Eyes closed, you lie in the sun listening to the waves lapping at the beach. Warm sand cradles you in form-fitting softness. The air is steamy, but a gentle breeze makes it bearable. The quiet buzz of other beachcombers lulls you into a hazy half sleep. Then, a voice startles you back to wakefulness. “Holy buckets! The pop came open inside the bag!” There’s nothing quite like a summer day at the lake.
The only thing missing here is beer. What do you reach for on a muggy, Minnesota afternoon? A light, refreshing witbier? A crisp American lager? How about a rich, 8% ABV foreign extra stout? This robust, black brew might not be the first thing that comes to mind on a hot day, but the style has been a beer of choice in tropical places like Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Jamaica since the British Empire’s 19th-century glory days there.
India Pale Ale wasn’t the only beer that brewers were exporting to the colonies back then. Advertisements of the day indicate that porter was also in demand, both on the subcontinent and beyond. An excellent example is Guinness Foreign Extra Stout—variously called Foreign Extra Stout, Foreign Export Double Stout, and West Indies Porter at different points in time—a more heavily hopped and matured version of their Extra Stout. The Dublin brewery began producing it at the historic St. James’s Gate brewery in 1801. It was exported to countries around the world, including the United States, and its popularity in the more tropical colonies led Guinness to build breweries or license production in countries like Nigeria, the Bahamas, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, and Indonesia.
But what accounts for the popularity of a heavy stout in sweltering climes? It’s hard to say. The rich, malty sweetness pairs well with the spicy cuisines of those regions, enveloping and smoothing the heat, while the roast and rummy fruit notes contrast and complement the flavors of the food. And roasted malt gives an impression of dryness in the finish, adding an element of refreshment to the beer. Or maybe it’s just that the high alcohol content enhances the already sleepy state brought on by the heat.
The 2008 Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines identify two different types of foreign extra stout: tropical and export. Both versions are dark brown to black in color and have a full, tan head. They are full bodied with a smooth, creamy texture and a bit of alcohol warming. Aromas show the chocolate, coffee, or lightly burnt character of roasted grain, with some versions displaying molasses, licorice, dried fruit, and/or vinous aromatics.
Flavor is where the two versions part ways. Export stouts can be considered scaled-up versions of Irish dry stouts, whereas tropical versions are more like strong, sweet stouts. Export versions are moderately dry with assertive roasted-malt flavor and moderately high bitterness. Tropical versions tend to be sweeter with a smoother dark-grain flavor, dark fruity notes, and a rum-like quality. In both cases, the roasted malt character may taste of coffee, chocolate, or lightly burnt grain; hop flavor remains low.
Foreign extra stout is great with ribs, dry-rubbed or sauced, as well as spicy Sichuan food. Try pairing tropical versions with a tangy blue cheese; the rummy/fruity notes add an element of figgy goodness to the combination. Both versions play well with aged ham.
Good local examples are few and far between, but there are a few to be found: Lion Stout, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Summit Union Series Rebellion Stout (out of production), Steel Toe Dissent Dark Ale, Freehouse Bridgetown Stout, Ballast Point Indra Kunindra.
Also be sure to check the tap list at Bent Brewstillery where brewer Kristen England is known to whip up historic Extra Stout recipes on occasion.