Some thoughts from abroad

I left the UK in early January for a four month trip around the USA, Latin America and the Caribbean. Everything went well until 18 March, when I was forced to return. Here are some notes on my ‘real beer’ experiences along the way.

California is not all sun, although surfing goes on all year and there are certainly a lot of beaches. Beer is taken seriously everywhere, although there is a predominance of the giants who push out some very odd combinations and flavours of up to 14% ABV. Microbreweries (all craft) produce a wide range of styles and seem to favour combining beer with food to attract a wider clientele. They are quite spread out in both San Francisco and Los Angeles but more accessible in San Diego. Incidentally, I spent some time in one of the wine producing regions (Sonoma County; parallel with the Napa Valley). The estate prices are very high but some of the second growths are stunning, particularly Cabernets and Pinot Noir.

I had a weird experience in Santa Cruz, along the Pacific coast between the two big cities. I came across a ‘bar’ on the high street, with an enormous range of craft beer but there was no bar and no-one serving anything. A receptionist at the door checked your ID and took your credit card, gave you a glass and you were on your own. I was told that there was information available on ‘your smart phone’ (I didn’t have one) but beyond that, it was hit and miss. You drunk as much or less as you wanted and the bill was waiting for you at the door. Not sure of the conviviality overall.

On to Ecuador where I spent six weeks in the high Andes and down to cloud forest; rain forest and the Amazon basin: climates sitting side by side, unique throughout the world. The Capital, Quito, is a sprawling city which has an area called San Blas, near the Old Town, packed with microbreweries, all much more informal than those in the USA. They have a more limited range of styles but still I found APAs, various types of IPA, session brews and even stout, all known as ‘Cervezas Atrisanas’. This was replicated in the other major city, Cuenca, in the south, where the state of preservation of the colonial buildings is such that having a drink was a historical experience.

My trip was going to be rounded off by an extended period in Trinidad and Tobago and I decided to spend a few days in Panama on the way over. At the check-in desk for my flight to Port of Spain, I was told that the Trinidadian borders had been closed and I was forced back to Panama City which, although it sounds exotic, isn’t. A curfew had been imposed and foreigners were increasingly being blamed for introducing and spreading the virus. All this was compounded by the President issuing a directive that, in 48 hours’ time, the international airport would be closed for at least 30 days (it still is). Somehow I managed to get a flight out (on the national carrier, Copa Airlines) with five hours to spare. On the plane they served cans of a really fine Panamanian bitter called Balboa (4.2% ABV) which was very impressive. I don’t think it was just relief to get out!

Anyway, the flight back involved a 19 hour delay in Washington Dulles airport in the USA, which was almost completely deserted. By this time almost all international traffic had stopped and very few people were using domestic flights. The rest of the airport was also closed and after 15 hours I was beginning to lose the thread when suddenly a bar opened and I was able to sink a pint of hoppy IPA. The fact it cost about £9 (their normal price) didn’t matter at all; I stretched to two!

So, back to the UK and ‘lockdown’ (or is it ‘lock-up’) when I should be in the Caribbean. Still there’s next year – Virus permitting.

Good luck to all

Mike O’Dwyer