Her ginger beer follows a tropical tradition

Cuisine People

May 30, 2023

For Georgia Dunn Belk, making ginger beer the way it’s been done for centuries was a cultural imperative. Now, her tropical-inspired alcoholic beverages are sold in hundreds of stores across the Southeast.

by Allison Futterman

During her childhood, Georgia Dunn Belk spent many family holidays and summers in Salt Cay, one of the easternmost islands in Turks and Caicos. She has a strong familial and historical connection to the area — the ancestral home where six generations of her family have lived is still used for family gatherings, and her own father was laid to rest on Salt Cay. (Grace Hutchings — the namesake of the renowned Grace Bay Beach on neighboring Providenciales — was her great aunt.)

 After discovering she was a descendant of Thomas Harriott — British navigator, mathematician and member of Sir Water Raleigh’s expedition team — Georgia felt compelled to find out more of her family history. In her quest, she found that Harriott was believed to be the first British person to ferment beer in North America. He also collected botanicals, including ginger, to bring back to England. 

Left: Historic photo of Harriott’s salt operation on Salt Cay, from the Library of Congress. Right: The 10,000-square-foot family home, known as the White House, was actually a warehouse for storing salt. The Harriott family lived above it and still uses the home for family gatherings. Photograph by Brent Winebrenner

This struck a chord with Georgia, because she knew fermented ginger beer had been the most popular drink in several Caribbean islands since the 1700s. After talking with the island elders, she learned it was a defining part of the culture, so integral that each family had their own recipe. 

Armed with a sense of nostalgia and a desire to preserve island culture — but no experience in the beverage industry — the Morrocroft resident felt drawn to re-create the (alcoholic) ginger beer of the past. With a master’s in public policy, this had not been in her life plans, yet here she was, hand-mixing citrus, spices and other ingredients. Through trial and error, she learned about the fermentation process and crafted small batches of ginger beer. 

She repeated the process countless times, making revisions until the ingredients were transmuted into the refreshing drink she remembered — a flavorful, balanced mix of spicy, sweet and tangy. 

Georgia launched Harriott’s Islander Ginger Beer in 2015, and customer feedback was enthusiastic. But there was a problem: Her distributor explained that, in this industry, one product isn’t enough to be competitive. He told her it was like “trying to hold up a cinder block with a toothpick,” Dunn recalls. “I needed to have more than one product — I needed another toothpick.” 

She took her distributor’s advice and went to work on her next drink. Returning to the fresh fruit she associated with her island experience, she created a hard lemonade, which evolved into what is now Harriott’s Lemon Mimosa. Taste is so important to her, she changed the lemons several times until she found one that had less of the bitter pith. 

Right: Georgia with her nephew, Nolan, the 14th generation of Harriotts, the day before her father’s memorial service on Salt Cay.

More joyful memories led to the third drink in the Harriott’s line: a mango mimosa. “I did this as an homage to my grandmother,” Georgia says. Her grandmother would take her to the port in Salt Cay, where boats selling fresh produce and sugar cane would stop to sell their goods. Her grandmother took a fresh mango and peeled it right there, for Dunn to taste the fruit for the first time. “It was the most amazing flavor,” she recalls. “Sticky and sweet.” She spent months sourcing the highest quality mangos that replicated the same intense flavor from her childhood. Today, she remains heavily involved in sourcing the fruit used in making the beverages.

In 2022, she began thinking about incorporating ingredients that not only taste good but also have health benefits. This inspired her to create an orange turmeric mimosa. (Turmeric is touted for its possible anti-inflammatory properties, along with treating other conditions such as arthritis and anxiety.) 

All of Harriott’s drinks are 5% alcohol, lightly carbonated and gluten-free. They’re made with clean ingredients — real fruit, filtered water, cane sugar and spices. And they’re packaged in cans that are lined to ensure there is no tinny taste.

The beverages are made in Charlotte at Sugar Creek Brewing Company, which also sells the drinks. Three of the varieties — the ginger beer, lemon mimosa, and orange-turmeric mimosa — can also be found at about 250 Harris Teeters, along with Whole Foods, Total Wine, some Food Lion stores and others. And you might even see Georgia herself in one of the stores, pouring and handing out samples. She loves interacting with customers and sharing about her drinks, her special island home and her family.  SP

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