There’s something brewing on Darcy Drive in the industrial park and it’s taking Grand Cayman by storm.
The 19-81 Brewing Co. — named after the coordinates of Grand Cayman — celebrated the one-year anniversary of the delivery of its first beers to accounts last month and will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of its taproom next month. Judging by the number of licensed Grand Cayman establishments now serving 19-81 products, and the amount of beer and ale it sold at last month’s Taste of Cayman Food & Drink Festival, it’s been a highly successful year for the venture that was conceived by the brewery’s owners one Sunday afternoon on a boat off Seven Mile Beach with a simple question: Why does the Cayman Islands not have its own craft brewery?
That question led to a plan, which led to an opportunity for brewmaster Jordan MacNevin to move to the Cayman Islands from New Brunswick, Canada, and create truly craft beers and ales specifically for the Grand Cayman market. Had it not been for a college course called “Beer 101,” MacNevin, had he come to the Cayman Islands at all, might have come as a doctor.
“I originally went to university for pre-med,” he says, “but I eventually realised that wasn’t the career path I wanted to pursue.”
On his way to getting his pre-med bachelor’s degree, MacNevin — who has always been interested in science — was first introduced to the science of brewing in the Beer 101 course. After that, he knew what he wanted to do for a career.
While pursuing a graduate degree in brewing science, MacNevin worked in Bishop’s University’s on-campus brewery and after graduating, he was introduced to craft beer production at Picaroons Brewery in his home town of Fredericton, New Brunswick. He later perfected his craft at Foghorn Brewing Company in New Brunswick. When one of his best friends from Canada, who worked on Grand Cayman, told him a start-up craft brewery here was looking for a brewmaster, he jumped at the opportunity.
His first task was market research.
“I had to figure out what kind of beer people drink on the island,” he said. That research ultimately led to the development of three core products: Island Session, an easy-drinking, refreshing, low-alcohol Kölsch-style ale that is ideal for sunny days; Cayman Blonde, a smooth, blonde ale that puts a citrus twist on an American-style ale; and Tropical IPA, an East Coast-style IPA with restrained bitterness, a balanced malt-hop taste profile and tropical fruit aromas.
The last one has proven to be the most popular.
“I didn’t expect the IPA to be the number-one seller, but it’s definitely taken off, which is great because it’s one of my favourites,” says MacNevin.
The market reception was welcoming from the start.
“I think being able to have a locally made craft beer on the island was refreshing for people on the island,” says MacNevin.
Assisting MacNevin in the brewery is Nick Dumont, whose path to brewing was a little different.
“When I was in university, I studied philosophy and drank a lot of beer; the two kind of go hand in hand,” he says with a laugh.
Dumont did some home brewing and then took some online brewing courses, which proved to be enough to land him a job as the second brewmaster at 19-81 Brewing Co.
Together, MacNevin and Dumont form a collaborative duo that share ideas when it comes to creating new beers and ales. Besides the three core beers, the duo creates seasonal brews — like one using mangoes in mango season — and other special beers, like the double IPA that is planned to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the taproom’s opening.
“It’s nice to be able to create more than the three core beers as it allows us to express our creativity,” MacNevin says.
One big advantage making and selling craft beer on island has over imported craft beers is that 19-81’s products don’t have to be pasteurised or filtered.
“There’s a big-time taste difference in non-pasteurised beer,” MacNevin says. “Pasteurising cooks the beer, which changes the flavours.”
“Our product is literally alive and constantly changing,” Dumont echoes. “When you pasteurise a beer, it gets stuck in time.” Most of 19-81’s production is served from kegs, which Dumont says deliver a superior taste.
“Draught is king,” he says, adding that one of the challenges 19-81 faced is getting people in the bottled-beer culture of Grand Cayman to try draught beer.
“People tend to think bottled beer is better, but it’s not.”
Because it doesn’t have a proper bottling plant, 19-81 produces only a limited amount of bottled beer for select bar or restaurant accounts. MacNevin says the brewery is looking at expansion to facilitate bottling so that it can service accounts that don’t have room for draught beer, but would sell 19-81’s bottled beer. In the meantime, increasing numbers of bars and restaurant are serving 19-81 products. In Camana Bay alone, its beers are served at The King’s Head, KARoo and The Waterfront Urban Diner. Abacus sells the Tropical IPA by the bottle.