Tropical Beer

While most of you poor sods were busy clothing and sheltering yourselves during the month of February, I was deciding how best to hydrate myself on a sailboat off the coast of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.

The St. Lucia flag is blue (for the sky and sea) with nested, variably-sized triangles of yellow, black and white. The yellow is the sun and the black and white are for the people.

The black and white also seem to reflect the available beer. The beer here is white or black – that is, lager or stout.

The lagers are European style lagers and good refreshers in the tropics. But, for me, it is the stouts that hold the intrigue. Many of them are amped-up stouts, brewed way stronger than their continental counterparts.

According to my “extensive” research (i.e., wading through my burgeoning pile of beer magazines), foreign extra stouts were first brewed for export by St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin (the Guinness brewery) in 1801 as higher alcohol versions of Irish dry stouts.

These beefier versions of the regular Guinness stout were built to withstand the long boat ride to the tropical colonies.

Beer languishes if stored in the heat and is affected by ultraviolet rays from the sun. (It has to battle the elements like everyone else.) Store a beer warm and the beer reacts. It oxidizes more quickly and will turn your taster into a maw of wet cardboard.

Our host, Steve, at the Boiled Frog Hotel in St. Lucia, was puzzled as to why he liked Piton lager in a bottle better than the canned version. (The Pitons are two dormant volcanoes in St. Lucia).

I couldn’t immediately answer his question, but after doing a side-by-side with the canned and bottled versions, I realized the bottle version suffered from being light-struck.

When ultraviolet light reacts with the hop components in beer, it makes the beer smell skunky. You know, that slightly pungent, musky flavour you often get in bottled Pilsner Urquell.

The bottle version of Piton was adulterated and that was what Steve preferred. It actually had more flavour than the can… so, if you’re into the whole rodent off-gassing thing, you know what to do.

When our boat reached St. Vincent and the Grenadines we were drinking Hiroun, or heroin, as we were first mispronouncing it (until corrected by our waitress with a smirk – dumbass foreigners).

It won some international award in the early 1990s and has been coasting ever since. It’s a watered-down version of any other Caribbean lager, as far as I’m concerned.

If you are in the neighbourhood, go for the Carib or the Piton instead. Unless of course, you’re lost, then you might want to pick up a Hiroun.

It’s a little rough, but it just may be possible, using the crude map on the Hiroun bottle, to navigate the waterways around St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Luckily, our captain (Rod) is a rational person and wasn’t convinced of this.

As I said, the lagers in the Caribbean are good for cooling off, but it is the stouts that make an impression.

The Guinness you normally find in Canada is the pub draught – 4.2% abv (alcohol by volume). The Guinness in the Caribbean is the foreign extra stout. It clocks in at 7.5%abv and is brewed in the Caribbean under contract by Guinness.

This beer is worth seeking – full-bodied with licorice and a dry dusty roast in the aroma. There is a slight sour twang and a dry finish with very little sweetness.

The late Michael Jackson called the beer quenching because of the tangy presence of lactic acid. (In case you’re wondering, I speak of the portly, hairy white guy from Britain who was, until recently, one of the greatest authorities on global beer styles, not the solitary talent in the Jackson Five).

The Guinness was quite tasty, but the most surprising stout of my travels was the Mackeson Triple Stout. This puppy whimpers in at 4.9% abv, but packs a wallop.

It is a milk stout, which means the brewer adds lactose (the sugar naturally occurring in milk) for residual sweetness. It is a British beer contract-brewed in Saint Kitts and smells divine, like toasty toffee.

This stout bursts with sweet molasses, but has subtle acidity and a slight bitter finish from the dark malts. It is heavenly as a dessert.

So, if your palate allows, when in the Caribbean, forgo the rum punch for a spell and try one of the high-test stouts on offer. They are a rarity you will seldom see in Canada.

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