Guam's one-of-a-kind adult beverages

Guam's one-of-a-kind adult beverages

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Guam

There’s few things more refreshing than sipping a cold one on a sandy beach or while watching the sun set from your backyard or balcony. And this tropical paradise we call Guam offers a wide variety of beer to help you soak in the island atmosphere, including craft beers from a local microbrewery and a brewpub. And if beer isn’t your drink of choice, try sipping on a traditional Chamorro coconut wine or a locally distilled mango liquor. Whatever your choice, these beverages offer an indispensable taste of Guam.

Authentic tastes

“Locals drink light lager beer, such as Budweiser or Miller as a substitute for water,” said Toshiyuki Ishii, owner Ishii Brewing Company. “Corona, Heineken, Kirin, Asahi and other popular imported lager beers are virtually available anywhere in this island.”

But Ishii’s microbrewery, as well as the Mermaid Tavern & Grille brewpub, offer locals and tourists a chance to enjoy authentic tastes of craft beer.

“These local beers complement our tropical weather on Guam,” says Matthew Sgro, of the Guam Economic Development Authority. “While the malt and darker beers are more adequate for cooler weather, these beers provide a refreshing taste that can be enjoyed on the beaches or at various fiestas throughout the island.”

Ishii is a renowned Japanese brewer who had developed his own ale at a microbrewery in Japan. Although his brewery was very successful, he was determined to become independent and moved to Guam five ago after producing various collaborations with breweries in the U.K, Czech and Norway.

“There were no microbreweries on Guam when I moved out here,” Ishii said, adding that San Miguel Beer closed its Guam brewery 35 years ago. “I feel it gave me the chance to be a pioneer in micro brewing on this island.”

The first thing he did, was name his brand of beer Minagof, a Chamorro word meaning “happiness, pleasure and cheer.”

More than 99 percent of beer on the island is lager, produced by major breweries overseas. “So, I determined to brew only ale with selected barley and wheat malts, hops and yeasts,” Ishii said.

Currently, Ishii is brewing four different flavored craft beers - American-style Pale Ale, American-style India Pale Ale, Smoked Porter and Green Tea India Pale Ale.

Because his craft beer has earned a great reputation among craft beer lovers on the island, Ishii is now preparing to produce locally flavored beers using coconuts and other fruits or spices.

Mermaid Tavern and Grille near Chamorro Village is also known for its tasty craft beers. The brewpub is currently offering Oatmeal Stout, Vanilla Porter, India Pale Ale, Cascadian IPA, Sirena Pale Ale, Irish Red Ale and Classic American Pilzen Ale.

“Mermaid’s Tavern and Grille is a great place to go,” said Josh Tyquiengco, information officer of Guam Visitors Bureau. “They have a beer sampler that allows people to try their homemade brews. Their food is also very good.”

Brewers paradise

Ishii considers Guam a great place for micro brewing.

“Water on Guam contains a lot of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, that are suitable for brewing ales,” Ishii said. “Neither consumption nor liquor tax are posed on spirits, and thousands of U.S. service members are located here and many of them are craft beer fans. These are all great assets in terms of brewing craft beer.”

The most notable asset, however, is Guam’s tropical climate, according to Ishii.

“Guam is always hot and that is the best environment for drinking beer,” Ishii said. “Some Locals drink beer seven days a week throughout the year.” Ishii said that in Japan, he felt that a lot more people drank beerin the summer and sales dropped significantly in the winter.

“The warm climate doesn’t necessarily assist in the brewing, but it sure helps work up the craving to drink a nice cold beer,” says India Sekiguchi of The Island King Imports, a distributor which imports beer and alcohol to Guam.

According to Ishii, one of the reasons craft beers are popular is because they can be paired with various foods depending on the type of flavors, just like wine. Craft beer varies according to its raw ingredients and ways of fermentation, and each beer has a unique aroma, flavor and taste.

“So, certain craft beers can be paired with certain courses, such as hors d’oeuvre, main dish, desert, meat or fish,” Ishii said.

GUAM1 and only

Although not brewed locally, there is a locally labelled American beer that is also very popular on the island: GUAM1.

“GUAM1 is the only beer in the world named after our beautiful island home,” Sekiguchi said. “It also gives visiting tourists and military personnel on our island the chance to try something new while they visit.”

In brief, it is a fruity pale lager.

