How to Brew Tropical Stout | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: December 3, 2020

Tropical Stout’s origin was the West Indies, mostly the Caribbean and Africa.  Prior to the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, this style was known as the Foreign Extra Stout (FES) style.

The change was brought about to hopefully cast away this style from the shadows  of other stout styles and help it become more noticeable across the craft beer world. 

Same Story, Different Style

The actual history of the tropical stout came about largely from dark beer being exported out of Britain to English colonies in the Indies. Surely, we have all heard this before. This is the same story we have heard for years about India Pale Ale.

No, I am not mixing up my styles. As a matter of fact, according to Ron Pattison’s book, The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, more porters were shipped than IPAs. 

Terry Foster’s book, Brewing Porters and Stouts, suggests that there is little evidence that this English porter ever made it to the West Indies. Nevertheless, by 1801 Guinness was brewing their “West Indies Porter” and it was exported to Barbados, Trinidad, and the rest of the Caribbean.

Remember at this time the term “stout” was used as a descriptor for his higher gravity porter. Guinness’s West Indies Porter was brewed with a higher gravity and made with more hops as a way to preserve the beer during its long journey across the ocean. 

Cold, Refreshing Beer 

By 1827 this style was reaching West Africa and South Africa by the 1860s. Although the American palate may have a hard time adjusting to this, locas found this beer to be quite refreshing, even in the scorching heat of Africa.

I would equate it to the popularity of iced coffee in America. 

The Evolution of the Style

As the style gained popularity, as did the production from local breweries in the Caribbean and Africa. The adaptations included indigenous grain since barley was difficult to resource locally.

In Nigeria, sorghum, maize, and wheat was used to replace the barley. The large sugar production came in handy to increase the gravity and add more complexity to the beer. 

Style Profile for Tropical Stouts 

Appearance

The color should be very deep brown to black. Clarity should be good. Beer should have good head retention, as with most stouts. The head is large and pillowy with a tan to light brown color. 

Aroma

A sweet aroma medium to high in intensity is common for the style. Roasted notes with coffee or chocolate will be moderate to high. Little hop aroma is present, if at all. Medium to high fruity aroma, along with molasses, dried fruit, and/or licorice.  Diacetyl should be low to none at all.  

Mouthfeel

A smooth and creamy moderately-full to full body is common for the style. Medium to somewhat high carbonation. Slight warming character due to presence of higher alcohol, but should not be hot. 

Taste

Smooth roasted and dark grain flavors from medium to high. There should be some balance between the roasted malt character and the sweet maltiness; often the coffee and the chocolate undertones are present in this style. 

Food Pairing

Meats such as venison, lamb, beer; cooked with a savory and fruity sauce pairs really well with a tropical stout. Seared scallops or steamed oysters also make a great accompaniment. Spicy Indian, Asian, Mexican dishes also pair nicely. Curries made with coconut milk are a homerun with this beer style. 

Tips for Brewing your own Tropical Stouts 

Grain

Since the style is a traditional English style, British pale malt would be appropriate. Maris Otter is a good choice if you want that traditional, hardy British character in the malt. You should be in the 70 to 80% range with your base malt.

If you could obtain a domestic two-row malt, cut back by 5-7% and add some Biscuit, Victory, or Toasted malt to replicate the same depth of malt character. 

For the smooth roastiness consider adding one of the three Carafa malts from Weyermann Malting. They include: Carafa® Special I (300-375°L), II (430°L), and III (490-525°L). Using one of these Carafa malts will enhance and add color, as well as add complexity to a Tropical stout. 

Debittered malts have their husks removed before they are kilned. This creates a smoothness with less astringency. A good substitute would be to use black patent, chocolate, or pale chocolate. However, these substitutes will not allow for that smoothness. 

Crystal malts are also very important when crafting a Tropical stout. Using medium to higher colored crystal malts is a good choice. Crystal malts from 40L to 60L will give some caramel notes and residual sweetness. 70L to 90L will be a lightly sweet character and dark fruitiness, such as figs and raisins.

