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After two years in business on the tropical island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, Frenchtown Brewing Company was living every new brewery’s dream. Community support was strong, business was booming and plans for expansion were underway. Owners Kevin and Terri Brown had lined up a larger facility, which would allow for a significant increase in production alongside dedicated space for a tasting room and shop. Their new digs would be in Crown Bay, one of the town’s two ports that welcomes thousands of cruise ship passengers on a near daily basis ensuring a steady stream of visitors, while the original Frenchtown location could be used more for experimentation. In summer 2017, everything had come together and the move was imminent. Then hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged St. Thomas and, like the best-laid plans, it seemed to all fall apart.

But before we get in too deep, let’s start from the beginning. Located in the Frenchtown neighbourhood of St. Thomas, an area that saw a wave of migration of French Huguenots in the mid 19th century, Frenchtown Brewing sits above Pie Whole, a cozy pizza place that conveniently has one of the best beer menus on the island. The entire operation occupies one room, a small space that’s decorated for Christmas during our visit. The nano-brewery functions on a three-barrel system, the very construction of which seems to speak to Frenchtown’s moxie. We can’t help but notice the refurbished “Steriline Dairy Equipment” plaque.

Owner and head-brewer Kevin Brown came to St. Thomas nearly 30 years ago as a Marine Researcher with the University of the Virgin Islands. With a chemistry background and Belgian heritage, he began home-brewing to feed his desire for good beer, something that the USVIs was particularly devoid of at that time. While showing us around the brewery, Kevin describes his beer education from expeditions through Belgium to dive deeper into the country’s world class beer to mentoring from accomplished brewers.

Kevin credits his wife Terri for propelling him in making his dream a reality: “Terri believed in me and pushed me to open a pilot brewery in a small former kitchen next to her office.” Terri, who runs a successful creative agency, is the marketing force behind Frenchtown Brewing and crafted a strong and cohesive brand for the brewery. A great ambassador, she’s also often the first touchpoint with visitors as the contact number for the brewery is her personal cell phone. Terri shares Kevin’s passion for offering high quality beer, and when commenting on the fact that the US Virgin Islands has never had a mainstream local beer like many other Caribbean countries, Terri notes: “we hope to be the local beer of St. Thomas.”

Setting up shop in the Caribbean has its challenges, which can differ from island to island. Kevin explains that most ingredients are brought from the US, adding that “this adds costs, which force us to tightly control expenses and waste nothing.” St. Thomas’ drinking water, reverse osmosis seawater, is potable. “Brewing on this tiny 13 x 3 mile island is truly a mission few undertake”, he notes.

At the time of our visit the brewery has four beers on tap available as tastings, in crowlers or growler fills: Hop Alley IPA, a deliciously hoppy yet balanced beer at 7.2% ABV, Frenchie Farmhouse Saison, refreshing and spice forward with strong banana notes, 86 & Sunny Pale Ale, a sessionable every day ale and a nod to the average (inviable) weather of St. Thomas, and Rooster Brown Ale, a robust ale with a rich malty profile. Seasonal and specialty beers draw inspiration from local ingredients like coconut in the Kokomol´e Chocolate Coconut Porter and sorrel to give a pink hue for a beer brewed in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

During the hurricanes, Crown Bay was hit hard and Frenchtown’s future brewery was destroyed. The original brewery fared better with only minor damages, though power outages lasted three months with the brewery re-opening not long before our visit in late December. Despite the setback, Terri and Kevin are positive, thankful for what they still have and even seeing the silver lining: deciding to wait out the beers that were in production, the intended batches of Frenchie Farmhouse Saison and 86 & Sunny Pale Ale turned out to be better than expected though different enough to warrant new names: Survivor Saison and Irmageddon Pale Ale.

So after this unexpected upheaval what’s next for Frenchtown Brewing? It’s business as usual, with expansion still a priority. “Hurricanes Irma and Maria didn’t destroy our future, just made our path a bit more winding”, Kevin explains. The search is on for a new location, which is a good thing for the Virgin Islanders as Frenchtown’s current facility can’t keep up with demand. Given their undeniable passion and ability to bounce back after adversity, it’s impossible not to get caught up Kevin and Terri’s excitement for the future of Frenchtown Brewing. “As islanders, we are resilient and hopeful and absolutely dedicated to making Frenchtown Brewing beers a beer worth traveling to taste.”

Frenchtown Brewing Company is open for tours and tastings Monday and Wednesdays from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, and Saturdays from 1pm to 5pm. Planning to visit outside of these times? Terri and Kevin are very accommodating and extremely responsive, and will often work around their hours to welcome visitors to the brewery.`

Frenchtown Brewing Company photos by JP Bervoets 


Lauren Barth co-founded Departful in 2012 is the Managing Director of Departful Media. Since then she has worked between North America and Europe and has published content in partnership with a variety of tourism boards and businesses based around the world. Lauren is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

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