11 February 2010

Beers in the sun

Dave and Laura were kind enough to bring me back some tropical drinking from their winter trip to Jamaica. All stouts, of course: the preferred drink of hot country dwellers with any sense.

First up, one of those just-plain-bizarre throwback beers you meet from time to time in foreign parts. Mackeson's is an old brand of English stout, now part of the A-B InBev family, and sold for cooking purposes in the UK. I've never got round to trying it, but you can read Thom's account of it here. Over in Trinidad, however, the name is still pitched at drinkers rather than chefs, centred on Mackeson Triple, a milk stout of 4.9% ABV. They seem to have taken a typically laid-back approach to updating the labelling machine in accordance with global developments in the beer trade, as it claims to have been brewed for "Interbrew UK Ltd". That was two mergers ago, lads.

It pours gloopily to form an opaque black body, showing red tints only at the edges. The head is a very dark shade of tan as a final indicator of the sort of density involved -- you can say goodbye to any keyboard this gets accidentally spilled on. Unsurprisingly, the texture is smooth with just a pleasant tingle of sparkle and the taste is equally unsurprisingly sweet. After the initial massive sugar hit there's a slight metallic tang and then a sweet roasted finish of the sort you might expect from caramelised onions or roasted sweet peppers. A sticky residue remains on the lips and I don't want to know what it's doing to my teeth. On the whole it's a very drinkable affair despite the lashings of sugar.

Dragon I'd had before, knowing it to be another thick and sweet stout. It's a fair bit stronger at 7.5% ABV so I was shocked to discover it's nowhere near as sweet as the Mackeson. It's paler too, with a head that's off-white rather than tan, and the flavour overall is almost understated, certainly less in-your-face than the Trinidadian. It's balanced, but balance can be over-rated.

Finally, from the same brewery, the Jamaican version of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. I grabbed a bottle of the Irish version to compare side-by-side and it's interesting even from the outside to compare them. Great Uncle Diageo has obviously decreed that the bottle shape and label design be the same, though the Jamaican is 275ml while the Irish one is 330ml, in accordance with packaging traditions in the respective regions. I'm guessing it's because Dragon occupies the 7.5% ABV niche that Guinness is a mere 6.5%, a full point weaker than the Dublin-brewed one. Knowing Foreign Extra to be quite a sour beer (it's the extra jolt of lactic acid that does it in this post-barrel-aging era) I was interested to see if the sweet-toothed Jamaicans would put up with that.

Short answer: they don't. Jamaican FES is certainly nowhere near as sugary as the other two, but it's still pretty sweet next to its European counterpart. There are extra heady phenols in there but it lacks the dry, sour complexity which makes Irish FES worth drinking. If you need a come-down from your Dragon-induced sugar high, Foreign Extra is the way to go in Jamaica, but it'll only take you some of the way. And if you're finding it too dry for your palate you can always do what the locals do and lash in some Red Bull. If that doesn't have you bouncing off the walls, nothing will.

I enjoyed getting to know these Caribbean beers, though I don't know how I'd survive in a world with a choice between just them and Red Stripe*. Oh yeah: rum.

*Or similar yellow fizz: expert commentary provided below by Melissa.

14 comments:

  1. Hey don't forget Stag - a man's beer!!!!

    Mackeson's advertising is utterly hilarious in Trinidad & Tobago, I've got a picture somewhere, it's basically hot chick in bikini, which when you think about how it's not even advertised in any way in the British Isles and when it's seen it's considered an 'old dear's' drink it's quite a turn-around!

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  2. It sounds like it's just class all the way over there.

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  3. I used to love Jamaican adverts. Especially the radio advert with the slogan "Silver Top - the man's gin".

    I can remember when Guinness had their own brewery in Jamaica. Which Also used to brew a thing called MacEwan's Strong Ale. Wonder if that still exists.

    A tot of overproof rum perked up any of the Jamaican beers quite nicely.

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  4. Dragon is generally considered an aphrodisiac. I found this out after asking my sister in law why the shop assistant was smirking at my wife while I bought it.

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  5. Quick question, people: which Jamaican beers aren't marketed as an aphrodisiac or cognate aid to virility?

    And why do the marketers think the men need so much chemical assistance?

    "Hello sir! You look like you're having trouble satisfying your wife. Try Dragon-brand stout!"

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  6. No most drinks for adults tend not to be alcoholic but 'roots' drinks that are also called 'front end lifters’.

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  7. UK marketing might get back on track in the near future. I've been working on a marketing campaign recently for the UK called "drink till she's pretty", for a new lout brand. Unfortunately the client thinks it's too laddish so I've come up with "Free fat lass with every skin full" with a picture of a scared bloke looking at what he's woken up next too after a night on the pop. Wish me luck with the pitch.

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  8. Good luck with the pitch. I hope you claimed the truckload of product that advertising creatives are entitled to.

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  9. My Asda, confusingly, stocks Dragon Stout in the 'world food' aisle, away from the other beers. There it is, right next to polish meats and jamiacan jerk seasoning. There's a couple of polish beers there too. Strange...

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  10. Politely suggest to the management they change the sign to read "Foreigners: This Way". Or "Ghetto".

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  11. Ron: MacEwan's (well done for remembering the obligatory "a") Strong Ale was brewed in Jamaica under licence from (as you might expect) S&N. I remember in the early 1990s, when I was helping to run a grocery trade magazine, S&N deciding that it would try to market the beer in Britain, hoping to find buyers among West Indian immigrants. At the trade press conference to announce this, awed S&N off-trade execs were telling a bunch of guzzling hacks who were rapidly succumbing to the power of this 8.5% abv smasheroo that West Indians "drink it like tea". Attempts to sell the beer in the UK lasted an even shorter time than S&N's trial around the same time at marketing Jupiler to British drinkers, IIRC.

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  12. hahah - exactly!!

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  13. KeeganAles11:12 a.m.

    In St Maarten they serve carrot juice mixed 10 to 1 with Mackenson. My night vision has never been better.

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  14. Reminds me of Nanny Ogg's carrot and oyster pie: carrots so's you can see in the dark and oysters so's you have something to look at.

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