Nick Carr on March 13, 2017 0 Comments History of Tropical Stouts Tropical stout is a style born, and still largely nurtured, in the West Indies — most notably the Caribbean — and Africa. It is another recent addition to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines. Before the 2015 revisions, it was considered a subcategory of the Foreign Extra Stout (FES) style. This change, bringing Tropical out from FES’s shadow and recognizing it as its own style, will hopefully help it become more familiar across the craft beer world. Its history starts with a beer that was heavily exported from Britain to the English colonies in the Indies. Now, I know what you’re thinking; “he must be talking about India Pale Ale.” I’m not. Porter was, not only, exported to wider markets than IPA, but according to Ron Pattinson in his book The Home Brewer’s Guide To Vintage Beer, more Porter was shipped to India then IPA. In Amber, Gold, & Black, Martyn Cornell states “Porter was popular in the newly independent American former colonies, in Ireland, where several big brewers had become porter specialists, and in the lands around the Baltic, while casks of porter where being shipped to India in the 1780s…” It seems likely that English porter was making it into the West Indies also, including the Caribbean, despite Terry Foster claiming little evidence of these exports in his book Brewing Porters and Stouts. Whether the English porters were making it to the West Indies may be uncertain, but what is certain is that by 1801 Guinness was brewing their “West Indies Porter” and it was being exported into Barbados, Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean. At this time the term “stout” was still being used strictly as a descriptor for a higher gravity porter. Guinness’s West Indies Porter would have been considered a “stout porter.” It was brewed to a higher gravity and made use of more hops in hopes of better preserving the beer on its journey across the ocean. In the book The Search for God and Guinness, Stephen Mansfield gives a description of West India Porter as combining “seventy-five parts black malt to fifty-five parts pale malt with twenty parts brown malt.” The Evolution from English to Tropical The West Indies Porter was the forerunner of the Foreign Export Stout. The slowly evolving style would reach West Africa by 1827 and South Africa by the 1860s. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to many a beer drinker, porters and stouts can be very refreshing in hot climates. The porter style and its offspring stout found fertile ground, and local brewers, first in the Caribbean and later in Africa, started to make their own versions of the styles. These adaptations often included some indigenous grain source because barely was hard to come by. In Nigeria, sorghum, maize, and wheat are used to replace all or some part of the barley grain bill. Being in parts of the world known for sugar production, local adjunct sugars where frequently used to bolster gravity or give added complexity to the beer. Also, hop usage dropped slightly from the imported counterpart because they no longer had to make the long ocean journey. These changes were the first musings that would ultimately bring about the Tropical stout style. What Makes A Tropical Stout Different From A Foreign Extra Stout? A tropical stout makes use of indigenous grain and adjunct sugars where possible and, because most of these “hot clime” breweries are heavily committed to lager brewing, this style often uses lager yeast, instead of the usual ale yeast. Tropical is usually fuller-bodied, sweeter, fruitier, less bitter, and has a smoother roast character. It may be easiest to describe as a higher gravity sweet stout without any lactose undertones and more fruit esters. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Tropical Stout style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Tropical Stout should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 30-40 SRM Original Gravity: 1.056-1.075 OG Final Gravity: 1.010-1.018 FG IBU Range: 30-50 ABV Range: 5.5-8.0% Appearance: Dark brown or black with pillowy tan foam head and good retention Aroma: Medium sweetness with notes of roasted chocolate or coffee. Little hoppy aromas with medium to high fruitiness. Subtle notes of alcohol. Minimal diactyl. Flavor: Medium to high maltiness with a balance of roasty sweetness. Notes of chocolate or coffee possible. Medium to high esters possible. Low diacetyl or hoppiness. Sweet finish. Mouthfeel: Smooth and creamy with full body. Medium to high carbonation. Slight alcohol warmth is likely. Serving & Storage Temperature: 50-55°F Shelf Life: 9+ Months Suggested Glass: Tulip, Mug or Nonic Pint Glass Food Pairings: Rich meats, scallops, oysters, spicy foods, smooth and creamy cheeses, chocolate desserts, strawberry tart. The BJCP classifies the Tropical Stout beer style under category number 16, “Dark British Beer” and it can be found in the guidelines as sub-category (16C). Other beer styles under this category include: Sweet Stout (16A), Oatmeal Stout (16B), and Foreign Extra Stout (16D). Appearance: Should be of a deep brown to black color with good clarity if the beer is not opaque. Should have good head retention, as with any stout, and the head will be large and pillowy, of a tan to lighter brown color. Aroma: A sweet aroma will probably be the first thing noticed and should range from medium to high intensity. Roasted notes with possible coffee or chocolate whispers will be moderate to high. There will be little hop aroma present, if at all. Medium to high fruity aroma along with possible notes of