A trip to Belize, Central America gave me the opportunity to visit the Belikin Brewery, the largest of Belize's two breweries. Located just outside of the old capitol Belize City in the town of Ladyville, the area might be perceived as just another industrial park were it not for the uniformed armed guards surrounding camouflaged buildings across the street and the periodic departures of Harrier Jump-Jets. The presence of this British military base must make this brewery one of the most well defended assets in Central America.
Brewmaster Peter Haupental had previously brewed in Bolivia, a few location in Germany, and most recently at Whistler Mountain in British Columbia, Canada. My tour began at the receiving dock where the raw materials first arrive, most are foreign to this land. The hops come from Washington state in the U.S. and only Fuggles are used. The form of the hops was interesting, 200 gallon containers of liquid hop extract. The yeast is a German lager strain and reused for at most five batches. The Canadian 6-row barley arrives not by train but by small trucks. Deliveries are scheduled well in advance since two dozen temporary laborers are required to unload the specially sacked grain and carry it up to the top of the six meter high mill. No augers or elevators in use here. Local water is used and no treatment is required. Propane burners heat the 60 barrel batches which are combined to match the larger size of the fermenters. After the bittering hops no aromatic hop additions are used. The equipment here is from forty to fifty years old. CO2 produced during the fermentation process is collected by pumps, scrubbed, and reused to provide the desired final carbonation levels. A porous carbonator stone is used to ensure that proper gas content is maintained in the liquid. Adjuncts are no longer employed and the use of liquid hop extract precluded the need for a whirlpool tank. Ammonia cools the lagering tanks which store the batches for periods of time based on the particular style being brewed. Currently four recipes are in production. The Belikin Lager is a light lager of 4% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) which is sold throughout the country and is the most popular among local residents. The Belikin Premium was slightly milder, 5% ABV and sold mostly at resorts. The Belikin Stout at 6% was mild yet full-bodied but I found it only at the brewery. The Guinness Stout at 8% was brewed under license for distribution within Belize. Draft beer was disappointingly scarce throughout the country. I learned that although the brewery preferred this form of distribution, the lack of attention to sanitary details by the majority of retailers caused the brewery to allocate production to 95% bottles and 5% kegs.
Using 94 full-time employees to produce 52,000 barrels per year doesn't qualify Belikin as the most automated brewery in Central America but the lagers which flow from here seem just right to meet the thirst quenching needs of this temperate climate.
Although the Belize currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a ratio of two to one, inflation seems to be taking a toll. In the year 2000 prices for a Belikin beer at the International Airport have risen to $3 USD for the equivalent of a 12 ounce bottle. Draught product is no longer available. Merchandising however has expanded as Belikin T-shirts and glassware are now offered for sale in the airport's visitors lounge.
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - November, 1994, Updated January, 2000
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