Musician Frank Zappa famously said that “you can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” In his memory, I embarked on a quest to find the best beer in each of the Central American countries we visited. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Right?
First up: Belize.
A motley crew of pirates and buccaneers supposedly built Belize City on a foundation of emptied bottles of rum. Consequently, rum-punch is still a firm favourite of the contemporary inhabitants of this strip of land by the Caribbean Sea.
It’s not hard to understand why. Simply look at that horizon of blue sky that merges with a turquoise sea, look at the coral beaches, the waving palm trees and try not to drool when someone puts a shot of coconut rum mixed with pineapple juice in front of your face. That cocktail is locally nicknamed a Panti Rippa (Panty Ripper), because… Well, you understand why.
Nevertheless, Belizeans also love to drink beer. Their biggest pride is Belikin. That’s the name of the beers brewed by Belize Brewing Company, a brewery with a semi-monopoly over the beer market in Belize. In that light, a slogan like The Only Beer Worth Drinking gets another dimension.
Here are some of the Belizean beers I enjoyed (or not):
Belikin Beer (4,8%)
The bread-and-butter beer of Belize, this lager was present wherever we turned. Belikin Beer is the primordial beer of this country, as evidenced by the label depicting the Altun Ha temple. Belikin posters in bars often showed scarcely-clad Belizean beauties posing in front of the temple. This beer poured away easily when the weather was hot (i.e. always). Just like its dark brother, a bottle of Belikin Beer usually came with a napkin neatly folded around its head.
Belikin Stout (6,5%)
Belize is the only country in the region where the English ruled instead of the Spanish. The legacy of that colonisation lingers in the official language and the image of the Queen on the local dollar bills. And in the population’s thirst for stout. Nowhere else in Central America is stout part of the daily diet.
Belikin Stout quickly became my favourite beer in Belize, a delicious combination of Canadian malts, Belizean cane sugar and German hops. Even under the equatorial sun, when body and mind longed for a thirst-quencher, I enjoyed the rich, full-bodied flavour of this stout. Belikin Stout was also the reason why I couldn’t put any of Guatemala’s piss-lagers to my mouth without getting in a strange cramp. The effect lasted for at least three weeks after leaving Belize.
I was not the only one crazy about Belikin Stout. In one of the bars of San Antonio, we met a former gang member whose dog gulped stout like a newborn drinks milk from a baby bottle.
Belikin Chocolate Stout (6,5%)
Belize Brewing Company produces a couple of seasonal beers. Unfortunately, I never got my hands on a Belikin Sorrel Stout, brewed with the sepals from hibiscus plants. I compensated by drinking lots of sorrel juice (also known as Jamaica), a most refreshing beverage on hot days.
I did, however, try Belikin Chocolate Stout. After all, the Maya were the geniuses that gifted the world chocolate, the food of the gods. The beer didn’t disappoint – it’s by far the most chocolaty beer I ever drank, yet it retained the richness of the stout. Like chocolate candies, this beer surely melts in your hands unless you swig it rapidly.
Guinness Foreign Extra (7,5%)
Yes, Guinness comes from Ireland, but this variant is actually locally brewed and bottled by, yes, Belize Brewing Company. The foreign version of everyone’s favourite evening coffee is different from the original one from Ireland. Just like IPAs are hopped-up versions of English ales, made so they wouldn’t spoil on the way to India, Guinness Foreign Extra is a beer with extra hops and higher alcohol content. Nowadays, it’s cheaper to brew it on the spot rather than shipping barrels from the factory in Ireland.
All of this was music to the ears of Michelle, the Irish Workawayer we met on the Stardust Sanctuary Farm near San Antonio. An unpaid ambassador for Guinness, she even had a small pint tattooed on her side. After so many months on the road in lager-loving countries, devoid of her daily fix of home, she happily compensated for the involuntary abstinence. We even found empty Guinness bottles in the shower. The best thing is that she baked a Guinness cake, which still makes me salivate whenever I think about it.
>>Belikin Lighthouse Lager (4,2%) “A beer for the ladies”, said a local in Hopkins. It’s true – Anete liked it.
>>Belikin Light (3,8%). If you don’t want to pour alcohol or calories into your body, just drink water, okay? Two stars.
Foreign beers in Belize
Belikin rules over Belize – that much is clear. There are, however, some foreign beers on the market. The most recognisable to European eyes would be Heineken which – *dramatic cinematic effect* NOOOOO! – entered a partnership with Belize Brewing Company while we were in Belize. Personally, I’d rather down a bucket of lubricating oil than a bottle of Heineken, but we shouldn’t discuss tastes and colours and all that bull.
A trade agreement with a bunch of Caribbean islands ensures the occasional presence of beers like Red Stripe (Jamaica), Presidente (Dominican Republic) or 501 (St Kitts and Nevis) in shops and bars. But you’ll never find beers from Guatemala or Mexico. At least not in shops. Many Belizeans living near borders happily smuggle these much cheaper beers in from the neighbours. In fact, our hosts in Sarteneja were sad that the semi-official pirate boat to Chetumal had stopped running. No more Corona for them.
Drinking beer in Belize
Inane (unwritten) rules about where and when it is socially acceptable to down a few seem absent in Belize. You can drink practically anywhere – on a canoe, at the bus stop, on the bus, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure there’s ‘no working during drinking hours’, as Belikin’s slogan suggests. Beers are sold individually in the shops. In bars and restaurants, thirsty souls can also buy them by the bucket (5 beers), sometimes at discount rates.
What about the price of beer in Belize?
Beer in Belize is more expensive than in other countries in the region. In non-tourist areas, a 9 oz (26,6ml) bottle of Belikin Beer or Stout sets you back between 3 and 3,5 Belize dollar (divide by two for the price in US dollar), with similar rates in shops or bars and restaurants. As all the bottles are recycled, you pay a refundable deposit of a quarter. In tourist areas, a bottle in a bar costs around 5 Belize dollar.
(Prices were recorded in 2018.)
Our favourite places to drink in Belize
Most of the time, we bought a beer to drink on the terrace of our cabin. But we did go out to bars a couple of times. These are our favourite watering holes:
>>Sarteneja: Pablito’s La Estrella. The American expat community frequents this food shack and has covered the ceiling with flags of their home states and favourite sports teams. The Salvadorian owner also serves tasty rice and beans and lionfish burgers.
>>San Antonio: South Side Cool Spot. A breezy half-open bar with a pool table around which locals congregate in the weekend. The owner will likely put on some Bob Marley when he sees a white face. This is where we went for a beer during our outings to San Antonio town and where we met the gang member and his thirsty dog.
>>Punta Gorda: Rainforest Reggae Bar. Our Airbnb hosts dragged us here for a beer and a concert. We couldn’t say no.
>>Caye Caulker: Sip N’ Dip. Caye Caulker has no shortage of dive bars, but this one was our favourite. Is there a better way to cool down than to drink a beer while you sit on a swing or a barstool, lie in a hammock or relax on a tube in the water?
>>San Ignacio: Mom’s Backyard. San Ignacio was the closest thing to a city near our Workaway place, and Mom’s Backyard was the place where we sometimes waited for our bus, usually in the company of a Belikin and a portion of fries with cheese.
What’s your go-to beer in Belize? And what are your favourite drinking spots? Let us know in the comments!