molasses, dried fruit, and/or licorice. Some vinous aromatics are likely with stronger versions exuding stronger yet subtle notes of alcohol. Diacetyl should be low to none. Mouthfeel: Brings a smooth and creamy moderately-full to full body, pushed by medium to somewhat high carbonation. Often has a slight warming character due to alcohol presence, but this should never come across as hot. Taste: Smooth roasted and dark grain flavors range from medium to high and intermingle with noticeable sweetness. The roasted malt character can present in the medium to high range, though balanced by the sweetness, and often carries undertones of silky chocolate or coffee. Fruity esters are medium to high and can give the beer a dark rum-like character. Hop flavor is low, if present at all. Finish is on the sweet side. Diacetyl can be moderately low to none. Food Pairings: Tropical stouts can pair with much of the same foods as sweet stouts. Think rich meats such as venison, lamb, and beef; cooked with some sort of savory, maybe fruity, sauce. Seared scallops or steamed oysters are a couple other great accompaniments. Spicy Indian, Asian and Mexican food will also pair nicely, allowing the sweetness of the beer to compliment and cut the spiciness of the food. Curries that make use of coconut are also right at home with this style. For the cheese tray, consider smooth and creamy cheeses, such as blue, Dubliner cheddar, Camembert, or Brei. Because Tropical stout is basically a suped-up sweet stout, having more of an alcohol presence it works really well with more intense chocolate desserts. Try a molten chocolate cake or something fruity like a strawberry tart. Serving & Storage: For best presentation and greatest appreciation a Tropical Stout should be served at 50-55°F in a tulip, mug, or pint glass. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light and can age for 9 months or more. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples of the Style The Tropical stout style is still part of the Export Category in most competitions, so without actually trying the beer it is hard to say which are examples of the Tropical style and which are FES examples. For this reason I am not including any recent award winners. Though I would encourage you to seek out the winners in this category and see if you can figure out which may fall into the Tropical style. Tradewind from Local Brewing Company (San Francisco, CA) Jamaica Stout from Big City Brewing Company LTD (Kingston, Jamaica) Lion Stout from Ceylon/Lion Brewing Company (Biyagama, Sri Lanka) Dragon Stout from Desnoes & Geddes Limited (Kingston, Jamaica) Tropical Stout from Schell’s Brewing Company (New Ulm, MN) Belikin Stout from Belize Brewing Company, Ltd. (Belize City, Belize) Death Blow from Braxton Brewing Company (Covington, KY) Royal Extra Stout from Carib Brewing Limited (Trinidad & Tobago) ABC Stout from Asia Pacific Breweries Limited (Singapore) How to Brew a Tropical Stout Recipe If you’d like to try your hand at brewing a tropical stout recipe at home, we would recommend reading over the tips below. Grain Bill: Like the Sweet Stout, this is a traditionally English style, and is best brewed with British pale malt. The British pale malt is kilned to a slightly higher degree than domestic two row giving the malt a slightly more biscuity flavor to the background of the beer. Maris Otter is a good choice if you want that hardier British character. This should make up somewhere in the realm of 70% to 80% of your grain bill. If all you can get-a-hold of is domestic two row, it might be a good idea to cut back on it by about 5 to 7 percent and add a specialty malt like Belgian Biscuit malt, Victory, or Toasted malt to simulate that same depth of character. Remember the tropical stout has a smooth roastiness (not bitter, biting, or burnt) to it with possible notes of coffee and chocolate, along with higher fruitiness. Pick your darker grains to build a recipe that can deliver on these traits. Some unmalted roasted barley should always be used. It is, after all, a signature of stouts, but keep it under 5 percent or less. It provides some coffee aroma, good color, and some added sweetness. Using Debittered Malts Debittered malts have their husks removed before kilning, creating a smoother less astringent malt. Weyermann malting company makes three debittered malts: Carafa® Special I (300-375°L), II (430°L), and III (490-525°L). Using a little debittered malt will enhance, and add overall complexity and color to a Tropical stout. It is possible to still use the traditional equivalents of these, black patent, chocolate, pale chocolate, etc.; just be sure to keep their additions minimal (2 to 3 percent only) and realize it may be trickier to get that smoothness when not using debittered malt. Whatever your decision, keep the total to about 10 percent. Using Crystal Malts Crystal malts are another important addition to any Tropical Stout. Use the medium to higher color range crystal malts. Even the extra dark may have a place here, but forgo anything below about a 40°L. Crystal malt at 40°L to 60°L will give you some caramel notes and residual sweetness. 