I recently traveled to the Caribbean where I visited Saint Martin and Anguilla. Both are beautiful countries. And of course, when traveling to paradise (or anywhere else!) one of the foremost questions of any beer enthusiast’s mind is “What kind of beer can I drink there?” followed shortly thereafter by “Where can I go to drink it?”
Besides researching what one does for 10 days in paradise, I also made it top order of business to find the local brews available for consumption on the island.
While Saint Martin doesn’t produce any local beers, there were still plenty to be had from surrounding islands or even a few imported from the United States, Europe or Asia. Craft beers (imported of course) are rare to come by but I still made it a goal to try as many different beers as possible. I quickly learned that even beers like Heineken taste different (literally) in the Caribbean than the United States.
Saint Martin is approximately 37 square miles and is actually divided between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The northern half (French side) goes by Saint Martin and the southern half (Dutch side) goes by Sint Maarten. I stayed in a nice area called Pelican Key along the Dutch side in a villa right on the beach. This is one of the best spots if you like to beachcomb, or to see beautiful sunsets and cruise ships leaving from the main port in Philipsburg.
Anguilla (pronounced Ann-gwilla – similar to “vanilla”) is a British overseas territory directly north of Saint Martin; it’s about 25 minutes by ferry from the port at Marigot. Approximately 16 miles long by about 3 miles wide, Anguilla is much smaller and sleepier than Saint Martin. In fact the common method of reaching the island is often to fly into Saint Martin then take the ferry over, rather than trying to fly over to the little island. I only took a day trip to the island (not long enough to spend there by any means!) but was able to visit a few locations – more on that later!
The primary beverage of choice on Saint Martin is their locally produced rum. While it’s not beer, I have to say their rum is delicious and probably the best rum I’ve had in any of the islands! You’ll find homemade rum everywhere – outdoor markets, grocery store shelves, and of course at all the bars and restaurants.
There are a plethora of flavors available, although they are most known for their Guavaberry flavor. Guavaberries grow on trees and are a rare fruit found high in the warm hills in the center of the island. If you’re ever on the island, I also highly recommend you take a shopping trip to Philipsburg and make sure to stop at The Sint Maarten Guavaberry Shop (just avoid Tuesdays as this is the most busy cruise ship day). They cannot send their liquors from Saint Martin to the U.S. and Canada, but I would travel back just to stock up on this stuff. They also make some really good hot sauces and spices, which you can order online from the states.
I picked up some Guavaberry and Island Almond rum for the trip home. The woman manning the tasting counter at the shop informed me that the almond flavor is “the Amaretto of the Caribbean” (it was pretty damn good).
I also recommend both Rum Jumbie (the Vanilla Splash flavor was my favorite) or Cruzan Rum (which also comes in many flavors). They’re awesome in mixed drinks or even on the rocks.
And of course if you’re drinking quality liquor, you should get some hand-painted quality shotglasses! I picked these up from a French couple at the market at Marigot (a must-visit if you go to Saint Martin).
In Saint Martin I managed to try 19 unique beers. 20 if I count the mysterious dark bottle of motor oil we purchased at a small corner market that listed “alcohol” on the contents (although to this day I’m not exactly sure what was in that bottle). “Craft beer” isn’t really a thing on the island, but that surely didn’t prevent me from indulging.
The primary thing I can say that is pretty awesome about the Dutch side of the island is that there are little to no rules involved with the where, when and how of alcohol consumption. It’s basically a free-for-all and you can crack open a beer while you are going for a stroll or even driving to the beach (I don’t recommend this on the French side, however, I’m pretty sure their laws are not as lax). There is also a complete lack of “no glass” rules on the beaches – in fact – something that really amazed me was not once did I see broken glass anywhere on the sand, yet people are drinking from bottles of beer everywhere.
Here’s the official list of the beers I enjoyed while in the Caribbean:
- Amstel Bright
Not to be confused with Amstel Light, Amstel Bright is a pale lager formerly produced in Curaçao, but now it’s brewed in the Netherlands and then exported back to the islands. It’s not sold in the states, only the islands.
