Saturday, August 4, 2007

Red Stripe Light Lager

In my last (very long ago) post, I mentioned Jamaica's history from Arawaks to Ziggy Marley and everything in between. I also reviewed Red Stripe, the beer in Jamaica. For this one, I'm not only reviewing Red Stripe's lighter brother, but I will give you a paragraph or two of my observations of the island nation, which celebrated its 45th birthday on August 6th. Since I didn't get around to it in my last review, I'll also give you some background information on the brewery itself. If you wish to skip these thoughts, click here to skip right to the beer.

I had heard of Jamaica's poverty long before I came here. The web comic Least I Could Do had a story arc where the main character Rayne and his best friend Noel traveled to a Jamaican Sandals resort for couples (though they themselves are not one...hilarity ensues). After they arrive at the airport (presumably Montego Bay's), Rayne notes the rampant poverty that was evident immediately upon leaving baggage claim. It was this image that ran through my head as my wife and I traveled by a hot, humid Japanese bus along the A1 from Montego Bay to our resort.

Well, that and my memories of a church mission trip I made to Tijuana, Mexico almost a decade ago. There were marked differences between Jamaica's north coast and the slums of Tijuana: the water's better in Jamaica (and won't give you Montezuma's Revenge), the Jamaican shacks have electricity (well, most of them), better roads, better scenery, and the air was fresh and clean, unlike south Tijuana's air, which smelled like a garbage dump. But, in both cases, the people were very happy, or at least seemed that way. They were down-to-earth, hospitable people who made do with what they had.

Jamaica, like Mexico, can tend to get a little violent. When I watched the TV-J 10 o'clock news in my room, the lead story was that of a multi-victim drive-by shooting in Kingston (which, as I mentioned previously, is the most dangerous city in the West Indies). No motive was given for the shooting; it appeared to be a random act of violence. I was initially shocked that such a thing could happen, but then I remembered that many of these things happen everyday in any major U.S. city and that they too are splashed across the top of the local news. "If it bleeds, it leads" must be a universal saying in the news industry.

Other news was much more positive. Barrington Irving, a Jamaican-born pilot, became the first black man to fly solo around the world. The Jamaican cricket team was doing well, or so I was told. It is an election year, so politics were abundant, first with a story on one of the Prime Minister's bodyguards who was accused of stealing cars, and then with the race between candidates in the JLP (Jamaican Labour Party, conservative leaning, symbolized by the Liberty Bell) and the PNP (People's National Party, democratic socialist leaning, symbolized by the Head) that was hotly contested. Internationally, floods in India and Bangladesh and the recovery effort of the Minnesota I-35W bridge disaster were reported. What surprised me was the lack of weather coverage, especially since the island is in hurricane-infested waters, but then again, since the average temperature is between 86 and 90°F, it may not be needed.

(NOTE: This was written before Hurricane Dean came within 60 miles of Kingston, meaning it pretty much hit the island.)

Jamaica has an interesting dichotomy between the massive multinational beach front resorts (or the massive foreign-owned mansions) and the ordinary citizens struggling to make enough to live. The Jamaican government appears to be making progress in some respects. Unemployment has apparently been cut in half over the past 20 years, tourism is thriving (at least it was before Dean), and infrastructure, such as new high-speed tollways, are at least partially open. Each party appears to have a plan to improve schools and health care. However, as in the U.S., there is skepticism over whether any changes will take place for the better. As our bus driver said on the way back to Montego Bay, "They're all the same." Spoken like a true cynic.

In conclusion, Jamaica is a land not unlike my own, but with many differences. They have remarkable beaches that are almost too good that are almost too good to be true, but everything has a price. Sports are different, where cricket and fútbol are the dominant pasttimes, and the people are easy-going and understanding. Just don't forget to tip.

Now, on to the beer.

The Red Stripe Brewery is based out of Kingston with plants on the north coast (we passed one between Montego Bay and our resort). They also have a brewpub in the Montego Bay airport (probably Kingston's too). It was founded in 1918 by Kingston natives Eugene Peter Desnoes and Thomas Hargreaves Geddes, and the first version of Red Stripe was brewed a decade later, an ale too strong for the locals. Paul H. Geddes created the smoother lager in 1934, which they've used ever since. The brand was shown prominently in the 1962 Bond movie Dr. No, which was based mostly in Jamaica. Its American slogan is "Hooray beer!" and the Jamaican one is "Don't just live, live red."

