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VI Holiday Libations

VI Holiday Libations

If you’re looking for a taste of local culture, the holidays are an excellent time to sample the Virgin Islands’ local libations. Virgin Islands locals are proud of their traditions and happy to share their holiday spirits (literally!) with visitors and fellow residents alike.

Had someone asked me about holiday beverages when I first moved to Tortola, my likely response would have been, “umm….painkillers?” While there’s no shame in liking the BVI’s signature fruity cocktail, I’ve since discovered some of the VI’s traditional holiday beverages.


Guavaberry Liqueur

Not to be confused with guava, an entirely different plant, the wild guavaberry tree produces small cherry-sized fruits that ripen in late fall. Although the berries can be eaten plain or made into delectable tarts, sauces and jams, guavaberries are typically used to make a sweet and slightly spicy liqueur that’s served at Christmastime. The ripe berries are macerated, then added to rum and sugar and left to steep for a couple of months to a few years. According to Aragorn Dick-Read, a BVI farmer, artist and long-time resident, guavaberries are a “sacred local item” that are “deep in the heart of BVI culture.” Traditionally, holiday carolers would go from house to house serenading their neighbors, who would bring out guavaberry liqueur to share with their friends as a sign of thanks. Aragorn, who has guavaberry trees at his Good Moon Farm on Tortola’s north side, reports that 2011 was an abundant year for guavaberries in the BVI. The local liqueur is usually enjoyed at private homes, but visitors looking to sample the liqueur should check out rum shops in Carrot Bay and the East End on Tortola. Additionally, small bottles of guavaberry liqueur can be purchased at various gift shops in Road Town.

Ponche de Crème/Creme Punch

Throughout the Caribbean, numerous names exist for eggnog-style punches that are popular at Christmas time. They all include eggs, milk and copious amounts of rum. Milk or cream punch is especially well-liked down island in places such as Trinidad and Grenada. There are plenty of Virgin Islands residents from elsewhere in the Caribbean, which helps explain the presence of this punch in the VI. For a quick version, look for Ponche Kuba liqueur, or purchase commercially produced eggnog, add your preferred local rum and garnish with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg.

Sorrel Tea

If you’re seeking a healthier beverage option than guavaberry liqueur or ponche de crème, sorrel tea is an ideal holiday beverage—assuming you don’t add rum, as many people do. Sorrel is the Caribbean name for a tea made from the outer leaves (technically called calyces) of the hibiscus flower. The tea contains antioxidants, minerals and even vitamin C. Its brilliant red colour and crisp, sweet-tart taste make sorrel tea a Christmastime favourite, although Virgin Islanders enjoy this tea so much that they drink it year-round.

Whatever your local drink of choice this holiday season, pour a round and toast to your good fortune. After all, you’re spending your holiday in the Virgin Islands!

Recipe – Sorrel Tea
Fresh sorrel is available in BVI supermarkets during the holiday season. Dried sorrel is an excellent substitute when fresh sorrel is unavailable.

8 cups water
½ c dried sorrel petals (about 1 ½ oz)
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
10 whole cloves
¾ C demerara (brown) sugar


Place water in a large pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Add sorrel, ginger and cloves. Boil for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ¾ cup sugar. Cover pot and let sit overnight. Strain the solids and place the tea in a clean container. Refrigerate before serving. Makes six servings.

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