Raise a glass to local beer

Cayman Islands Brewery experience

Walking through the Cayman Islands Brewery is not the sort of epic event that touring, say, the world’s largest brewery Belgium’s Anheuser-Busch InBev might be, but that works to a visitor’s advantage.

Like much of the Cayman Islands, the brewery tour is an intimate, personal experience.

A visitor is likely to be hosted by German brewmaster Andreas Moerl or commercial manager James Mansfield.

First names, questions and answers, and an easy rapport, are quickly established.

The tour groups are small – often no more than a family or a group of friends – and at the finish, as long as you are willing to stand at the showroom tables, brewery personnel are happy to dispense endless samples of the four chief products. These are the flagship Caybrew lager, its low-calorie Caylight counterpart, the delightful full-bodied premium White Tip lager and the nut-brown Ironshore Bock.

Not on tap, but available in its blue-tinned package, is the mass-market economy 345, so named for the Cayman Islands telephone area code.

Finally, the seasonal Pirates Gold, an autumnal brew created to mark Cayman’s annual Pirates Week festival in November is on offer only in the immediate post-summer months.

Caybrew and 345 are Cayman Islands Brewery’s largest sellers, but White Tip lager is snapping at their heels, a refreshing, smooth-finishing lager with a broad appeal to aficionados.

The beer, named for the shark that inhabits local waters, has the added appeal of functioning as a sort of conservation movement.

For every case of White Tip sold, the brewery donates $1.20 to the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, and the charities Marine Conservation International and Save Our Seas. So far, more than $21,000 has been handed to Department of the Environment.

Cayman Islands Brewery’s chief production cost is probably water, requiring 12 litres, mostly desalinated, for each litre of beer manufactured.

The expense is such that, coupled with the high price of electricity – not to mention wages and government port fees – the creation of export markets remains a long-term goal for the enterprise.

The flagship Caybrew brand, launched in 2007, is brewed to a German recipe with a 5 per cent alcohol content and 140 calories per pint.

Full bodied, crisp and clean, the beer - packaged in bright green returnable bottles and red and white tins, and available on draught - won gold medals in Brussels in both 2008 and 2011.

Caylight, the brewery’s second product, appeals to long-time light-beer devotees. Refreshing, clean and designed to slake the thirst of swimmers, skiers and divers, the brew boasts a modest 3.5 per cent alcohol, only 2.4 grams of carbs and 95 calories per pint.

White Tip started life as a tinned product, but demand quickly escalated, pushing the brewery to diversify into sleekly designed clear bottles in 2011. With a golden colour, White Tip’s premium malt and aroma hops lend the brew additional flavour and a smooth finish to its 5.2 per cent alcohol content and 140 calories per pint.

Ironshore Bock is the most interesting of the brewery’s products, offering a strong, dark-amber liquid, with a distinctive, rich and nutty flavour, the result of speciality black, Crystal and Munich malts, and hops from Washington state’s Cascade Mountains.

A favourite among discerning drinkers, Ironshore’s roasted taste makes it deceptively easy to drink, justifying various cautions that its 7 per cent alcohol-by-volume, and 150 calories per pint, sneaks up on many a consumer.

A stroke of clever marketing created 345 relatively recently. Priced at $1 per deep-blue tin, the beer targets an economy market, carving a niche among those seeking a satisfying, affordable and thirst-quenching restorative at the end of a long day.

And while we wait, I notice that the showroom has a range of attractively-designed merchandise including, if you can persuade Mr. Mansfield to part with it, the brewery’s last remaining full-size Caylight surfboard, perched high on the wall above the four-beer tap.