- Asahi Super Dry
If you like sushi or frequent Japanese Steakhouses you’ve probably had this beer at one point. It’s brewed in Japan of course, and is an easy-drinking island beer.
- Carib Lager
Brewed in Trinidad & Tobago, this is your standard Lager – however I can personally vouch that getting a bucket of Carib beers (with lime wedges) and watching the planes fly in at the famous Sunset Bar & Grill in Saint Martin is the perfect way to spend a full afternoon!
- Ceres Royal Stout (Ceres Extra Strong Stout)
One of the two stouts I tried while on the island, it’s highly ranked by “the bros” on BeerAdvocate. It is a malty, toasty, coffee-flavored stout and overall I preferred this one over the Mackeson (listed further below). This brew hails from Denmark.
- Corona Extra
Almost everyone should be familiar with Corona Extra, which is brewed in Mexico and a very popular beach beer (with a wedge of lime included of course!)
- Crabbie’s Ginger Beer – Original
Crabbie’s is from Scotland, and it’s good stuff. Very flavorful and refreshing, and a great change up from the typical beers available. The original version is flavored like ginger (of course) and lemon and lime.
- Crabbie’s Ginger Beer – Spiced Orange
Flavored to match it’s name, like ginger and orange, this was also a very refreshing brew.
This was new to me, and came in several variations depending on what you’re in the mood for. The Desperados line of beers comes from France and is considered a Lager.
- Desperados Red
This variation is sweeter and higher in alcohol than its sisters, and is good to change things up if you want something different than the traditional normal flavor.
- Desperados Mas
This was my least favorite of the three Desperados I tried, it is a pale Lager and comes in the lowest in alcohol content at 3.0% ABV.
- Elephant Beer
This is a Strong PIlsner brewed in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s definitely your go-to beer if looking for a higher ABV (7.2% to be exact) while you’re in the islands.
- Full Sail IPA
This was one of the two beers I had while on Anguilla, and it appears Blanchards brought it in from Oregon. That’s a long trip for an imported beer!
- Heineken Pilsener
Brewed in the Netherlands, this appears to be a slight variation of the Heineken we know in the U.S. (in fact I swear it tastes better). They also come in smaller bottles (almost mini-bottles if you will) than the ones you’re used to seeing at home.
- Mackeson Triple XXX Stout
My first experience with a stout while in a tropical location, and while a decent milk stout from Trinidad & Tobago, it isn’t quite as tasty in a warm climate as the lighter beers.
A classic for drinking in the islands and “the true taste of the Caribbean,” Presidente is a Pilsner produced in the Dominican Republic.
- Red Strip Jamaican Lager
Most people are familiar with Red Stripe as it’s readily available in the U.S. – it’s brewed in Jamaica.
- San Miguel Pale Pilsen
A German Pilsener from the Philippines, this was the second beer I tried while on Anguilla.
- Tiger Beer
This is a Lager from Singapore – I wouldn’t say it’s anything special but will quench your thirst on a hot tropical day.
The mysterious beer that is very similar to motor oil (and also tastes like it). All I could derive from the label was that it was based from a German malt formula and supposedly did have alcohol. However it tasted pretty terrible so I didn’t spend much time analyzing it.
A Lager from China, I think this one is “ok” but I’d drink some of the other beers on the list before reaching for this one.
Bars and Restaurants
There are a few places that are a must-visit for your drinking purposes if you travel to Saint Martin or Anguilla.
Sunset Beach Bar (Maho Beach, St. Maarten)
First and foremost, the Sunset Bar & Grill on Maho Beach is a must-see purely to go watch the airplanes take off and land. They only have a narrow airstrip with which to perform this feat, with ocean on one side and mountains on the other. I highly recommend going by around noon and checking the surfboard to see what times the big jets are scheduled to land. There is generally a constant stream of airplanes landing from early to late afternoon, but the larger jets are by far the most spectacular to watch land.