Any crystal malts 100L or higher will give off a burnt sugar and dark fruit character, but show some astringency. A good rule of thumb here is to use 50/50 medium and dark crystal malts. Allow 10-12 percent of those crystal malts to be added to your total grist. 

Unrefined sugar such as unrefined cane sugar, Turinado, or Dememera, molasses, date sugar, and dark varieties of honey can all add more complexity to a Tropical stout.

Hops

English hops such as Fuggle and East Kent Goldings,  should be considered when brewing an Tropical stout. Hops for this style really are only considered for bittering. Hops should add minimally to flavor or aroma. 

Yeast

Most versions of Tropical stouts use a lager yeast. The lagering time is said to add to the smoothness of the beer. Some lager yeasts to consider 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)

Tropical Stout the By the Numbers

  • 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%

Martin Keen’s Tropical Stout Recipe

Grain

78%          9 lbs      Maris Otter

  6%        12 oz       Caramel/Crystal 120L       

  6%        12 oz       Crystal 45L

  4%         8 oz        Carafa Special II 

  4 %        8 oz        Special B

  2%         4 oz        Roasted Barley

 Hops

   1 oz          Target – Boil 60 min

  .5 oz           Citra – Boil 10 min

  .5 oz           Motueka – Boil 10 min

  .5 oz           Citra – Boil  0 min

  .5 oz           Motueka – Boil 0 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg   Bohemian Lager Yeast Wyeast 2124

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins 

Books Mentioned:

Transcript: Here on the Homebrew challenge, I’ve been happily brewing my way through various types of stout. I’ve done Irish stout, milk stout, oatmeal stout, and now tropical stout.

I’m Martin Keen. And I am in my basement, come home brewery, working my way through brewing 99 different beer styles. Now, for the longest time, I have been fermenting the vast majority of my beers in one of these, this is an SS brew tech brew bucket. I have three of these and I really, really like them.

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The thing with these is though they are intended to ferment between five and six gallons of beer. These days, I’m not doing five gallons of beer very often. I’m mainly doing half size batches, two and a half gallons and Anvil have sent me their version of a brew bucket. And this is intended for smaller batches.

This fits four gallons of beer. So it may be just perfect for my 2.5 gallon batch. We’re going to find out.

Before we worry about fermentation, I guess we should probably brew something. And that’s something this week is the style of tropical stout. Now the origins of this beer is it’s a beer that originated in Britain and was exported to the West Indies and to survive that journey, the beer had a higher gravity and was more heavily hopped. Which sounds just a little bit like the IPA story.

And today this is a popular beer style in the Caribbean, and you might be thinking stout? Doesn’t seem like it’s really suitable to warm weather. But actually this does go very well in a warm climate. It is sweet and fruity, but also roasty.

Now sweet, fruity, and roasty. That sounds like an interesting challenge for recipe design and here’s how we’re going to get there. So building a beer with an original gravity of 10 59, I’d say 5.9% beer.

The base malt is Maris Otter. That’s 78%. Then I’m adding in Crystal 45 at 6% and crystal 120 at 6%. Then here come the specials. We have special B going in at 4% and carafa special II going in also at 4%. Then to finish things off, we’re going to add just a little bit of roasted barley. That’s 2% roasted barley.

Giving this my usual mash treatment of 67 Celsius or 152 Fahrenheit.

So let’s talk about this four gallon stainless steel fermentor, which was supplied to me by Anvil. Now this is intended for fermenting 2.5 or three gallon batches, which is just perfect for me now, uh, with, with what I’m doing.

So this is consisting first of all of this stainless steel lid here, it just comes with a little hole port here and then a stopper and an air lock. Then if we look inside the fermentor itself, you can see that there are etched inside here, measurements. So you can see exactly how much wort you’re putting in here. It has a coned bottom in it, and then we have a racking arm inside and then the tap assembly here.

So the idea is that when you put your beer in, you’ll put this on the top, then you can seal the lid up with these to keep this nice and tight.

