Did you really think that I could go on vacation to Puerto Rico and get away from beer for a few days? Maybe drink some rum runners, lay by the pool, and only do some reading of Sam Calagione’s book, “Brewing Up A Business.” Perish the thought! Well, I did do all of that……and happen to find a decent brewpub along the way. During our vacation planning for Puerto Rico I, of course, did my due diligence and found that there was not much of a beer scene. Not that I expected to find much anyway. In the Caribbean, I was thinking I would mostly find Red Stripe, El Presidente, Corona, and Negra Modelo. There was also Medalla Light, but for the most part the beer scene was not all that appealing……mediocre lager and no ales. Then, came our trip into San Juan from our resort at Rio Mar. Apparently, according to Beer Advocate, there was a brewpub just outside of the old historic San Juan district. However, the reviews were far from enticing. But, in my efforts to bring to all of you the world of beer through my eyes, ears, and taste buds, I was determined to check it out. Small problem, the business had been closed. Oh well, I figured it was a few dollars saved for another poolside drink. After dinner and walking around the Old San Juan historic district, we turned the corner to find…..what? A fresh beacon of thirst-quenching hope….Old Harbor Brewery! Bryan’s back in action! The OHB is located on the first floor of the Steak and Lobster House, run by a family of successful doctors and lawyers. The spacious interior provides room for plenty of eating and drinking amongst the tanks of beer. Brewing operations typically take place during the off hours, so there was not much brewing action to see. However, from the first steps inside the door, we knew that this should be a decent beer experience. The first tipoff, though, that business might still not be where they expect it to be was the question of whether we were there for dinner. Our enthusiastic answer of “No, we’re here for the beer” was met with smiles all around and a personal escort to the bar. Once at the bar, we were attended to quite nicely by a couple of ladies who had an adequate knowledge of the beer they were serving. But, while not experts in beer (read: not a criticism) was certainly made up for in friendliness. Patty ordered the sampler of 5 beers that they had on tap at the time, while I opted for the Old Harbor Brew Pale Ale first and then the Kofresi Stout to finish. We both sampled all five brews and concluded that the pale ale and stout were certainly the best. Others on tap during this March vacation included Coqui Golden Lager and Santo Viejo Pilsner. I did a bit of poking around and snapping pictures of their German-installed brewery. Not long before we left, I asked about the brewing operations and the brewmaster. It came as a surprise to me that they said the brewmaster was from Virginia. Though, he was not at the brewery at the time, he would return the next afternoon. Ah ha, so what did that mean? Of course, a return visit! So, the next afternoon we returned for more of the same. This time we met the brewmaster whose name is……Brad Mortenson. (Why am I building this up so much???) I think this was all so intriguing to me partly because he was a brewer in the States. But, mostly because he was the former brewer at Legend in Richmond. I haven’t written about Legend before in this space. But, suffice to say that it is a decent brewpub on the banks of the James River in Richmond and they serve one of my favorite American brown ales of all time, the Legend Brown Ale. They have won awards in the past for this and other beers as well. Brad and Alex moved to Puerto Rico in 2005 after he took a job with Old Harbor. They had no real experience to speak of with Puerto Rico, but were looking to strike out and doing something new. It looks like they’re up to the challenge, as they both work in the brewery. They admit that it will not be an easy job to convert the palates of native Puerto Ricans. They are both extremely affable people who took the time to talk with us for a while. After more discussion about beer in the States, life on the island, and operations at the brewpub, we snapped a couple of pictures together and I thanked for their time as they went back to work. Ok, so I suppose I can not leave here without throwing in one gripe. I have paid more than I think is reasonable in the past for a growler. I have even purchased growlers from breweries that I most likely will never go to again and flown home with them on an airplane. But, in this case, I just could not see myself plunking down $28 for an empty growler or $36 filled (though, the $8 for 68 ounces did seem reasonable :-/ I mean, come on, while it was a swing-top ceramic growler and a nice one too, all I could do was say it was attractive and take a picture of it! So, I changed course and decided to buy a German beer mug. I couldn’t go wrong…..right?! Hm, $15. By this point, the transaction was already rung up and I went through with it. But, as you can tell from all the words I have dedicated here, I’m begging you at OHB, recalculate the prices on the merchandise. You have got to work extra specially hard just to get the locals in there, I’m sure lower prices will make them also want to take it home. Sheesh, I’m almost as passionate about this topic as craft beer in plastic cups, heheh! Anyway, the moral of this long-winded story (hey, whaddya expect?! ;-) is that good beer is alive and well in Puerto Rico. Even if at this time it is only at one brewpub in Old San Juan. Give them your support next time you are vacationing in Puerto Rico. You shouldn’t be sorry.
© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2005-2016. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at TheBrewLounge@gmail.com