All In The Family
the heritage of barritt's ginger beer
To make the perfect Dark ‘n’ Stormy, you have to go back almost one hundred fifty years. W.J. Barritt left England for Bermuda, and his voyage led to the beginning of a legacy company that’s lasted five generations and a drink that’s grown from a local staple into an international favorite.
Barritt’s Ginger Beer is a household name across the South. The recent rise of the Moscow Mule means Barritt’s is on every well-stocked bar cart. Sticky, summer afternoons call for Barritt’s straight from the bottle. The spicy-sweet soft drink is refreshing no matter how you choose to sip it, but it wasn’t always the star of the Barritt family business.
“My great-great-grandfather W.J. started the company in 1874,” said Bruce Barritt, who currently runs Barritt’s with his brother Fred. “It was originally a dry goods store with a soft drink filling machine in the back room.” Ginger beer was a popular drink for British military at the time, and Bermuda was a Mid-Atlantic garrison, so W.J. kept ginger beer in stock. When W.J. died later that year, his son John took over the business at age 19. John recognized the popularity of the soda room and decided to make that the focus of the family business.
Five generations later, their beverage business is booming—and still in the family. “I was sorting empty bottles from the age of twelve,” said Bruce. “While I was able to explore other career interests, like being a radio announcer and a dance club DJ, this was likely always the path I was going to take.”
Barritt’s Bermuda location means that Bruce is never far from beautiful scenery, fresh air, and the beach, but it hasn’t been all sunshine for the company. Being anchored in the middle of the Atlantic ocean has created some challenges for Barritt’s. “We’ve always had to keep extra stock of raw materials and spare parts on hand,” said Bruce. “And until the mid-1970s, the only way we could source water was by collecting rainfall.”
Barritt’s also survived sugar rationing through two World Wars, as well as a war on sugar. “In the 1980s, we developed a diet version of Barritt’s Ginger Beer because of the increased interest in counting calories,” said Bruce. It’s a difficult task for any soft drink company to find a no-calorie sweetener with a long shelf life without compromising flavor, but Barritt’s succeeded. “The recipe has been such a success in the USA that we’ve switched to that formulation for the Bermuda market.”
An aging local population led Barritt’s to add juices, teas, and bottled waters to their portfolio. “A significant percentage of Bermuda’s population is over the age of sixty, and naturally this has had an effect on the beverage industry,” said Bruce. “Because of this, the Bermudian economy is fragile, so our domestic business is very challenging. The international business, on the other hand, has been continuing to grow.” The American South has been a large part of that growth. “In 2008, we signed a distribution agreement with North American Beverage Co. to handle the increasing demand in the United States,” said Bruce. “Their energetic effort—as well as the inherent good taste of Southern consumers—has allowed our company to flourish there.”
Barritt’s success is also largely due to the care and attention their family has put into this business for generations. “We’re very proud of our reputation in Bermuda and around the world,” said Bruce. “We recognize that we have a responsibility to protect that reputation, and we work closely with our suppliers and distributors to achieve this.”
Bruce said he may never retire—he loves his work, especially talking to other business owners about their operations—but he may scale back his involvement. That would give him more free time for his hobbies, such as reading, attending the theatre, and traveling with his wife, Diane, and their children, Vaughan, Candace, and Brendan.
As for whether Barritt’s Ginger Beer will remain a legacy company, Bruce said, “I’ve told my children to find out what makes them happy and to pursue that. As long as they’re happy, productive, and honest, then I will be satisfied,” because for the Barritts, it’s always family first.
Words By Ashley Locke
Photos provided by Barritt Ginger Beer