The Beers of Jamaica

A beautiful Jamaican sunset

A beautiful sunset in Montego Bay, Jamaica

Jamaica may very well be one of the top vacation destinations in the world. Between the beautiful beaches, amazing sunsets, unparalleled local hospitality, and all-inclusive resorts, a trip to Jamaica is sure to be a great time you will remember for years to come. However, people rarely go to this beautiful island in search of beer. In fact, when people think of Jamaican and beer, normally only ‘Red Stripe’ comes to mind. The Kingston brewery has been around for almost 100 years and it’s inevitable a bottle or two will cross your path. It’s probably the only draft beer you will see. But, if you just begin to scratch the surface of Jamaica’s locally produced lagers and ales you’re sure to taste a bottle (or two) of something new and much more rewarding.

Leave it to me to find out how to turn a tropical vacation into a tasting of local and regional beers. The beautiful Iberostar Grand in Rose Hall (Montego Bay) was our destination for the week of our honeymoon, and these were all the available offerings (alongside Heineken) from the menus of their restaurants and bars. All beers were tasted at proper serving temperature out of a clean glass, and all were fresh as the resort has pretty high turnover. Here’s how they stacked up:

Dragon Stout

Dragon Stout at the lobby bar

Dragon Stout at the lobby bar

Dragon Stout is just a cool name for a beer. But can the flavor measure up to the mystique of the magical name? It looks nice enough. This beer is black with some brown, mahogany, and brilliant red highlights. The tan head is attractive and sticks around for a while. It also leaves decent lace. The aroma is a tale of two levels of scent. You have a nice roasted malt characteristic, lending impressions of chocolate and coffee. There’s also a level of sweetness that comes across like sugarcane. Some caramel, molasses, and toffee are also apparent. This dragon looks cool and breathes smoke, but how is its bite?

Yell fire! The taste is wonderful for a foreign export stout, and picks up where the scents left off. A hefty dose of caramel and sugarcane is joined by roasty chocolate and coffee, with just a touch of molasses as well. It’s not the most flavorful stout I’ve ever had, but it does produce a nice overall impression on my palate (albeit a bit sweeter than many foreign export stouts). The cohesiveness is not even in the same camp as Guinness or the excellent American take on the style by Left Hand called ‘Fade to Black’. But for a stout that is primarily consumed on the island of Jamaica, you need to respect how clean and refreshing this is. The mouthfeel is a bit thin, but the carbonation is perfect to make the beer just a bit lively and still feel like a stout. And you’ll ‘lively up yourself’ when the kick from this 7.5% ABV monster takes hold. There’s a nice, sweet aftertaste with minimal hops and lingering roast. I can’t wait to get back to Montego Bay again to have some Dragon. This was a fantastic beer for the beer geek on vacation, and it represents the taste of paradise for me.

Does Bobby Like Dragon Stout?

B+
Very Good
By far the best beer available in Jamaica, you’ll be surprised at how good Dragon Stout tastes on a hot day at the beach!Appearance: 3.5/5Smell: 4/5Taste: 4/5Mouthfeel: 3.5/5Drinkability: 4.5/5Score: 3.9

Carib Lager

Carib Lager at the infinity edge of the pool

Carib Lager at the infinity edge of the pool

OK, so Carib is not technically a Jamaican beer, as it’s brewed in Trinidad and Tobago. But it is readily available in any Jamaican resort and it deserved a spot in the tasting. Out of a bright colored can, the beer pours a bright golden straw color with a frothy head. It is mostly clear with just a touch of cloudiness and leaves spotty lacing on the glass. The aroma is noble hops and damp, sweet malt. Some cereal grains and a bit of cooked vegetables, also just a touch of sulfur. Not an outstanding start, but the taste is what really matters.

The taste is as smooth as a young Bob Marley singing ska and it certainly ‘don’t rock the boat’ . The lager is just a touch grainy and has a slight biscuit and toast presence. Noble hops are in effect, adding a slight floral character. The finish is sweet with a touch of caramel, and some lingering mild bitterness. Some sugar cane sweetness lingers. Carib has a mouthfeel that is light-bodied with carbonation a’ plenty. This was perhaps my favorite beer of the bunch for afternoon drinking because it was lighter and very drinkable. The smell was the low point, however. But, when it’s in a can and you’re drinking on the beach in Jamaica or elsewhere in the Caribbean, the smell of the seawater or chlorine by the pool will mask the imperfect olfactory. Really, you can’t go wrong (or you could go more wrong, depending on how you look at it).

Does Bobby Like Carib Lager?

C+
Decent
Instead of that famous Jamaican Lager, opt for a can of Carib. It’s simple and refreshing and pool-friendly!Appearance: 3/5Smell: 2.5/5Taste: 3.5/5Mouthfeel: 3.5/5Drinkability: 4/5Score: 3.25

Red Stripe Premium Lager

Red Stripe on the beach

Red Stripe on the beach

Now it was time to drink the beer Jamaica made famous. While a decent beer, it’s the equivalent of ‘No Woman No Cry’ – everyone knows it but there are far better selections that those in the know will go for every time. The brew is a clear golden color and has some small head and a touch of lace. Not the best look; Red Stripe is rather plain and it could at least have a touch of head. The smell was a combination of a touch of noble hops with a rotten vegetable smell. Some hay, a kiss of caramel and a touch of sulfur. Two dimensions in and we’re well under average, maybe the taste will make up for the average look and poor smell.