In the past year or so (few years?), the folks at Red Stripe released a light version of their beer, the unimaginatively-named Red Stripe Light. As of this writing, it's unavailable stateside. Aside from the Desnoes and Geddes logo and the familiar Red Stripe text on the bottle, not much is recognizable. The bottle shape is of the everyday tall variety, as opposed to the distinctive stubby bottle shape of its regular counterpart. The glass color is also different, being clear instead of brown. Not a wise choice, seeing as how brown bottles prevent spoilage by sunlight, which is something that clear and green bottles are notorious for. My guess is that these changes were made to differentiate the two in a market or pub that dominantly serves Red Stripe. The clear glass especially does the trick, especially considering those limited edition regular Red Stripe bottles that are in the tall variety but still retain their browned glass.

Here are the stats:

Red Stripe Light Lager
BREWERY: Desnoes and Geddes, Kingston, Jamaica (a member of the Guinness family)
FIRST BREWED: 2001 at the latest
ABV: 3.9%

When I poured this beer, its color was a clear light golden, but I was especially disappointed with the head. While it was a clean, white color, it wasn't as fluffy or as long-lasting as regular Red Stripe's. It looked more like a series of bubbles than a head, which quickly dissipated. The beer itself almost tasted like water with a little beer mixed in and reminded me of many a Latin American lager, but brewed with better water and without a metallic taste. The good thing about no taste, however, is no aftertaste. It finished clean with no bad memories lingering on my taste buds.

So, if you have an affinity for Central American beers, or don't like any beer that will potentially get you drunk, then this beer is for you. Otherwise, stick with plain ol' Red Stripe to get beer that tastes, well, like beer. I will.

Ya mon!


Anonymous said...

The red stripe light was brewed long before 2006 when we were there in 2001 we were buying it by the buckets, I personally think it is the best beer and I would love to get it here in the states, is that possible?

The Beerocrat said...

Thanks for the information about Red Stripe Light. I have changed the date accordingly to "2001 at the latest".

I have no idea where to find it in the states. can ship any beer they have in stock to where you live (within reason), but I don't know if they carry Red Stripe Light. There may be some importation issues with this beer...those things can sometimes be tricky. Good hunting, though.


Anonymous said...

Dear Beerocrat,

I too am a fan of RSL and think their decision to bottle it in a "corona-esque" bottle was not as imaginative as they could have done. I wasnt aware of the spoil factor when it comes to clear glass, but my thoughts were that they should have made a clear glass stubby bottle like its father Red Stripe. This would be a big seller and keep the look and feel of Red Stripe. On the Wikipedia link it says the beer is brewed in JA but bottled i nthe Guinness facotry in Stamford CT where Diageo is located. Is their now way to get this brew in the states yet? Thanks Will

Anonymous said...

Just bought some Red Stripe Light at a Publix in South FL. Pretty good stuff. I think it just got on the market here.

Anonymous said...

Red Stripe Light is actually a very good Beer. I recently started drinking it and was able to find it at the local Gas Stations and grocery stores. However, now that I've decided to make this "my beer", it seems to be out of stock every where I go.

The bottle is the same as the original blend (short brown bottle) and I've found that in some 6 packs, people have switched some of the lights, with the regulars... so be sure to check each bottle in your packs!

They are identical at a glance with the exception of the Light added to the label.

Taylor said...

now you can purchase it anywhere in the US. well, in Texas at least. I know this because I promote this product. AND 1 bottle contains ONLY 35 calories!! its true. amazing, right??

Anonymous said...

Just and FYI: I actually believe it has 120 calories and 10.5g of carbs. It's light on alcohol more so than calories, since it is at 3.6% ABV and Red Stripe has approx. 153 calories, 14g of carbs and 4.7% ABV. Don't get me wrong, when I had RSL in Jamaica four years ago, I was thrilled about it, being an avid Red Stripe lover. I was even more thrilled to see it in the store this past spring, though it doesn't taste nearly as good as it did in Jamaica.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE red stripe light and so you know it is sold in the US I get mine at the grocery store (Lowes Foods)