pylon and was surprised to find the sea breeze playing notes on the bottle’s mouth, as though an invisible musician had shown up. Uncannily, the notes were almost the same as the opening bars of Ennio Morricone’s theme for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” A strange moment, indeed — one that goes to show: You never know where a bottle of beer will bring you.
Presidente, Dominican RepublicIn the Dominican Republic, they’ve been pouring Presidente since 1935, often to a backdrop of merengue and bachata music. The 5 percent abv light pilsner was actually named after Trujillo, the Dominican’s infamous dictator, who was in power during the ’30s.
When I was taking a self-drive tour throughout the nation, my traveling companion from the tourism board would often use gassing up our vehicle as an excuse to buy a couple of Presidentes. It was he who told me that the ideal temperature for a bottle of the brew produced a coating of frost on the bottle — what he referred to as “a wedding dress.”
Red Stripe, JamaicaIf asked for a show of hands for the best beer in the Caribbean, it’s a good chance that most would shoot up in favor of Jamaica’s Red Stripe. The lager has a substantial 4.7 percent abv, which — during a night of festivities — can elevate the bass of reggae music to magical heights (and make the same bass line a curse in the morning).
When my local grocery began selling Red Stripe, it was as though an exotic bird of paradise had flown into the store. Once home and armed with a six pack, I sat down at my picnic table and opened a bottle. I was instantly transported back to Jamaica and spent a pleasant hour mulling over good times on the island.