When we 21st century beer folks think of summertime seasonals, we most likely envision something yellow and light-ish—Berliner weisse, pils, a wheat beer. But 19th century English brewers exporting their ales to the small latitudes didn’t necessarily think the same way.
We’ve explored historical IPA in this column before, but the brewers supplying the far-flung British Empire also shipped an awful lot of porter and stout to tropical colonies—in the middle of the 19th century, porter accounted for almost twice as much of the East India beer trade as pale ale. Beer historian Ron Pattinson attributes this at least in part to class—the more expensive pale beer would have been for the officers, while porter was for the ordinary soldiers.
Even after independence from the UK, these beers remained part of the fabric of the local culture. In the footsteps of the strong black ales still brewed in Africa, India, and the Caribbean, let’s make room in our buckets for Ras Neckbeard.
Going by the numbers
The original gravity for tropical stouts can range from 1.056 on up to 1.075 and ABV from 5.5% to 8%, with the most familiar examples usually on the upper end of those spectrums. Color is inky black, at 30–40 SRM, as you’d expect for a big stout. IBUs run from 30–50, typically with sole emphasis on the bittering addition.
What makes it tick
Tropical stout isn’t a slight affair—with ABV that can push 9% and commensurate body and mass in the glass, it can fall into the same weight class as stronger foreign stouts or even some imperial stouts. It diverges from both in its more laid-back use of hops (bittering only, no late hop flavor or aroma to speak of), rounder and softer roast quality (cocoa rather than coffee), and higher overall sweetness.
But maybe most importantly, it’s an interpretation of a foreign beer using a mixture of imported and local ingredients: Nigerian Guinness is brewed with a portion of sorghum, and Jamaica’s Dragon Stout incorporates dark brown sugar.
A recipe to try
Ras Neckbeard Tropical Stout
Target OG: 1.073–1.075, Target IBU: 38–40
- 10 pounds MCI Irish Stout Malt
- 1 pound black patent malt
- 12 ounces Simpsons Double Roasted Crystal
- 1 ounce Pacific Gem, Galena, or similar high-alpha variety
- Wyeast 2112 California Lager
- 1 pound muscovado, panela or piloncillo sugar
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