Introduction- Pink Sand Paradise
Bermuda is a tiny 21 square mile island archipelago in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, located approximately 665 miles east/ southeast from closest landfall in Cape Hatteras, NC. Despite common misconceptions, it is not in the Caribbean nor is it even particularly close the Caribbean. In fact, it is almost equidistant between the northernmost islands of the Bahamas and Nova Scotia, Canada. In other words, it’s pretty isolated geographically and never had any permanent human residents until the wreck of the English ship Sea Venture in 1609; an event that also marks the beginning island’s long and continuous association with the United Kingdom. Today Bermuda is a thriving and self-governing overseas territory of the UK with a vibrant and unique culture born of the fusion of Anglo, African, Caribbean, and even Portuguese influences. How about enjoying your afternoon tea with some jerk chicken or delicious fresh-caught blackened wahoo? Sound unusual? Maybe. But in Bermuda, like almost everything else it just seems to magically work.
My wife and I first discovered Bermuda in 2013 and have been returning every year since. And why not? It’s a quick 2-hour flight for us from Washington, DC but a world away in almost every other way. Basking in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the proud home to the most northerly coral reefs on the planet Bermuda truly is an island paradise. Its world-famous pink sand beaches are framed by rugged limestone outcroppings, lush tropical and semi-tropical flora, and crystal-clear turquoise waters. A walk along those beaches under the moonlight, with the lush palms swaying in the trade winds and the native frogs singing their natural melody is truly intoxicating. Also intoxicating and infectious is the exceptionally friendly and laid back attitude of the Bermudian people. Sure, they have a lot to be happy about living on such a gorgeous island but their generosity and openness is still above-and-beyond, and such a welcome change from the cynical and less than friendly attitudes that sometimes pervade big city culture in the US. Share a smile or two and make a new friend. Even better, share a drink!
So, about that, what do they drink? Well, unsurprisingly the two national drinks are the Rum Swizzle and the Dark ‘n Stormy which is also a rum cocktail. Both are delicious and I enjoy them both in Bermuda and on my own pool deck in Virginia. But this is a beer blog, so what about beer? For all their wonders I think we can all agree that island paradises tend to be notoriously inconsistent when it comes to beer choices, and often downright bad when it comes to locally brewed beer choices. Thankfully Bermuda now has two local craft breweries that are up to the challenge of providing good beer to quench the thirst of locals and visitors alike.
Dockyard Brewing Company- Location, location, location!
Dockyard is Bermuda’s oldest brewery and for many years was Bermuda’s ONLY brewery. Its original location was mid-island in Smiths Parish but due to space constraints it moved to the Royal Naval Dockyard complex on the island’s western tip in 2006 as part of a joint venture with the Frog and Onion Pub. This also coincided roughly with the redevelopment of the Dockyard from a semi-abandoned British and American naval base into the island’s main cruise ship terminal, which of course ensured that Dockyard would have a continuous flow of thirsty tourists to augment its already-strong local following.
The pub and brewery are collocated in a historic building that was built by the British military in the 1850s. Walking into the pub is like walking into a classic London pub, only with much more expansive seating and with a somewhat more nautical theme. The walls are rough bricks of thick local limestone and the bar and tables are dark lacquered wood. Flags of various nations hand from the ceilings of the several rooms that make up the pub and decorations include a variety of nautical and naval artifacts. As you might expect from a pub in a British territory the many televisions are tuned into soccer and rugby matches from around the world. The atmosphere is laid back and the cool and somewhat dark setting is a very welcome change from the sometimes-intense Bermudian heat and humidity. The pub has two patios, one in the back facing the National Bermuda Museum complex and a newer one on the interior courtyard of the large historic building that its part of. Oh, and guys….. Check out the men’s room for sure to see a VERY inventive re-use of some kegs!
How about the beer? Well, it’s solid if not wildly inventive by US craft standards. The year-round offerings include a stout, a porter, an English-style IPA, a red ale, a lager and a wheat. They also always have two rotating seasonal specials; last week they were a Mexican style lager and a blueberry lager. Given Bermuda’s British heritage you might expect the stout, porter and IPA to be the best, and you would be correct. The porter is actually exceptional, with an almost perfect balance of coffee and chocolate flavors and a very light mouthfeel appropriate to the warm climate. The stout is a bit heavier and a bit more intense, but still very smooth and is usually served on nitro. The IPA is a full-on British style IPA (think Fuller’s, Samuel Smith’s, etc) and is an absolute malty and earthy delight. All of these are produced on site in a seven-barrel steam powered brewery, and all are brewed with Bermuda rain water. How cool is that?!
Dockyard is a must visit for any craft beer fan visiting Bermuda. Don’t expect trendy sours or hazy juice bombs but DO expect very well crafted traditional British beer in a setting that simply cannot be beat.
On De Rock Brewing- The New Kid on the Rock
On De Rock Brewing is located near the capital of Hamilton and began operations in 2015. It doesn’t have a dedicated pub like Dockyard but seems to be available in restaurants and hotels throughout the island. I’ve tried their IPA and their pilsner and was impressed by both. The pilsner is a somewhat typical craft offering for the style, closer to a German pils than a Czech lager in taste and presentation. It had a very nice malt backbone and all of the bitterness in the finish that you’d expect. It also had a very nice minty aroma that actually had me going out of my way to smell the beer until the very last sip. The IPA is a solid West Coast style entry, much more hop forward than Dockyard’s competing offering and perfectly refreshing and able to stand up to standard issue West Coast IPAs in the US.
I confess that my experience with On the Rock is somewhat limited so far but from what I have tried I can say that they are solid indeed and a welcome addition to Bermuda’s growing craft beer scene.
Bermuda is a paradise on Earth to visit, and while it will never be confused with Oregon, Colorado or California as a craft beer hotbed it DOES have good local beer. Surprisingly so, and a lot better than many other island options. What are you waiting for? Go by plane, go by ship, but go! The pink sands await, and I’ll save a cold one for you!