This article was originally published on Chicagoist on July 10, 2015
Drinking bold stouts in July is a bit like running around outside in a swimsuit during the winter (at least in Chicago), but there are many good reasons stouts are actually popular in balmy tropical countries. In Sri Lanka, the small island nation off the Southeast coast of India, the average year-round temperature is 81 degrees F. The island’s largest brewery, Lion Brewery, has three flagship beers: a premium lager, an imperial pilsner and a stout, the latter which accounts for more than 75 percent of its sales on the island, and is the country’s biggest beer export.
So, just how did lush island locales like Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, and Singapore emerge with a native beer style that is suited more for December than May? The British and the Dutch came to these islands in the 19th century for trade, and brought with them on their ships the dark and roasty beer that was popular back home—but was brewed at a higher gravity to survive the trips across the ocean. Locals also developed a taste for these beers, and soon, instead of sending the strong stouts across the seas, entrepreneurs built breweries on the islands.
These new, island-brewed stouts used local sugars to boost alcohol content, which gave the beer more sweetness and fruity esters than the previously imported, more bitter version that arrived via European trading ships (of which is now known as a Foreign Stout or Export Stout and is how Guinness ended up conquering the world). Thus, the “tropical stout” was born.
Incidentally, tropical stout is now one of the newly recognized styles in the updated 2015 BJCP guidelines—a go-to beer style guide for homebrew competitions. So, while there are only a few tropical stouts currently available in the US, you may see some more domestic versions soon (Louisville’s Against the Grain is currently pouring a tropical stout in its taproom).
But back to the Lion Stout. The most accessible tropical stout you can currently find without doing any island hopping, Lion Stout pours a very dark brown with a nice tan head. It tastes of milk chocolate, molasses, prune and licorice with a mild roastiness, finishing smooth and sweet. At 8.8 percent ABV, however,this is no lawnmower beer, though on a hot day, it can be sweet and refreshing like a Coca-Cola.
Lion Stout roars on its own, but Sri Lankan locals have been known to create a tropical Boilermaker of sorts with the addition of coconut arrack, an indigenous spirit made from the fermented and distilled sap of a coconut tree (an imported version, White Lion VSOA, can be found at Binny’s). Keeping with the ways of the locals, bring Lion Stout to your favorite BYOB Thai joint and pair it with a coconut curry for dinner, or coconut custard for dessert.
You can find Lion Stout at local retailers with large import sections, or behind the bar atNorthdown Café and Taproom (3244 N. Lincoln Ave.), which fittingly hosts a yearly fundraiser for big cats called Lions, Tigers and Beers.