06 Jun Hoosiers of the Caribbean – Breweries with Indiana Ties, Including The Resort at Marble Hill on Roatan Island
Indiana craft beer touches the hearts and palates of many people. Hoosier brewers are known all over the Midwest and the country – and they should be, they make great beer. But Indiana’s influence on beer extends far beyond the borders of the state and even the country, and it’s something I just learned more about.
I was contacted a short while back by representatives from a place called The Resort at Marble Hill on the island of Roatan. They have a brewery and are putting in a distillery, and the ownership of the resort is a local construction company owner, Josh White of Hoosier Contractors. Indiana ownership of a Caribbean resort with a brewery is fairly interesting, but not really enough to warrant an article. BUT, what if the head brewer (and distiller) was also a Hoosier, with significant roots in Indiana beer? Now that’s a story.
The venerable Indiana brewery in Broad Ripple called Broad Ripple Brewpub has a great lineage of brewers, including Ted Miller, most recently in Indiana the owner of Brugge Brasserie and Outliers Brewing. It turns out that he and Josh are mates, and after Josh traveled to Roatan for scuba diving and came back a resort owner, he asked Ted to come brew on The Resort at Marble Hill grounds.
Ted and his wife Shannon (The Owner’s Wife) are avid travelers and have spent a good amount of time in the Caribbean (he was brewing in the Caribbean as far back as 1999), so the idea of spending time at the resort was a no brainer. The Brewery at Marble Hill is up and running, and Ted just finished up a batch of his Tripel de Ripple that is being served up to resort guests as we speak. The resort is a favorite of local ex-pats, islanders as well as tourists. The resort has been totally renovated, with brand new bungalows, treehouses, seaview units, and four restaurants. Each restaurant has a stunning vibe and style all its own – including the great smokehouse. There’s also a world class Hoosier sommelier named Matt Schicker.
The resort has a production garden producing all kinds of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs for the restaurants, brewery, distillery, and creamery. Yes, Josh has imported cows onto the island to start a creamery. This was no small task, since Roatan is 31 miles off the coast of Honduras and is as hilly as it gets, ie. The Resort at Marble Hill isn’t just a made-up name. There is a touristy side of the island, and then there is less populated, more scenic portion of the 35 mile long island, that’s where The Resort at Marble Hill is located, and where people from near and far are going to get a great local/Hoosier beer. Travel to the island is easy, they have their own international airport with multiple direct flights from all the major carriers.
It turns out that many of the 100 or so inhabited islands of the Caribbean have breweries. This made me consider – are their other breweries in the region with Hoosier ties? Deep in the back of my mind I thought there was a brewery that had done a collaboration beer with Kevin Matalucci at Twenty Below/Twenty Tap because they were friends and the owner/brewer was a Hoosier. But I couldn’t remember the name of the brewery. It took about three days for me to search my remaining brain cells for the answer before the name came to me – Frenchtown Brewing on St. Thomas. The owner/brewer is named Kevin Brown and he indeed is a Hoosier.
Kevin traveled extensively as a homebrewer, learning from Belgian brewers as well as local brewers like Matalucci and Ted Miller. He was happy doing Marine Research and analytic chemistry on the US Virgin Isles, but wasn’t happy about the lack of quality beer. He continued homebrewing and learning, and eventually the opportunity to open a brewery of his own presented itself. It turns out that they are all very good friends and Ted and Kevin Brown talk often even now – they should, they’re both Caribbean brewers now, even if they are 900 miles apart.
Ted told me, “I know Kevin Brown very well and speak with him at least weekly. Funny story. A few years ago Brugge was pouring at The Great Taste of the Midwest as we have for many years. Kevin Brown came along with us that year. I told him, bring some beer from Frenchtown and some small signage. We set him up in our booth as if he were a registered participating brewer. So many people were so very confused as Frenchtown wasn’t in the program – or even from the contiguous USA. One of the longtime organizers of the festival approached me – and I thought we were getting reprimanded – and said ‘That’s pretty great, but totally illegal.’”
So now I had two Caribbean breweries with definite Indiana ties. Could there be more? A bit of work along the interwebs led to a several others, – amazing, but true. The most tenuous connection was even pretty solid – Sam Strupek of Shoreline Brewery was a consulting brewer in Puerto Rico and purchased his first brewing equipment for Shoreline in Puerto Rico. After leaving Aberdeen Brewing Brewing Valpo, Sam did some consulting brewing in Puerto Rica and he came across a used system. The system wasn’t that clean, and that was one of the things that he was teaching them, but it did help him get a good price. And that’s how Puerto Rico plays into brewing in Michigan City, IN.
I found another brewery/distillery in the islands with Hoosier owners, this one called The Tap & Still on St. Thomas/St. John. Co-owners Joe and John Brugo are from the region, yet ended up making craft beverages in the Caribbean. They started out making craft spirits on St. Thomas when they were approached by Hooman Pedram who wanted to add a brewery to his three Tap & Still restaurants.
The final Indiana connection I found to a Caribbean brewery was Robert Buethe, owner of NuMu Brewery in Costa Rica. While technically from Chicago, Robert did earn an Electrical Engineering degree at Valparaiso University. He had a startup brewpub in Chicago called Hopcats, his first foray into craft beer, and at which he brewed his first homebrew batches. His homebrewing developed into an obsession and when he decided to move his family to Guanacaste, he took an idea for a tropical brewery with him. Now he has one of the most successful of the handful of breweries in Costa Rica.
Indiana’s connection to Caribbean brewing and distilling doesn’t only go one way. There is also an excellent brewer from Puerto Rico who now brews in Indiana. JD Alvarado, head brewer at Sun King Kokomo started homebrewing in 2013 with a secondhand system. He told me that his first batch was dang near undrinkable, but his follow-ups improved each time.
After living in Florida for a couple of years after college, JD landed a job with a poultry company in Boone County in 2009, and that’s how he came to Indiana. After he took up brewing on his own, he got a job at Sun King Brewing in 2018 and that’s where he met Dave Colt. He said, “I asked Dave for some advice on opening a brewery back in Puerto Rico, and those conversations turned into a sort of mentorship.”
He added, “After that I started as an assistant brewer with Jake Goodnight at 96th Street, and then took that knowledge back to Puerto Rico with the intention of opening a brewery of my own.” Unfortunately, the 2020 earthquakes that rocked the island significantly hampered progress on his project, so JD asked Dave if Sun King had something for him. Davie told him to get back to Indiana and they’d talk.
In February of 2020, JD started on the canning line at Sun King – and then Covid hit. As we all remember, things got weird, and in April Dave approached him with an offer about brewing in Kokomo. Jack at Sun King Kokomo had moved to Bad Dad Brewery (and now he’s in Wisconsin brewing for New Glarus), and JD became the brewer in Kokomo – it’s good things for us too, he’s making some very interesting beers and winning medals (including a Best of Craft Beer Awards medal this year).
This is all very interesting and more than little serendipitous, but it does have a point – Indiana beer is great, and now you can find it on your trips to the Caribbean. You haven’t been down to the Caribbean. I highly recommend it, and not just for the beer.