“Handcrafted in small batches, GUAM1 pours golden in color with a small head and offers fruit aromas of pineapple, coconut, and banana,” said Island King Imports’ Sekiguchi. “It features a smooth, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a breezy, tangy citrus and watermelon accented finish.”

The beer is localized with a label designed by The Island King Imports that is loosely based on the Guam flag, and also features ageless symbols of Guam – palm trees, beach, sunset, waves and an underwater scene.

The Chamorro phrase “Sen paire” appears on the label. Its meaning: Champion. On GUAM1 cans, there are also cave drawings beloved to all who call Guam home.

“The real cave drawings are found in the Gadao Cave, in Inarajan. We have personified them with the names Tano and Tasi, who are the main characters in the GUAM1 Legend,” Sekiguchi said.

According to Sekiguchi, GUAM1 has plans on setting up a brewery on Guam. “Thanks to the growing base of GUAM1 fans, we do have plans to open up a GUAM1 Brewery in the Tamuning area in the not-so-distant future,” she said.

Nothing sour about Mc Kraut’s

As for beer on Guam, there’s a German restaurant that serves up some of the finest.

“Mc Kraut’s is another popular restaurant that is patronized by locals and visitors for its German beer and fast food options,” Tyquiengco said. “It’s located down in the village of Malojloj.”

Mc Kraut’s offers a full line of spirits, selected German beer on tap, as well as a large variety of imported, domestic and microbrews in bottles at reasonable prices.

When owner Ludwig Uhmeyer came to Guam from Germany in 1986, he noticed a lack of good imported beers. So, he started a German beer and wine import business in 1989. He has brought in Detmolder handcrafted beers from his hometown, plus he was the first to bring English and Scottish beers to Guam.

“Over the years, I added a lots of new imports you may enjoy now at local bars, supermarkets and U.S. bases,” Uhmeyer said.

In 2003, Uhmeyer opened a small hot dog and hamburger stand. “With hard work, we ended up with our new Mc Kraut’s German Restaurant,” he said. “Craft beer is the future.”

Distilled spirits

It’s not all about beer on the island, and Guam’s Own Distillery ensures the taste of Guam is bottled up in every case of its alcohol.

“The process from raw alcohol to distillation to bottling is done by hand here on Guam,” says Valentino Perez, co-owner of Guam’s Own, which opened in 2009. “Our Chamorro heritage and history of distilling, as well as our dedication to only use the premium alcohol, makes us special.”  

In fact, both of Perez and his business partner have a family history of distilling, going back decades. “The business seemed a natural progression of that family history,” he said.

Perez says it’s been a lot of trial and error in perfecting the distillation process, especially in fermenting carbohydrates and sugar to create a mash. If the distillation using the mash isn’t right, you could end up with a product that’s rough going down, he said.

“The most important item is the expertise of the distiller,” Perez said. “We only bottle premium alcohol.  Being able to know how to pull out the premium alcohol and leave the lower quality alcohol behind is difficult. Perfecting that art is time-consuming and expensive. For our product, it is still an artisan’s trade.”

According to Perez, whose distillery produces vodka, mango vodka, whiskey, rum and a local moonshine that dates back to colonial Spanish times on Guam, he started very small and has not changed.

“We have contemplated adding lines but our market is a niche market,” he said. “It is very hard to be competitive with off-island brands.”


Traditional Coconut Wine

Stories of “moonshiners” hunted by the authorities have long been fodder for movies and TV shows. But in Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands, people have been making their own liquor almost since the dawn of time, with nary a trace of the car chases and shotgun battles of American history and lore.

On Guam, it is called “tuba” (pronounced too-bah), or coconut sap, which was introduced to the island by Philippine farmers.

Unfortunately, Guam’s rush toward modernity and the ready availability of beer and other types of alcohol have turned tuba making into something of a dying art, according to a local practitioner, Antonio Blas, who learned the technique from his older brother after Blas retired as a teacher. He has passed on the knowledge to his son and a few other relatives but admits that the younger generation is not very interested in continuing the tradition.

Tuba is extracted from the tender, unopened tips of the floral branches of coconut trees. The branches must be tied downward for one to two weeks until they droop. Then the first cut is made to the tip, Blas explains. It takes two or three days to get the first sap, but then it begins to flow continuously with two daily cuts.

“You can make tuba out of any coconut tree,” Blas says, “but because of the work involved (climbing each tree twice a day), you must be very dedicated. It’s a seven day a week job.” A tree can produce about a gallon of tuba a day.