Then when it’s time to get the beer out, what you’ll do is you’ll turn this tap so that it turns the racking arms. If I turn this up here like this, then that’s moving the wracking arm inside of my fermentor. As I, as I turn this, now that’s important because this not being a conical fermentor, we don’t want to suck up any trub. So when you first start pouring, you want to move the wracking arm so that it is horizontal and then start to lower it as you get near to the bottom and then stop. Once you have reached the trub level.

Now, just to give you a sense of scale, this is the four gallon fermentor from Anvil, and this is the seven gallon fermentor. So this will be able to fit in some smaller spaces. The one thing that I noticed though, was with this airlock, it still makes this whole setup really, really tall. So what I’m considering doing is taking that off and using one of my existing locks and this is much smaller and I’m going to have to fit this. I think in places that I could never get my bigger brew bucket.

HOPS

And while this is draining and getting ready to boil, let’s talk about the hops because this is where we’re going to get the fruitiness of this beer. And we’re really going to quite highly hop this considering it’s a stout, we’re going to get an IBU of 50. So for the bittering hop, I’m adding in a bag of target at 60 minutes. This will give a IBU contribution of about 38.

Then at 10 minutes, I’m going to combine half a bag of Motueka from New Zealand and citra. And yeah, this should really bring, uh, a zesty citrusy flavor and aroma to the beer. So this goes in at 10 minutes and then at flame out, I’m going to add another half bag of Motueka.

YEAST

Well, Stout also has an interesting twist when it comes to yeast. This beer is traditionally brewed with lager yeast, fermented at all temperatures. So when selecting your yeast, you want to find a lager yeast that can tolerate a bit higher temperature. So we’re using Wyeast 2124, which is Bohemian lager, which according to Wyeast is fine to ferment up to 68 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius. And that’s exactly what I’m going to ferment it at.

Now, this thing is absolutely dwarfed in my chest freezer. In fact, I realized that it was so small that I can fit it on the shelf of the chest freezer, even. So it makes me wonder how many of these I can actually fit in here anyway, going to let this ferment for a couple of weeks. And then I am really looking forward to trying this one.

Okay. It is time to taste this thing. I’m really, really looking forward to this, Lauren welcome to this tasting. I think this is the stout that is going to be quite surprising. And even though I’ve spoiled it and told you that is tropical style, I have had a little taste before this and it’s not like any style I’ve had before. Okay.

So if we look at it, you probably think it’s exactly like a stout you’ve had before, because it looks very much like just a regular old stout.

Yeah, yeah. Really dark. You can’t really see anything through it.

Yep. Yeah. Nice dark color, fairly light head. Um, but how aroma now previous stouts definitely had a bit of a roasty aroma. Um, I wonder if you get anything different from this? Smells kind of sweet and fruity bit of sort of tropical, tropical, tropical fruit from this, which I would typically associate with some kind of IPA. Yeah, no for sure. All right. So it looks like a stout smells like an IPA.

What does it taste like? So it still has like that creamy taste of like a stout, but then it has like a little subtle sweetness to it.

Yep. Um, I’m picking up a bit of sweetness too. Are you getting any of the tropical fruit?

Yeah, a little bit more. The more I drink it, to me, this tastes a little bit like a black IPA, which does have that sort of, um, slightly more, bitter taste to it. But I think it’s more fruity than it is bitter.

Yeah. No, I can see that. Um, like I said, it’s creamy and smooth. It’s not as busy as the other stouts that we’ve had. It’s definitely got more of a sweet.

Yes. Yeah. So per its name, you’re supposed to drink this on a hot day, um, or in a warm climate. And I think if I’m going to drink a stout, something like this would be a really good fit.

How what’s the percentage on it? It’s 6%. Okay. If you want to try this yourself, everything you need is in the description below. Next week. We are doing one more stout before we move on. And this is going to be a little bit stronger than any of them so far. Yeah. But until then, cheers, cheers.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.