Wine, Beer, & Spirits: What Expats and Visitors will Find in The Cayman Islands

by Anne Evans

Alcohol in California

I grew up in California and spent most of my adult life there. I started drinking wine in my 40s when Rick and I began to visit wineries. In those days, Napa was an affordable place to visit, and most tastings were complimentary or at a nominal fee. In general, wine was plentiful in variety, and it was perfectly acceptable to bring your own bottle to a restaurant to have it served for a corkage fee. When we departed California in 2017 for our next home in St. George, Utah, corkage fees in CA were generally $20/bottle.

But Then We Moved to Utah . . .

Utah’s liquor regulations are considerably stricter than in California. Mormon culture creates a bit of a stigma around alcohol consumption. Wine and hard liquor can only be sold in state-run liquor stores, although low-alcohol beer can be sold in grocery stores. There was not the variety we experienced in California, however for what was available, the pricing was comparable.

Wine and liquor cannot be imported across Utah state boundaries, so we couldn’t order wine from a winery in California and have it shipped to us. Instead, we had our wine orders shipped to Mesquite, Nevada, and then we drove a little over an hour from our home in Southern Utah to pick it up and drive it back home . . . being very careful to not get pulled over!

Interestingly, it’s perfectly acceptable in Utah to bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant and have it served for a corkage fee. When we departed Utah in 2021, corkage fees were generally $10-15/bottle.

Not surprisingly, laws governing alcohol vary considerably state to state throughout the US.

Alcohol in The Cayman Islands

In The Cayman Islands, the legal drinking age is 18 years. The legal driving blood-alcohol limit is 0.07% (70mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood).

Liquors stores are licensed – however not owned – by the government. Supermarkets are not licensed to sell alcohol. And restricted trading laws on Sundays are a way of life in The Cayman Islands, attributable to observation of the Sunday Sabath. So most stores are closed.

However, since 2018, liquor stores, convenience shops and gas stations – if licensed appropriately – have been able to sell alcohol on Sunday between 1 pm and 7 pm.  Liquor Licensing Law (gov.ky) ; New Sunday booze rules confirmed : Cayman News Service.

Liquor Stores on the Cayman Islands

There are 3 major Liquor Store “Chains” on The Cayman Islands:

Blackbeard’s https://www.blackbeards.ky

Jacques Scott Jacques Scott Online

Tortuga https://tortuga.ky

The majority of their stores are on Grand Cayman, however there are 2 on Cayman Brac (Blackbeard’s and Jacques Scott) and 1 on Little Cayman (Jacques Scott) with the latter temporarily closed at the time of this writing.

Additionally, there are a number of smaller shops with offerings and pricings ranging from discount to higher end and far more sophisticated tasting rooms.

The Price of Enjoyment

There is no “if, and, or but” about it. Alcohol is expensive on these Islands – whether you purchase it at a liquor store for home consumption, at a bar or in a restaurant to accompany a meal. No “Two Buck Chuck” or “Andres Brut” to be found here! I will limit the following discussion to wine (because that’s just my favorite).

It should be no surprise that wine on these Islands is substantially more expensive than in my native state of California. Wine grapes are not cultivated in The Caymans nor is wine produced here. Like many foods and beverages, it is all imported.

As example of a relatively inexpensive wine available in The Islands that most Americans have familiarity is Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio. Total Wine in the US currently prices a 750ml bottle at US$4.97 + 7.25% CA Sales Tax = US$5.33/bottle. Blackbeard’s on Grand Cayman currently prices a 750ml bottle at KY$9.99; there is no added Sales Tax. However, at the customary exchange rate of US$1.00 = KY$0.80, that bottle will cost you the equivalent of US$12.50.

Should you prefer “Sparklers,” as I do, Champagne is indeed a treat – however, one I have not felt willing to splurge on since I left the States. Here in the Islands, those that desire something with bubbles generally turn to Champagne’s cheaper cousin, Prosecco. Even the most affordable Prosecco (Fantinel Prosecco Extra Dry) typically retails for K$Y24.99 or about US$31.24 per 750ml bottle.

When dining out, it is not unusual for Rick and I to each enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. For me, that generally means a glass of dry Rose. A standard pour of wine at a restaurant on Grand Cayman is 5 oz; 6 oz is standard in the US. A glass of moderately priced Rose is generally KY$8-10. If we assume KY$9 (reminder; no Sales Tax) and then the automatically added average gratuity of 18%, the glass will cost KY$10.62 = US$13.28.

Visitors over the age of 18 are permitted to bring up to 4 bottles of wine – duty free – into the country for personal enjoyment. So why not bring your own wine to a restaurant when dining and just assume a “corkage fee”? Perhaps a question without an answer. Local custom suggests that bringing one’s own bottle to a restaurant is at best uncustomary and at worst a “faux pas” – however it is not illegal (FYI: It is illegal to do so in Colorado).

Thus far, I have dined at only 1 restaurant where I saw a corkage fee specified on a menu. I suspect that if you were to bring a wine to present for corking, that you would be accommodated. However, you might find yourself paying considerably more to have your wine served to you than you actually paid for the wine. Probably wise to ask first . . . The good news about wining and dining, if you do purchase a bottle of wine at a restaurant, it is customary to leave with whatever you have failed to consume.

Don’t get me wrong, Caymanians are not a community of “Teetotalers”! This is an Island that loves to celebrate and uses nearly any excuse to do so. There are a multitude of events dedicated to wine and food, ranging from wine dinners to world renown culinary events (e.g., The Cayman Cookout https://www.caymancookout.com ). Indeed, wine, beer, and spirits are readily available in the Cayman Islands – just be prepared to pay for your pleasure.

If ai cannot solve a problem by baking a cookie, I cannot deal with it

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