Boozing in Belize
All photos by Becca Yeamans-Irwin.
You won’t typically hear the words “Belize” and “fine wine” in the same sentence together, however, the small Central American country has plenty of other delicious libations to offer the weary traveler. From locally brewed beers and fruit wines, to a perennial Caribbean favorite - rum- there’s no shortage of options for even the most discerning imbiber.
I recently spent my honeymoon in Belize and was very excited to try the local food and especially the local drinks. Being so close to the equator, the climate is not conducive to growing Vitis vinifera grapes (think: Merlot, Chardonnay, etc etc). However, the Belizeans won’t let that stop them from making wines from nearly everything but grapes!
They make so many varieties, there is no way one person can try every single local Belizean wine out there in just a short week and a half, but here is a sample of what I did try:
Soursop Wine: This was the first Belizean wine I tried while I was in the country. Soursop is a very common fruit in the Caribbean, and is thought to have special medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-cancer (no scientific proof, though). It has long, green, and prickly/spiny fruit, the flesh of which is described as having flavors similar to a combination of strawberry and pineapple with a hint of tart citrus flavors. I actually quite enjoyed it as digestif. The soursop wine that I tried had flavors and aromas that reminded me a lot of a mead or a melomel. It was the perfect thing to have at the end of the meal, though certainly it could also be used as an aperitif.
The wine I tried was the Soursop Wine from Bel Mer Winery, a winery located in Hattieville, Belize. Price tag: $11.75 Belize Dollars, or $5.87 US Dollars (2 Belize dollars for every 1 US dollar).
Cashew Wine: Contrary to what you’re probably thinking right now, and contrary to what I first thought when I saw the name of this wine, cashew wine is NOT made from cashew nuts. In fact, cashew wine is made by fermenting the cashew fruit itself, and not the nut that is more familiar to us all. As I expected, this was a sweet wine that was best when served very cold. While this is not made from the cashew nut, I thought I did notice a bit of “nuttiness” to the wine. The first thing I thought of when I sipped this wine was “Port-style.”
The wine I tried was Mr. P’s Genuine Cashew Wine (Belize), around $12 Belize, $6 US.
Ginger Wine: We bought at bottle of this at the same time we bought the cashew wine. It had an extremely strong ginger flavor, so much so that it felt like I was taking a shot of concentrated liquor every time I took a sip (even though the alcohol was low!). It made me feel like I was sucking on a ginger root that had been sitting in vodka for several days. This would definitely benefit as a mixer rather than something consumed on its own.
The wine I tried was Fandango Ginger Wine (Belize). Price tag: About $10 Belize dollars or $5 US dollars.
Arguably more popular than wine in Belize, there are a lot of local and regionally made brews to sample. Here are a few that I tried:
Belikin: Belikin beer is literally THE beer of Belize. It’s made by the Belize Brewing Company and brewed in Ladyville, Belize (near the international airport). Belikin actually makes several different varieties, including the “regular”, the Stout, the Premium, and the Lighthouse Lager. I tried all of these, and they were all very drinkable, and certainly hit the spot after a long day of hiking through Mayan ruins and also after snorkeling for hours in the barrier reef. Personally, I preferred the Stout and the Premium over the other two types, as in general I prefer a beer with stronger aromas and flavors.
Kubuli Gold: Dominica’s Pride Premium Beer - this is the national beer of Dominica, a small island north of St. Lucia and Martinique in the Caribbean (editor's note: brewed by Dominica Brewery and Beverages, Ltd..) This beer is amber in color, and had a hint of candied hops and honey. It was not sweet per se, but it had a nice hint of something that could be construed as sweet. This one was probably my favorite of the Caribbean area beers that I tried, as it had both light body and yet a sense of complexity. After a day of snorkeling, this was my preferred beer to have on the beach.
Carib Lager:This was probably the lightest of the beers that I tried. It was also in a smaller bottle than what we are used to in the states, so it went down pretty quickly. It’s straw in color and light to medium
bodied on the palate. Pretty neutral beer, with just a little bit of bitterness. Easy peasy.
Finally, when it comes to liquor, it’s all about the rum!
Each restaurant seems to have its own version of each drink, which was evident when I had two completely different rum punches at two different establishments. Since “punch” is a highly variable concoction, you never know what you’re going to get, but both were equally tasty after a full day of activity!
One drink in particular that caught my eye on the boards of nearly every bar and restaurant we went to was the “Panti Rippa” (or sometimes spelled “Panty Rippa” or “Panty Ripper”).
What is a “Panti Rippa”? Turns out, it’s a very simple drink that's arguably the most popular cocktail in Belize. In fact, there’s no way you can go to Belize without ordering a “Panti Rippa!” All you need is pineapple juice and coconut rum - there might be slight variations on the recipe here and there (maybe a cherry or some grenadine if they’re feeling extra frisky), but in general, it’s the simplicity of the drink that makes it taste oh so good.
As far as the name? Likely an inside joke between some friends at a Belizean bar and it just stuck.
Since my husband and I visited Belize during their “off season”, many of the restaurants and other establishments were closed. However, there were still enough open that we were able to experience an amazing sampling of Belizean food and drink.
Here is a short list of some of our favorite places that we visited:
Bamboo Bar: This is the first place we went after getting off the plane and traveling 1.5 hours or so to the other side of the small country. Several rum punches and beers were consumed here! It’s a cozy little local bar with sand floors and bamboo bar stools—we quickly made several friends here while we enjoyed our beverages. Located right in the center of town. No website available.
Serendib : According to the locals, this is one of the best restaurants in town. Featuring Sri Lankan cuisine, this was definitely a must-visit stop during our short time in San Ignacio. Here is where I tried my first “Panti Rippa” and I was not disappointed! Located on the pedestrian-only street in town, this is a lively area as the night wears on. Website here.
Cenaida’s : This was one of my favorite dinner experience in San Ignacio. It’s a tiny little restaurant serving authentic Belizean cuisine, and we were lucky enough to score the cute little table out on the front porch area. This place was also right around the corner from where we stayed, so not only was it great food and drinks, but it was also incredibly convenient for us, particularly after a full day of exploring Mayan ruins. No website available.
Rose’s Grill and Bar: If you find yourself on the tiny island of Caye Caulker, you need to visit Roses Bar and Grill. They serve the catches of the day, and have you pick out exactly which piece of meat you’d like to have grilled before you even get to your seat. I had a rare Queen Lobster, while my husband had the Grouper. Both dishes were amazing, and the Mojito I ordered also hit the spot on our first night on the island. This was probably the most expensive restaurant we went to during our stay, but they were really no different than what you would expect to pay for the same dishes in the US. Website here.
Coconut Reef Caribbean Trattoria: My experience at Coconut Reef didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to go, but alas, that was not the fault of the restaurant. You see, earlier in the day I had gotten too much sun, so by the time I sat down and had a sip or two of my Bikini Martini (yum, by the way), I fainted and was out for about 10 seconds before I could be revived. While that episode made me lose my appetite, my husband loved his dish and I had mine packed up to go. I ended up eating it for lunch the next day and it still tasted amazingly fresh! I definitely want to try this again without terrifying the restaurant owner and other diners. Website here (might be down).Twitter feed here.
Syd’s: If you like fried chicken, you MUST go to Syd’s. The locals rave about their signature fried chicken, and after sampling it ourselves, my husband and I tend to agree. So tasty! Website here.