Bay Islands Brewery hopes to do big beer business
Monday, January 9, 2006 Online Edition 1
The Bay Islands Brewery on Roatan. The building is a replica of a 15th Century Spanish fortress.
By DON PEAT
A new resident of Roatan is hoping to have a big impact in bars across the islands and on the mainland with his microbrewery.
Jiri Maska left the Czech Republic in the early nineties looking for a place to start a business and build a life for his family. After travelling around the world, living in several other countries, he settled on the island of Roatan. The investment encouragement laws of Honduras, which allow for a business to operate tax and duty free for the first ten years of operation, helped Maska decide on Honduras as the place he wanted to go into business. Two years ago he opened the Bay Islands Brewery.
Jiri Maska standing inside the production area of his brewery.
"I can't live in a country without good beer," said Maska on why he decided to go into beer making on Roatan.
He feels a smaller brewery can provide a beer for the discerning brew connoisseur who wants to avoid the high cost of imported beer.
So far the brewery produces three types of beer in kegs, including Bay Islands Pilsner Light, Dark Ale, and Ginger Beer.
Eventually they hope to produce bottled beer, rum, and even soft drinks.
Maska, an artist by trade, brought a brewmaster from the Czech Republic to teach him how to brew the beer. Using 600-year-old recipes Maska brews beer the traditional way, with open fermentation methods perfected in Bohemia. Like the beer-making knowledge, the ingredients- malt and hops- are imported from Maska's homeland as well.
The brewery itself harkens back to the past, it's a replica of a 15th century Spanish fortress. For the past two years Maska has built it himself, high on a hill in the east end of the island. The stone structure dominates the landscape and provides a picturesque view of the island's north and south coasts. Windmills and solar panels provide much of the power for the brewery.
"I want the next generation to say, Grandpa built a good, strong building," said Maska proudly.
If the view is not enough to draw visitors to the fortress, a tasting room, a must-see-stop on any brewery tour, provides another incentive.
On top of the fortress a bell tower houses a bell from 1750. Maska hopes to add another antique bell and to ring them at noon and 6pm each day, echoing over the island.
"When I was a child, growing up I remember hearing the town's bells ringing every day to signal the time," recalled Maska, "I want that to be a memory for children around the island as well."
Currently, Maska's Bay Islands beer is available in several establishments in West Bay and in West End at Half Moon Bay Cabins, Sundowners, Argentinean Grille, Buccaneers, Henry Morgan, and the Last Resort.
Maska continues to paint, the sales from his artwork help support his business ventures, and has painted many pictures inspired by his new home in the Bay Islands. To see his work visit www.maskaart.com.
BAY ISLANDS VOICE - CHURCH OF BEER by Thomas Tomczyk
The entire brewing cycle will take about a month to complete. The first day will be most labor intensive with critical tasks of mixing malt with water, boiling and cooling the brew. Then, in seven to ten days, the brew will be kept in open tubs as east is added. Finally, the beer will sit for 20-25 days in aging tanks before being poured into kegs and distributed.
"It's a 500-year old system. We use no chemicals or additives; it's all natural," says Jiri Maska, 47. Some of the fine pilsner will sit in the aging tanks for 90 days and served to beer connoisseurs. According to the Czech entrepreneur, consuming reasonable quantities of naturally brewed beer is healthy and can help with some types of stomach illness.
Bay Island Pilzner, Bay Island Ale and Bay Island Lite will be distributed throughout Roatan and be available at resorts in Utila and Guanaja. Maska will provide the poring system to the resorts and restaurants interested in his beer. He is not planning to bottle his beer, but hopes to serve beer drinkers interested in higher quality product.
Dry yeast for the brew will be brought in from France, the malt and hops (natural beer preservative) will come from the Czech Republic and the water will be pumped from an underground reservoir 100 meters below the brewery.
In 1997, Maska made trips to Dominican Republic, Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica and Mexico looking for the place to set his vision. It wasn't until 1999 that Jiri found his Caribbean island he dreamed about from the time he was a child. "Honduran Government gave me the best conditions," said Maska. His brewery doesn't need to pay import taxes on technology equipment nor income taxes for ten years.
Maska has paved his own path by obtaining Honduras' first microbrewery permit and setting up the first small brewery and pub in Honduras. The Czech-theme restaurant will serve roasted pig and a variety of baked breads. Roasted pig, Czech bread and a specialty-made Pilzner, aged 90 days and poured straight from the tanks, will be served to beer aficionados.
Maska studied graphic art in Prague and at Everett Collage in the US. "I'm a natural businessman and I love beer," says the businessman, "All my life I had a dream to be on a sunny island and I am finally here."
"Wind turbines, solar panels and Russian made diesel generators" will be used to create an elaborate system of self dependent power and green energy sources. The three-story stone and masonry, 16 meters by 18 meter brewery and restaurant is already one of the most imposing buildings on the Bay Islands. With a round copula and red tile roof, it sits atop a two-acre site at the entrance to Oak Ridge. "We in Europe build houses for 10-20 generations," says Maska.
Maska comes down to Honduras every two-three months to check on things. To speed up the work and generate interest in his Central American enterprise back home, Jiri sometimes brings several friends from his Czech hometown of Strakonice.
The Czech entrepreneur estimates he spent $600,000 in materials alone. Much of the labor was done by Jiri's daughter and friend; Lenka Steiskalova and David Svehal have been working on the house for the last three years. As the work progressed, they persevered by living in a trailer next to the building site.
Maska expects to open the restaurant in December or January. He expects to attract both tourists and locals to what could potentially be Honduras' first microbrewery. The building will house a 100 seat restaurant, a smaller dining area and pub. "Tourists will like it and it will bring more people to the east of the island," says Maska.