Stout Punch is a popular beverage in the West Indies where it is ordered at bars, blended at home, or batched as a bottled cocktail and taken to the beach. It is simply accepted as a part of Caribbean mixology and many people are unaware of it’s origin in a Colonial beverage popular in North America known as Flip.
Few libations have experienced a spell of popularity that lasted as long as the flip; a creamy concoction made with dark beer and rum. According to Wayne Curtis, after the first mention of this beverage in the 1690s, “flip’s popularity bordered on a mania and would remain in demand for more than a century.” In addition to the beer and rum, a sweetener was also used in flip. This was typically molasses or sugar, but could also include pumpkin. In England, the ingredients were combined and heated in a saucepan. In North America, where the beverage was far more popular, they were mixed in an earthenware vessel and heated with a fireplace poker or loggerhead placed directly in the liquid. Tavern owners also put their own personal twist on flip. Some would incorporate additional spices into the traditional garnish of grated nutmeg, while others would add cream and eggs. The way that the ingredients were added, and the choice of beer and rum were also major contributors to the final flavor of a particular flip.
In the North American colonies, flip was enjoyed by many, but accounts suggest that it may have been most adored by seafarers, many of whom were paid some of their wages in rum. For sailors, the spirit provided easy calories at sea, and comfort when enjoyed at dockside taverns. Similarly, the types of beer typically used in flip were closely associated with the British maritime world. A style of dark beer known as porter was named for the dockworkers in London that were among the most ardent drinkers. A stronger successor to porter known as stout was shipped from the British Isles to port cities all across the British Empire.
Sailors may not have necessarily invented flip, but they were instrumental in its spread from England to America’s Eastern Seaboard. Then, as it fell out of fashion in North America, sailors took it to the Caribbean where it was given a new lease on life as stout punch. Stout Punch, often referred to as Guinness Punch is a beverage unique to the English-speaking Caribbean but particularly popular in Jamaica and Trinidad. These are the only islands in the West Indies with breweries that bottle Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and also the only islands with Nestlé factories, so it is possible that the popularity of Stout Punch is linked to the beverage being promoted by those companies.
There is significant crossover between the foodways of the West Indies and America’s East Coast. A glance at the culinary culture of Jamaica and South Carolina shows some of this. In both places, a method of seasoning pork with vinegar and pepper, and then allowing it to slowly cook over wood developed. This is South Carolina Barbeque and Jamaican Jerk, methods that developed from the cultural exchange between Indigenous Americans and the early Spanish. Similarly, the Plantocracy in both of those places would have enjoyed punches made with citrus, sugar, and rum, while common folk would have drank flip instead. The cultural exchanges that defined these culinary traditions occurred over centuries of travel and trade, much of which was not recorded. Despite this, it’s possible to form some conjecture about how flip transformed into Stout Punch.
The inventors of Stout Punch were maritime workers in the West Indies. They were introduced to flip through contact with trading vessels and became fans of the beverage. The required ingredients; rum, sugar, and stout would have been plentiful at any West Indian port. In the warm weather of the region however, there were no fireplace pokers and little demand for a hot beverage after breakfast. An early association with stevedores, ship loaders, and others in physically demanding jobs created the impression that stout punch was a nutritious drink, a status that still stands today.
An important change in the evolution from flip to Stout Punch was the shift away from using eggs and sweetener and instead using a canned milk product; either a nutritional beverage, or sweetened condensed milk. Condensed milk plays a prominent role in Caribbean cuisine. It’s used in desserts like Tres Leches Cake and Key Lime Pie, as well as creamy Christmas beverages like Ponche Crema and Coquito. In all of those examples however, condensed milk is used alongside eggs rather than as a replacement. The use of condensed milk in stout punch is similar to its use in a Bahamian beverage called Sky Juice or Gully Wash. The history of Sky Juice is linked to a nineteenth century libation known as Cocoyage or at least a drink closely related to Cocoyage. In Two Years in the West Indies, Cocoyage was described as a beverage made with Holland Gin, sugar, and an egg; whipped together and then garnished with grated nutmeg. Both Sky Juice and Cocoyage contain the exact same ingredients except for condensed milk in the former as opposed to eggs and sugar in the latter.
Today, recipes for stout punch vary all across the region. Guinness Foreign Extra is the most popular stout in the Caribbean, and the one that most recipes call for. Local brands like Dragon Stout, Royal Extra Stout and Mackeson Stout are also common. There is even a stronger version of Dragon Stout called Dragon Stout Spitfire brewed specifically for Stout Punch. Different types of rum are used, but high proof white rum is considered traditional.
Various species of carrageenan, referred to regionally as sea moss is sometimes used as a thickener. Along with Guinness, sea moss represents the influence of the Irish on Anglo-Atlantic culinary traditions and Caribbean cocktail culture. These types of algae were first used as a thickener during the Irish potato famine, and spread to America as many fled the food shortages in Ireland. Other popular thickening agents might include pumpkins, peanuts, and even a member of the passiflora genus that is similar to passion fruit but creamier.
Caribbean craft breweries are increasingly making interesting stout by ageing them in rum barrels and infusing them with local barks. White rum is also enjoying a renaissance, whether through relatively new releases like Probitas from the Foursquare Rum Distillery and Saint Nicholas Abbey White Rum, or through new appreciation for classics like Wray and Nephew Overproof or Grenada’s River Antoine. This offers an opportunity for a rebirth of Stout Punch, and a chance to reshape perceptions of Caribbean mixology by bringing more focus to the beverages served outside of tourist enclaves.
Stout Punch Recipes
3 ounces Trinitario Stout (or other chocolate stout)
2 ounces Angostura 5 Year Old Rum
.5 ounces condensed milk
Angostura Cocoa Bitters
Dry shake the ingredients being careful not to let the stout froth and spill. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a glass and add 4 dashes of Angostura Cocoa Bitters.
Bronco Stout Punch
In Trinidad, if you ask for a Brown Cow at a rum shop, the bartender would reach for a flask of Forres Park Puncheon, a small pack of a nutritional beverage called Supligen, and a standard bottle of stout. The ingredients would be mixed in a larger rum bottle and you would be given the entire bottle of Brown Cow with several cups and a bucket of ice. Some bartenders also use condensed milk, instant coffee and Angostura Bitters to tweak the taste accordingly. The Bronco Stout Punch is inspired by this tradition.
In a bottle, combine three parts Rum Cream or Ponche Crema, one part of an aged rum, and half part each of chilled Espresso and an Imperial Stout. Shake well and enjoy over ice.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons. Image is actually an Iced Latte, but Stout Punch looks similar.