It’s a tough job to write a guide to regional beers, but thankfully Mark McKenna’s ten years in the Caribbean gave him the opportunity to sample all 75 local brands. His experience is chronicled in his new book, McKenna’s Guide to Caribbean Beers: All the Islands, All the Brews published by Parrot. In the book, he goes through each of the 22 islands alphabetically, including Bermuda and the Bahamas because of their proximity and beer offerings.
The front inside cover of the book is a two page color map of the region, which was very handy to me, as I never learned the geography of the Caribbean. For each island, he reviews the breweries, brewpubs, and contract breweries, listing and describing the beers they make. He includes technical information whenever possible about the hops, the ingredients, the brewing process, and any export markets. The beers are rated on a scale from one beer to keg, and the ratings were determined by a group of beer aficionados, presumably friends of the author.
There are two main beers brewed in the Caribbean under contract: Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and Heineken. Apparently the processes and ingredients of these two beers are varied enough that the author felt it necessary to include each iteration of them throughout the book. After the first few, I found my eyes glazing over at yet one more description of the local Guinness. Maybe they are unique to the Caribbean, but I felt that more coverage of the truly local brews would have been a better use of paper and ink.
My only experience with Caribbean beer is a half a bottle of Red Stripe that I managed to choke down. It was at a party where we had drunk most of the good beer. It was down to Red Stripe or Corona Light, and to be honest, I should have just resigned myself to sobriety. I hoped that by reading McKenna’s book, I would gain a better appreciation of Caribbean beers. I probably would have, if he had spent more time on them.
If I were planning to travel to the Caribbean on a beer tour, this book would provide me with a listing of some great restaurants and bars to try the local brews, but for armchair travel, it’s decidedly lacking in details. I suppose that after lager number thirty-four, there isn’t much more one can say about a lager. However, I plan to bring this book along with me the next time I’m shopping for beer in a place that might stock some Caribbean brews. Who knows – I might find one that is palatable.