Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Old Harbor Brewery in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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.

14 comments:

Adam said...

OMG is there a brewery/brewpub that you haven't visited!!!?

Heheh...great write up. I still can't believe there's good beer down there.

George said...

Hello: I am a local resident of Puerto Rico. I visited OHB and found it very unique and atractive. The dining is excelent, altough the prices are a bit high, but the service and quality is excellent. I am not much of a drinker - I did have the "sampler" of beers, and "Coqui" & "Old Harbor Brew" are the best.

Lois said...

Hi there, I just live in Puerto Rico for a wile, and I went to Old Harbor Brewery, a couple a times, the beers are good and the place is pretty fun, but if you go in group of more than 4 persons, consider to cheek out carefully your ticket, they may duplicate items even charge for those your did not consumed, it happen to me twice.

Anonymous said...

I just came back from San Juan and man did I fall in love with Old Harbor beer! I wish I could find a place that sells it here in Florida. My wife and I had lunch there, which was great, and a sample of all of their beers. Of course we had a couple of pints of the original Amber beer after the sampler!

Most places in Puerto Rico do not know or serve Old Harbor. That was dissapointing, because once I tasted it, I wanted more of it. I hope they find a good marketing rep. and recommend it to any beer lover vacationing in San Juan, Puerto Rico!

Brian Yaeger said...

Half Pint & I are heading to Puerto Rico next week and despite it not being a beer-cation, she kindly relented to my pleas and said we can go to Old Harbor while in San Juan. How fitting that, when searching for reviews, I find yours. I'll let you know if growler prices have come down, though either way, since we're only bringing carryons, I won't be returning with one.

Bryan Kolesar said...

Hey Brian, hope you guys are having a great time in PR; it's one of our favorite "usual" vacation spots. A great island with a lot to do but not in an overwhelming way. Hope you enjoy the beaches, the rain forest and hiking (El Yunque), Old San Juan, Bacardi tour (?), and Old Harbor beer when you tire of walking the Old San Juan streets and shopping. (oh, and the Presidente somehow tastes better in a little joint just down the street from the Polo outlet!)

cheers!

tarlong said...

I live and homebrew beer in Puerto Rico. Sadly my fellow Puerto Ricans have had their taste buds atrophied by the BIG Corps. I don't say that with any resentment, its just way it is. People here only drink light lagers and don't even know how to enjoy beer. Their idea of drinking beers is the same as any 17-year-olders-just-arrived-at-college, namely, they drink beer because it gets them drunk. Sad, I know.

I enjoy OHB beer. They serve up decent beer yet they seem uneager to promote their brews outside their little restaurant. It is almost impossible for them to sell you beer for resale and even then, they do not ship outside of the metro area. Moreover, they don't like it if you sell other types of beer alongside theirs. I don't blame them if they don't want to sell their brews side by side with coor's light or budlight, but then again, go figure.

For those interested and have already tasted and like OHB beer, there is a little restaurant , on the east side of the town church (catholic), in the town of Cabo Rojo, on the south west end of the island. I can't remember the name right now, but if you go to the town square and look for the sign of the OHB, you'll find it. It is the only other establishment that I know of that sells OHB beer out side the Old Harbour Brewery itself.

I hope that my skills improve to the point that I will be confident enough my beer and open my own brewpub some time in the near future.

Anonymous said...

I am headed there in January--thanks for this information...

Hiram said...

I just read in the paper that they won a silver medal in Germany recently in the beer olympics for their 'Taina' beer, it's a weissbock.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know of a homebrew supply store in Puerto Rico? I would like to buy supplies in PR directly rather than shipping them. Also, FYI - there is a Thai restaurant in Aguadilla, PR on the west coast that has OHB beer and many other craft beers from around the world. It is called 110 Thai in Aguadilla.

Akamai said...

110 Thai, I love that place! I just moved to Puerto Rico 6mo ago and have only found a few places that sell ANY beer on tap, let alone OHB. Their beer is good but as the blogger posted, I wanted to buy a pint glass to take as a gift for Christmas but the price was $15.00! Other than that OHB is quite good, especially when there is a serious lack of good beer in Puerto Rico.

Anonymous said...

We moved to PR 8 years ago and finding good beer was a real challange but we found OHB and is one of our favorite places also you can find OHB beer in Casa Bavaria a great German restaurant in the town of Morovis and the view is amazing they also have a nice selections of beers. Just get out and explore the island!!!!

Anonymous said...

We moved to PR 8 years ago and finding good beer was a real challange but we found OHB and is one of our favorite places also you can find OHB beer in Casa Bavaria a great German restaurant in the town of Morovis and the view is amazing they also have a nice selections of beers. Just get out and explore the island!!!!

VirtualRoadkill Ali said...

Is OHB still the only game in town, or are there any other craft breweries/brewpubs in San Juan or points east in Puerto Rico? Would like to see what we can see next time we go to Vieques via SJ.