Belize is well-known for a reasonably O.K. beer – Belikin. Only two problems. Some people do not like it. And worse, Belikin is a monopoly business – there is no other brewery in the country. And trying to set up a micro brewery will give the entrepreneur so many government hoops and stonewalling to contend with, all efforts in this direction have failed so far. Years ago there was another brewery, Charger Beer, but locals (and the previous owners) say the existing monopoly ran them out of business. There is no Pepsi Cola in the country but that is another story.
So residents are limited to beers and soft drinks produced by one company. Imported beer is available but heavily taxed to keep it out of the reach of regular folks. And the best beers in the region, those made in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are illegal. Nevertheless, locals desperate for a choice of brews smuggle them in through the land borders and the cops have fun busting them and taking them to court to pay triple the value of the beer.
The following is written by a North American resident who takes his beer seriously, but for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous:
If you walk into a shop or liquor outlet in Canada or the USA there is a wide variety of beers and liquors. Not so in Belize. The local beer company does produce a calendar with hot Belize Models but that is about it.
Now I am not much of a beer drinker, but on a hot humid day in Belize at about 3 PM you can get a craving, no doubt about it. What’s the saying, “God gave us beer so we could be happy”. Something like that anyway.
The problem with Belize is the monopolization of God’s gifts by the Bowen and Bowen Company to essentially the number 1 brand, Belikin, and an undrinkable girly version called Lighthouse.
Now if it’s really cold (the beer, I mean) you can get it down in an emergency. The emergency occurs when your supplier runs out of the more palatable Mexican brands for which you can arrange home delivery, if you know the right people.
Most of these can be found in border towns such as Corozal, Orange Walk, El Cayo and Toledo. Montejo is pretty good, and so is Modelo, Tres X, Corona and Bohemia. But Belikin is not even on the list of top 100 brands worldwide. If it was so great why would there be a need to smuggle in the Mexican, Guatemalan and Honduran brews?
Belikin is skunky beer. By that I mean it tastes like a skunk dipped its tail into the bottle. Now, being as how I am Canadian, you drink beer whether its F 90 or -30F. So I know beer. You keep it cold in a snow bank as needed. You walk into a liquor store and order any of 65 brands. Molson Dry being the best. In the USA it might be Sam Adams since everything else is swill. In Deutschland there is Becks and 50 others.
In Belize you can get Red Stripe or Heineken on occasion at select outlets but they are pricey and you need at least 12 of these itty bitty bottles to reach a minimal decent level of feel good spirits. Having Red Stripe, Heineken and Guinness in addition to Belikin is not really what a beer aficionado would call a “variety”.
Besides, these beers are transported at a great expense from some far away islands while Mexico and Guatemala are a stone throw away right across the Belize border. Great beers available in neighboring Mexico just out of the reach of Belize residents. If you live in Belize and want to enjoy these brews you need go across the border.
I think a number of valid arguments would support the assertion that Belize would benefit from competition and free market when it comes to beer production and importation so implying that bringing down the monopoly would somehow harm Belize is nonsense. But the average restaurant has only Belikin for now.
I am opposed to monopolization for pretty obvious reasons; it encourages mediocrity.
A government that condones monopolistic enterprise is stalling healthy competition, innovation and opportunity.
A growing economy requires competition. If the government of Belize considers the protection of monopolies with beer legitimate, why should it stop there? Well, I think maybe I’m getting carried away.
For other booze, like vodka or even rum there is at least choice. Sure you pay hefty prices for Grey Goose or Appleton as opposed to Lerska or Caribbean White or those liquors put out by Travelers and other local rum factories. But again it’s your call. Smooth and heavenly versus BBQ starter fluid.
Belize has now reached the AARP Top 10 and for good reason. But, if you are a beer aficionado it’s something to think about before retirement here.
- Contributed by an Ex pat living in Belize. If you find this article useful, please recommend to your friends.