Then, go get yourself a bucket of beers and a prime spot on the small strip of sand near the blast zone (although not in the blast zone) – and I promise you’re in for some real entertainment! I actually went here twice while on my trip and it never gets boring. Plus, you can’t beat free-flowing drinks and a great view!
Loterie Farm Treelounge (Loterie Farm, St. Martin)
This is a chill, hidden-away-in-the-trees, open loft area that is on the grounds of Loterie Farm, which is nestled on the hillside of Pic Paradis (another attraction I highly recommend you see). Loterie Farm Treelounge has a plethora of beer, cocktails and wine available for your consumption as well as tapas if you’re hungry.
If you’re into activities such as zip-lining, or hiking, Loterie is also the perfect place, especially if you would like to also see Pic Paradise. As you may read when researching Pic Paradis, driving up to the start of the trail for this scenic overlook is not recommended, as the route is secluded and surrounded by trees (which often results in tourists being mugged). However, Loterie Farm has a hiking trail that leads up to the start of the trail for Pic Paradis, and it’s the recommended way to go if you want to see this particular attraction.
I’m not a habitual hiker, and I’d say that the trail is definitely doable, however, bring sturdy shoes and be prepared to do a bit of climbing up rocks and fairly steep hills (there are ropes to assist you). If you don’t get around very easily, this probably isn’t the way for you, but the hike itself provides some spectacular views and interesting surroundings such an area with a very old-looking well and trees with thorns on the trunks.
If you do take the Loterie Farm trail, once you cross the road and ascend the final part of the trail to Pic Paradis, make sure you turn right and go slightly downhill once you hit the opening with the towers – the direction you’re supposed to go for the overlook is not well-marked and my brother and I spent some time wandering around before we figured out the proper direction. Once you find it, you won’t be disappointed – it’s a breathtaking view and the picture here doesn’t do it justice.
Blanchards Beach Shack (Meads Bay, Anguilla)
Bob and Melinda Blanchard moved from Vermont to Anguilla to pursue their dream of opening a great restaurant on a sleepy Caribbean island. Their first restaurant, Blanchards, was a resounding success. Thanks to this (and to my delight) they decided to open a second restaurant, Blanchards Beach Shack, which opened in December of 2011. I first became acquainted with their life story and entrepreneurial adventures when I read their book, A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean. It became my goal to visit one of their establishments if I ever reached Anguilla – so I was very excited to be able to experience lunch at their Beach Shack firsthand.
Blanchards Beach Shack is definitely one of the top places I ate while on this trip. Their food is excellent and very high quality, they had several beers available (including an imported craft beer from the states) and the view from Meads Bay was absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend their “street tacos” and I’m pretty sure anything else on the menu is excellent as well.
Lessons Learned While Drinking in the Caribbean
- Saint Martin is an awesome island, especially when it comes to drinking brews on the Dutch side. You’re free to pop open a cold one wherever and whenever the mood strikes, which is something it’s easy to get used to (and forget you can’t do most places back in the states!)
- Stouts are rare to come by, but for good reason. They just really aren’t as tasty in tropical 80 degree weather – no matter how good the stout is. Plus, your beer will be warm in about 10 minutes. 😉
- Carib is better with lime, just like Corona.
- Elephant is your best bet for a high ABV light-bodied beer.
- Presidente always tastes a little better than you expect it will, especially after an uphill half-day hike!
- Desperados Red is a great switch from all the typical lagers but it’s too sweet to drink more than two in one sitting.
- The Heineken Pilsener tastes way better than the Heineken that you get in the states, and it comes in a little “mini bottle.” This is true for several of the beers down there – no idea why they come in munchkin sizes (maybe it’s because your beer gets warm so fast??).
This was a long article, so if you stuck with me through the whole thing, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it – and as much as I enjoyed visiting Saint Martin and Anguilla! I highly recommend the trip for anyone, and I’m definitely looking forward to the day I can go back again and have an ice cold Carib on a warm, sunny beach.