The taste is clean with some sweetness and a touch of corn – things are looking up. Mild spices from the noble hops are present along with a touch of bitterness. Red Stripe also has a hint of diacetyl (a typical off-flavor when a lager isn’t ‘rested’ properly), which adds a buttery flavor to the corn. Maybe Orville Redenbacher made this on a trip to paradise after smoking too much ganja? The mouthfeel is a touch over average, with light body and sparkling carbonation. It’s not the most drinkable, but it is better that some adjunct lagers and it is good with a typical Jamaican lunch of jerk chicken and Jamaican patties. It’s also OK on the beach when the afternoon sun is beating down, as the decent taste is relatively non-offensive, even with its slight flaws. Note – I didn’t include Red Stripe Light in the tasting because, honestly, I think it was the same exact beer mixed 11 to 1 with water!

Does Bobby Like Red Stripe?

C
Mediocre
Red Stripe is everywhere in Jamaica. Your bus driver may even offer you one. It has its place, but is just a mediocre beer.Appearance: 2.5/5Smell: 2.5/5Taste: 3/5Mouthfeel: 3/5Drinkability: 3.5/5Score: 2.85

Real Rock Premium Red Lager

Real Rock on the balcony

Real Rock on the balcony

For the last beer of the tasting, I had a bottle of Real Rock Premium Lager. This beer has reported to be ‘retired’ by a top beer rating website, but that’s not entirely true. Instead, the distribution has decreased and it is only available in Jamaica, mostly at resorts. When I poured it in the glass and compared it to the other lagers, I noticed that, while it still looks relatively golden, it is indeed slightly darker than Red Stripe and Carib. The head actually sticks around for a bit and leaves some decent lace – all in all, this is not a bad start. Add to that the fact that the smell is much better than the two adjunct beers I compared it to. Nothing offensive was going on, just some sweet malt and noble hops. Could this be the best beer at my little ‘soul shakedown party’?

Nope. Real Rock tastes horrible in my humble opinion. It is sweet and malty with some corn flavors, but each element is way too distinct and disjointed. Simply put, this beer is a stew of different flavors without an underlying connection. The noble hops add a snap of bitterness, which breaks up the sweetness for a moment. Just when it looks like the hops could save the day, some metallic edges are noted. When it comes to taste, the most important part of any beer drinking experience, Real Rock is just a mess. I never thought I’d say this, but I wanted a Budweiser instead. The mouthfeel is light-bodied with decent carbonation, but that wasn’t enough to save this sinking ship. This was probably my least favorite beer because of the way the taste was enough to mash-up my day. Even if they scored relatively close, I prefer Carib by a landslide. Even Red Stripe is significantly better. This is a case where exploration and adventure did not pay off.

Does Bobby Like Real Rock Lager?

C-
Not Worthy
Real Rock may look and smell nice for a simple adjunct lager, but it tastes horrible. And beer is all about the taste!Appearance: 3.5/5Smell: 3.5/5Taste: 2/5Mouthfeel: 3/5Drinkability: 2.5/5Score: 2.75

Don’t Let them Fool You, There IS Good Beer in Jamaica

Hopefully a name or two on this lineup of real Rastaman beer was new to you. While you can find these beers in random places in America or Canada, they’re readily available at any resort on the Irie Island and can easily be found at peak freshness. I’d be remiss not to mention a few other notable beers like Kingston Lager (although discontinued due to recent financial hardships and “dirty bottles”) and promising Lion Heart Stout, but those weren’t available at our resort so they weren’t included in this tasting. Also, don’t be afraid to revisit Guinness, as the Jamaican version (brewed on the Island by Red Stripe Brewer D&G) is has more roasted flavor and just a bit sweeter than the version shipped to America. Pass on Heineken and Corona, they’re just the same sub-standard swill we get in the states.

Now you’re all set for your trip to Jamaica. If you’re there next year in early September, you might just see me lounging by the pool enjoying Dragon Stout. I’d be remiss to share anything about my experience without a shout out – ‘Much Respekt’ goes to the hardworking bartenders at Iberostar – Morris, Jerry, Garth, and Allando. Thanks for keeping my glass full. Richie Loop said it best – ‘What’s in my cup stays in my cup’. Cheers, mon! See you next year!!

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Join the Discussion

  • Richard Drinksmith

    it seems that I must try dragon stout now,  i have waited 25 years.

  • Marcie

    I’m going to Jamaica this week and am looking forward to drinking Dragon Stout! Thanks I thought I was going to drink Red Stripe all week but now have options,

  • Tanaka

    Really nice blog post Bobby!

  • Rob Pettus

    going there next month, I suppose everything will be really fun except the lack of high quality beer

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