Rum is often seen as the libation of choice in the Caribbean; whether aged in oak casks and sipped neat, or one of the many styles of white rum designed to be mixed into a cocktail.
Beyond rum, the region also happens to be a hidden paradise for craft beer lovers if they enjoy quality stouts. Across the many islands, breweries are increasingly making interesting stout; infusing them with single origin cocoa, brewing them with aromatic tree barks, and ageing them in rum barrels. This is noteworthy, but not necessarily unique since craft breweries all across America make signature stouts with special ingredients. More significant are the mass market stouts sold at rum shops all across the region. Not only are they affordable and easy to find, they are also high quality, historically significant products that deserve far more praise than they currently receive.
This phenomenon can be seen in the Trinidad stout trinity. Three mass market, locally brewed beers that offer value for money and some insight into local drinking culture.
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
The story of Guinness in the Caribbean officially started in 1801 with a recipe for Guinness West Indian Porter. This precursor to Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was essentially a modification of the company’s iconic black beer designed for the Caribbean market. It was higher in alcohol and more heavily hopped so that it could survive the long voyage across the Atlantic and the heat and humidity of the tropical region where it would be enjoyed. Guinness made this product by blending a freshly brewed stout with a small portion of similar beer that had been aged extensively and allowed to become sour. This sour component was aged in large wooden vats where it acquired oak tannins and fermented even further leading to a lactic tang.
Over two hundred years later, the same principle of blending two beers is still used although the components have changed. In the modern Caribbean, local breweries make a light beer from a variety of grains including wheat, cassava, rice, and corn. This is mixed with a small amount of liquid brewed at the site of the original Guinness brewery in Dublin. This concentrated beer from Ireland contains the intense aroma of roasted barley and fresh hops that gives Guinness Foreign Extra Stout the signature character. Currently, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is an important element of Caribbean culinary culture. It’s the subject of songs, the secret ingredients of stews, and a popular ice cream flavor. It also sets the standard for locally brewed stouts like Dragon Stout or Royal Extra Stout.
Royal Extra Stout
From the earliest days of stout’s popularity in the Caribbean, regional entrepreneurs made their own local versions of the style. In nineteenth century Jamaica, brewers made ginger beer, kola wine, and a stout that acquired its dark colour from molasses. Many Jamaican merchants once sold stout, but today only one brand remains; Dragon Stout brewed by Desnoes and Geddes. In Trinidad, the trend was similar. An Irish merchant known as Richard Walter set up a brewery in the south of the island where he made brands like Walter’s Special Lager, Queen’s Lager, and Royal Extra Stout. The brewery was eventually acquired by a larger brewing company who would continue the production of Royal Extra Stout into the modern era.
Made since 1908, Royal Extra Stout is now the oldest continually brewed beer in the West Indies. When considering how unpopular stout is in Latin America, as well as how prohibition in the United States ended almost all beer production in that country; it is possibly also the oldest continually brewed stout in all of the Americas.
Mackeson Milk Stout
While Guinness is now famous for exporting porter to the Caribbean, they were not the first company to do so. London porter, and eventually stout was being shipped to the region from as early as 1755 which was a few years before Guinness was even founded. In Trinidad, this included Revolver Stout, a brand imported by a company that exported cocoa, coconuts, and sugarcane products. This company; established by London-born business man Randolph Rust was also responsible for importing Red Rose Tea into the colony. Beyond the import and export business, Rust was also responsible for the early development of the local oil industry.
Perhaps more popular than Revolver was Mackeson Milk Stout, a brand first brewed in Hythe, Kent in the year 1907. Milk Stout and Oatmeal Stout either arose as a way of boosting the perceived nutritional value of stout, or as a method of maintaining the creamy consistency of London porter that was lost through barrel ageing. Early labels for Mackeson Stout boasting “the energizing carbohydrates of ten ounces of pure dairy milk” suggest the former. Milk Stout was made by simply adding milk sugar to the grain and water that would be fermented to become beer. Unlike sucrose and fructose, lactose cannot be fermented by brewer’s yeast allowing the final beer to have a sweet finish. Mackeson Stout experienced growth when the brand was acquired in 1929 by Whitbread, a company that owned several breweries and pubs in England. By 1960, almost half a million barrels of Mackeson Stout were being brewed, but the beer has been in steady decline since then.
While no longer well-known in the country where it originated, Mackeson Triple Stout is still produced in Trinidad & Tobago. While not the most popular beer in the country, it’s trendy enough that a limited edition version brewed with Trinitario cocoa was recently produced.
These three beers are nowhere near as complex in character as a barrel-aged Imperial stout, but they are just as special in their own way for their contributions to global beer history and Caribbean culture. Additionally, the cost of drinking all three at a bar is often similar in price to a single stout at the typical American craft brewery, offering significant value for money.
Most importantly, they taste great.
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout leads with notes of espresso, and while coffee remains dominant on the profile a well integrated bitterness begins to emerge as the beer warms. Royal Extra Stout is sweet and fruity with early notes of caramel and coffee and a finish almost like an aged port wine. Mackeson Stout is sweeter and smoother than both, reminiscent of cold brew coffee or hot chocolate.