70°L to 90°L impart a lightly bitter-sweet character and dark fruitiness in the vein of figs and raisins. The Extra dark Crystal malts (100°L and above) bring burnt sugar and further dark fruit character, but start to show astringency as well. A good way to do this is mix your medium and dark crystal 50/50, and max out the entire Crystal additions at 10 to 12 percent. Local adjunct sugars, indigenous to the brewery’s local area, often replace a portion of the darker grains in this style. These sugars can bring added flavor complexity and boost gravity. Though, of course, using an adjunct sugar is not mandatory to the Tropical Stout style. Using simple corn sugar is possible, but you can add a little more complexity to your stout by going with an unrefined sugar, such as unrefined cane sugar, Turinado, or Dememera, molasses, date sugar, or Jaggery. Honey, especially darker varieties, may also be fun to experiment with. Keep this addition below 5% percent ideally, though more could be added if you are having trouble hitting your target gravity. Remember, don’t go nuts when creating a recipe. In most cases, simplicity is better than going overly complex. Keep your Crystal additions to no more than two kinds, your roasted malts to two, maybe three. Extract Brewing If you are an extract brewer, you’re in luck. It isn’t difficult to find high quality British malt extract — Mutons even produces a Maris Otter extract. For the signature complexity and sweetness, you’ll want to add specialty grains and crystal malt from the lists above. These you’ll have to steep. Steeping is a very simple and straight forward procedure, which consists of putting your specialty grains in a mesh bag and letting them sit in 3 to 4 quarts of water per pound of grain, at around 170°F for about 30 minutes. For more details, please read our article about steeping and mini-mashing. Hops: Hops are added to a tropical stout for bittering purposes only. They should contribute minimally, if at all, to flavor, and nothing to the aroma. To this end, a single bittering addition is plenty. Shoot for a bitterness to original gravity ratio (IBUs/OG) of 0.5 to 0.7. Keep in mind that using lower alpha-acid hops for your bittering can contribute to hints of hop flavor. Look for an English variety if you want to continue with traditional ingredients, but really any lower alpha-acid hop that’s not overly distinctive can do the trick here. East Kent Goldings or Fuggle are common choices. Alternative choices with higher alpha-acid content might include Target, Galena, and Nugget. Another good thing to keep in mind is the lower your bitterness, the higher the perceived sweetness, and the tropical stout beer style does have some sweetness to it. The Mash: Just like the Sweet Stout, a simple infusion mash is all you need for the Tropical Stout. Look for a saccharification temperature around 152°F and hold it there for 60 minutes or until starch conversion is complete. Then raise the temperature to 168°F for mash out. Sparge with 170°F water, collecting your pre-boil volume. Boil: The boil can be anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. The 90 minute boil may be necessary to both reduce the volume collected from the sparge and concentrate the wort to your desired starting gravity. A longer boil can also contribute flavor complexity. Be sure to only start timing when you have that nice rolling boil going and don’t lid your brew pot. Add the hop addition at the 60 minute mark. If you are adding a sugar adjunct and doing it for flavor, not just to pop your gravity a little higher, you may want to consider adding them with your first runnings, and boil for 5 to 10 minutes to get some good melanoidin formation before continuing the runoff. On the other hand, if you are using something like honey or maple syrup, adding it very close to the end of the boil — or even into the fermenter — will leave more of the delicate flavors intact. Yeast: Here, we find one of the main differences between Tropical Stout and Foreign Extra Stout; lager yeast. Almost all modern renditions of this style, especially those brewed in the Caribbean, use lager yeast fermented at a warmer temperature. But, this doesn’t mean that ale yeast is off the table. One of the main reasons many Caribbean brewers use lager yeast is because they brew mostly lagers. I would argue a perfectly good tropical stout can be had with ale yeast, though the lager yeast and lagering time can contribute to the beers smoothness. If you’re going to use a lager yeast, you’ll want to look for one that can perform cleanly above normal lager fermentation temperatures. You also want to find one able to contribute to the fruity notes common to the style. Try to steer clear of any strain that produce a lot of sulfur or diacetyl during fermentation. If you do use a high sulfur producing strain, just remember sulfur will decrease with aging. Lager Yeasts to Consider Some lager strains to explore include: White Labs: German Lager (WLP830), San Francisco Lager (WLP810), or Cry Havoc (WLP862) Wyeast: Bohemian Lager (2124) or Kolsch II (2575) Dry Yeast: Fermentis Saflager (S-23) Ale Yeasts to Consider If you decide to go with an ale yeast, look for a strain that attenuates in the upper 60s to low 70s. Some that are often used include: White Labs: Irish Ale (WLP004) or London Ale (WLP013) Wyeast: Scottish Ale (1728) or Irish Ale (1084) Dry Yeast: Danstar Nottingham Fermentation to Finish: Fermentation temperatures are going to depend on the type of yeast you’ve decided to go with, but generally you’d want a warm 60 to 69°F with a lager yeast and about 68 to 72°F with an ale yeast. Remember to check your yeast’s particular temperature range though. In most cases, you’ll be at the upper limit or just beyond with a lager yeast and about standard with the ale yeast. Ferment to completion, give it a diacetyl rest of an extra couple days, then bottle or rack it. If you’ve used a lager yeast, rack it and let it sit at 32°F for at least 3 weeks. Bottle or keg as you would any other beer. Shoot for a carbonation of 2.5 volumes and enjoy your labor! Cheers!