Like many Caribbean destinations, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a popular local lager. Hairoun, a two-time gold medal winner at the European Monde Selection, is light, smooth, and crisp — perfect for the equatorial climate in this southern Caribbean archipelago.
In July 2018, however, an alternative launched on the Vincentian island Mustique. The newcomer, 32 Islands Brewery, is a craft operation incorporating local ingredients, American hops, and English, German, and Belgian brewing traditions. The brewery is the first on the tiny island and the second in the country behind Krew Brewing, which opened on St. Vincent in 2015.
32 Islands’ debut offering was Mustique Gold, an American-style ale released to coincide with the island’s 50th anniversary in July 2018. It was followed shortly by a WIPA (short for West Indies Pale Ale) and Mustique Blues, an English pale ale. Three seasonal varieties introduced in 2019 incorporate locally grown ginger, turmeric, and passion fruit.
Miguel Garcia, manager of the Mustique Equestrian Centre, appreciates the “different flavors and aromas” of the lineup. “You really note the flavor of the barley,” he says of 32 Islands’ WIPA.
Luke Ferguson, bar manager at Basil’s Bar on Mustique, says that Hairoun accounts for about 60 percent of the establishment’s beer volume, but 32 Islands’ offerings have already surpassed imports like Corona, Heineken, and Guinness.
“A product of this quality made on and sold exclusively on the island generates plenty of excitement for visitors and locals alike,” Ferguson says. “As the reputation of the beer spreads across St. Vincent and surrounding islands, I think the biggest challenge will be meeting an increasing demand.”
Through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the private island of Mustique earned worldwide acclaim as one of the most glamorous party spots in the world, frequented by Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie, among others. Today, Mustique has 500 or so full-time residents. Many employees of its dominant industries, hospitality and tourism, live on St. Vincent and ferry between the islands.
Angus Archibald, 32 Islands’ founder, has split his time between Mustique and England since he was 7. After briefly working in London, the self-proclaimed chemistry geek moved to Mustique in February 2018 to start the brewery.
“There’s a bit of the lifestyle element, certainly,” Archibald says of the island’s natural beauty, “but for me it’s about producing an ale which speaks to the Caribbean — one that has more tropical notes. It’s slightly pioneering because I’m doing it properly with grains — not extracts — in traditional ways, which is quite unique and has caused many problems, but that’s the fun of it.”
As with most brewery launches, hiccups occurred early and often. Arranging for delivery of a five-barrel brewing system from Canada; a five-barrel tank from California; and bottling and labeling machines, 1,200 crates, and 28,000 bottles from China proved to be a “logistical bloody nightmare,” Archibald says. The initial grain shipment from the U.S. was held for about a month by Vincentian officials, snared in regulatory red tape tied to agricultural products.
Additionally, tropical production in an overstuffed 500-square-foot brewhouse led to near-100 percent humidity — fertile ground for batch-destroying bacteria on brewing days.
Archibald nonetheless projects first-year production will total around 50,000 bottles. For his second year, he’s aiming to at least double the brewery’s output. This will be helped by an upcoming move to a new, 1,200-square-foot facility, which he’s hoping is functional by the end of the year, and a complete cycle through his six-beer portfolio.
As one might expect, the craft beers carry higher price tags than Hairoun, which Garcia says could hurt its success among year-round Vincentians. Chris Griffiths, however, a local architect and contractor, doesn’t think this will be a problem.
“The majority of the clientele on Mustique understand the price point because they understand the craft brew process,” he says, adding that most drinkers “welcome the diversity and are not afraid to spend more on a top-quality, island-made brew.”
Archibald says he could see considering a remote outpost or contract brewing relationship down the road. More immediately, he may explore limited distribution to Union Island, a tiny island at the southern edge of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
For now, however, he’s appreciating month-over-month sales growth and is pleased to contribute a portion of the company’s proceeds to a local charity, the Mustique Charitable Trust, and help the island’s goat farmers with weekly deliveries of spent grains.
“When I spoke to the government for approval, I explained that I didn’t want to compete with Hairoun, but I wanted to complement what they do,” he says. “And I admit I was pulling my hair out at some stages, which happens any time you try and start something. But now that I’ve actually succeeded at doing it, it’s been a million times worth it.”