Beer has been a part of nearly every culture in the world but that doesn't mean local beer always tastes good. Here in Belize beer does taste good, thanks to the efforts of Belize Brewing Company, Ltd.
Kevin Bowen, the third generation of a family of bottlers, showed me around Belize Brewing Company's modern plant in Ladyville. The plant's grounds also house Belize's Coca Cola bottling plant as well as the Crystal Water bottling facility. Kevin's grandfather started Crystal Bottling Works and his father, Barry, began brewing Belikin in 1971. To make sure he was getting a quality product, Barry Bowen hired a brewmaster from Germany and all of the equipment came from Germany as well. Reinhard Häpp, brewmaster at Belize Brewing Company oversees a scientific process designed to make sure that Belikin beer is consistently good; each batch as good as those that preceded it. His domain is that of gleaming copper and stainless steel vats used to process Belikin, Belize's beer.
Although beer is relatively easy to make, the many steps in the brewing process allow for changes in taste that reflect the society that makes it. In Asia, the malt is made from rice, while in other parts of the world ginger roots and even spruce pine are used. Since Beliken is made like beers from Germany, all of the ingredients are imported except for the sugar and the water.
My tour of the plant began in the malt room where the grist of imported grain is mixed with water and fed into the mash tun. Enzymes begin to convert the starches of the grain to sugar before the mixture goes to the lauter tun, a huge filter that separates the grain from the liquid. The liquid then goes to the kettle where the hops are added and the heat kills the enzymes, stopping their reactions with the starches. The liquid is then cooled with both regular water and chilled water and goes into fermentation tanks where it is held at 50 degrees Fahrenheit for about a week. What is now "green beer" is then stored in the aging room for two to three weeks before going to a filtering room where it is filtered once again. At this stage the beer is sent to the "bright beer" tanks. It then enters the bottling process after being filtered once again and having carbonation added.
Belikin beer's recycled bottles have an average life of ten fillings. It's little wonder that their life span is short. After a separation and inspection process, the bottles and the kegs for the draft beer are washed with a caustic soda solution that guarantees that each container is spotless. The bottles speed along a conveyor system where they are filled, capped, inspected and then date coded as they come off the line. As a last step of the brewing process, the bottles are then heated to pasteurize the beer and give it a longer shelf life.
When the sun is beating down on Ambergris Caye thirsty tourists want beer and they want beer that tastes good. That is why in Belize, when people ask for beer, they mean Belikin.