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.