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  1. Bars & Breweries

Tropical stout: Rich, dark and refreshing

In May, the Beer Judge Certification Program released its 2015 style guidelines, the first update since 2008. This new edition covers an impressive range, and includes a few clever catch-all categories to prevent future obsolescence. For instance, the historical beer category covers formerly-arcane styles like gose, which have recently become chic again; the specialty IPA category finally makes room for session IPAs, white IPAs, and red IPAs, as well as any future twists that brewers can come up with.

For those not familiar, the BJCP guidelines are generally regarded as the most comprehensive and authoritative style guidelines in the biz. Competition homebrewers often treat the guidelines as scripture, and professional brewers consult them to ensure authenticity. Consumers, and especially novice drinkers, can benefit greatly from perusing the guidelines — available in a convenient smartphone app, by the way — and learning the nuances of various styles.

One new category is tropical stout. Formerly lumped in with its cousin, foreign extra stout, tropical stout is a unique style that presents a bit of a paradox to drinkers. It's a rich, substantial and dark brew that most would associate with cold, northern climates. In practice, however, it's a highly refreshing warm weather thirst quencher popular in tropical areas across the world, from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia.

Most people are familiar with the oft-repeated (but probably false) IPA origin story, which tells us that this boozier, hoppier version of the standard English pale ale was invented to survive long boat rides to India. Stout has a similar offshoot — foreign export stout — that was also destined for exotic locales.

Foreign extra (also, export) stout is a bigger, bolder version of a typical stout. You may have seen the yellow-labeled Guinness, which is a foreign extra version of the standard Guinness dry stout. But where the classic foreign extra stout is a beefed-up version of a dry stout, the newly-recognized tropical stout is a bigger form of sweet stout.

The differences are probably pretty close to what you're thinking. A dry stout is well-attenuated, which is another way of saying that most of the sugars in the beer have been fermented out, leaving the dry, roasty beer that many of us are familiar with. A sweet stout, in contrast, may either be under-attenuated, or may have additional sugars, like lactose ("milk stout") added to sweeten the finished product.

Tropical stouts are almost invariably produced where you'd expect them to be: in the tropics. When British foreign extra stouts reached the Caribbean islands and Southeast Asian outposts, the locals quickly began producing their own versions of the beer.

While a strong, roasty and slightly sweet stout may seem an odd choice of drink in a tropical climate, it's actually quite refreshing. Even the late, great beer writer Michael Jackson was a prominent champion of Lion Stout, which he'd travel to its native Sri Lanka to enjoy straight from the cask.

Sri Lanka's Lion Stout is probably the most well-known — and best — tropical stout, but you should also keep an eye out for Jamaica Stout, brewed by Big City Brewing in Kingston, or ABC Extra Stout, brewed in Singapore. Although technically not a tropical stout, Ethiopia's Hakim Stout fits the profile and is well-worth seeking out.

There are many more where these came from.

We're deep in summer now, so there couldn't be a better time to learn about this newly recognized style. Why not grab a few tropical stouts and see for yourself how they fare in our subtropical climate?

— jg@saintbeat.com, @WordsWithJG.

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