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St. Croix rum refinery to brew Virgin Islands beer brand
Impact International / April 1, 1997

By Larry Luxner

Spain's Alberto de Comenge Corp. has converted the old Brugal Rum factory on St. Croix into a brewery that'll produce Santa Cruz light beer -- the first local beer in Virgin Islands history.

The brewery, located in Frederiksted, was inaugurated in mid-February; production will likely begin by mid-March. The factory will produce barrels and long-neck bottles of beer. It'll also include a restaurant, bar, rum museum and tourist shop.

Kim Holdridge, marketing and sales director for the brewery, said the draft beer initially will be sold at the factory only as an enticement to get customers to visit the brew-ery, but that it eventually will be available at stores and on St. Thomas, St. John and other Caribbean islands. No price has yet been established for Santa Cruz, though it'll likely be cheaper than imported beers such as Miller Lite, Budweiser, Heineken and Red Dog.

The territory's dominant rum brand, Cruzan Rum, is also distilled and bottled on St. Croix. The new brewery's owner, Spanish businessman Alberto do Comenge, is also believed to have interests in soft-drink factories, other breweries and construction.

"We hope to get established on St. Croix, then expand to other places," Holdridge told the Virgin Islands Daily News. The distillery formerly produced Brugal rum, a popular brand that originated in the Dominican Republic. Yet as prices rose and consumption stagnated, Brugal eventually stopped making rum and decided to close up shop.

Between tourists and locals, says the St. Croix Avis, there's a thirsty market for beer on the biggest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands.

"We're looking forward to the time when residents drop the Miller Lites, toss the Budweisers and throw away the Heinekens in order to give local brew a chance," the paper editorialized Jan. 30. "Like Old Milwaukee, St. Croix will hopefully taste as great as its name."

Inauguration of the new rum factory-turned-brewery comes as the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean rum-producing territories fight to preserve trade preferences for the region's rum industry.

"We are asking for provisions to be made through the U.S. Treasury Department to have current rum prices placed in the U.S. inflation index to ensure that, even if the prices change, our competitive edge will not be affected," announced Virgin Islands Gov. Roy L. Schneider on Jan. 31.

"The exportation of rum is but a small part of the original Singapore agreement which also deals with information technology," the governor said. "But in opening all trade, it included white distilled spirits, which placed us in a precarious position, leaving us with no other alternative but to get involved."

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