The sap begins fermenting immediately after collection due to natural yeasts in the air. Within six to eight hours, fermentation produces an aromatic liquor – sometimes called palm wine – of 4 to 6 percent alcohol content, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It is sweet and mildly intoxicating, or “tangy” as Blas calls it. Some people mix it with beer to get an alcohol taste, he says.

If you leave the liquid to ferment longer, it will turn into cooking vinegar in two to three months. It is used for salads and the “finadene” sauce commonly used in Guam cooking.

However, if you distill the sap, you can make “aguayente,” a 180-proof liquor that is almost pure alcohol. Making aguayente is also something of a lost art, and not too many people on Guam know how to do it, Blas says. A license is also required. It takes five or six gallons of sweet tuba to make one gallon of aguayente.

Before it ferments, tuba can be boiled and turned into a syrup that is used to make candy. It is also used to make “potu,” a steamed rice cake.

Of course, when it is fresh and unfermented, tuba juice makes a refreshing sweet drink.

Tuba can be purchased in different ways. A family that makes tuba may put a sign in front of their house saying it has some for sale. Sometimes trucks stop by the side of the road and sell their supply.

Blas gets his customers by word of mouth. “My tuba has no additives – no sugar, coconut juice or water. It’s pure,” he says. He supplies small fiesta parties and sometimes large ones like the fiesta in Dodedo. The Guam Visitors Bureau even orders some to offer tourists.

“When I cut my tuba and bring it down, I stick it in my refrigerator and cool it. If it is going off island, I freeze it and put it in a cooler (for shipment),” he says.

Blas, who served in the Marine Corps for nine years and in the Navy for 17 years, also keeps some tuba for personal use and for friends. “Whenever we have military people at parties, they enjoy having tuba.”

On Guam, the coconut tree is sometimes called the “tree of life” because it provides people with food, milk, materials for shelter, decorations and more. And while Blas and some others are still around, the coconut tree will also provide tuba, Guam’s “water of life.”

– Stripes Guam

Where to sample spirits, brew

Ishii Brewing Company

Beer Brand Name: Minagof Beer
Main beers: American-style Pale Ale, American-style India Pale Ale, Smoked Porter and Green Tea IPA
Location: #102 Northwest Plaza, 458 South Marine Corps, Dr., Tamuning
Available: (restaurants) Shamrocks Pub-Grub-Club, Te Quiero, Beachin’ Shrimp, California Pizza Kitchen, Chamorro Island BBQ Tumon, Chamorro Island BBQ, Mac & Marti,  Joinus Restaurant/Keyaki, Chamoru-tei, CORE BBQ Garden & Bar, PROA, The Mermaid Tavern & Grille (retail stores) 76/Circle K locations, JP Mini Mart, Sea Wave, Soho Avenue Duty Free, Navy Exchange Main Store, Mini Mart Package Store and Class VI Shoppett
Tel: (671) 649-0141

The Mermaid Tavern & Grille

Main Beers: Maga’lahi Oatmeal Stout, Vanilla Porter, Met’got Cascadian IPA, Man’hita India Pale Ale, Sirena Pale Ale, Dos Amantes Irish Red Ale, Classic American Pilzen Ale
Location: 140 Aspinall Ave, Suite 101, Hagatna
Hours: Mon – Thu, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fri – Sat, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. 
Tel: (671) 472-2337

The Island King Imports

Beer Brand Name: Guam 1
Main Beers: pale lager (mango flavor is also available)
Available: (restaurants) Jamaican Grill, Meskla Dos, Vitales Italian, The Beach Bar, Sanji Japanese, Santa Fe Grille and Green Lizard (retail stores) K-Mart, JP Superstore, Latte Store, Star Apple, Soho, Avenue Duty Free, and participating NEX and AAFES stores.
Address: 185 Guerrero Dr., Tamuning
Tel: (671)646-1263

Mc Kraut’s Restaurant

Location: HC 1 17141, Inarajan (located at the corner of Route 4 and Kalamasa Circle in Malojloj / Inarajan.)
Email: Email
Tel: 828-4248 or 482-9902

Guam’s Own

Brewer: Guam’s Own Distillery
Products: Vodka, Mango Vodka, Mango Rum, Mango Whiskey and Aguayente (local moonshine)
Available: JP Superstores, Lotte Duty Free, and 76 stores of ABC Stores Circle K 76 stores.

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