This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Country #27: Sri Lanka

Beer: Lion Stout

Brewery: Lion Brewery, Biyagama, Sri Lanka

ABV: 8.8%

Lion Stout: The Anti-Crap National Lager
Excluding the United States, this is the 27th country from which I have sampled a beer for this blog. A lot of these countries have been obscure, tropical republics, because when I have an opportunity to buy a beer from a country not known for its beer, I jump on it. My entry for Germany can wait, but if for some reason I see that Ralph’s has a beer from Guyana, I’m snatching it up.

You know who else would've snatched it up? This guy, Michael Jackson, who is is not THAT Michael Jackson, but who was just as white and is, sadly, just as dead as the singer. I'll take The Beer Hunter over The King of Pop any day.
As a result, I’ve only tried a few different styles from other countries. A whopping 19 of the 26 international beers I’ve sampled have been pale lagers or pilsners, and most of those countries have territory between the latitudes of 23.5 degrees north and 23.5 degrees south (that means tropical, for you geographic noobs). 

When you can't stop sweating, there's nothing like 166-proof beer to help you forget about how miserable you are.
So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw a beer from an obscure tropical country—in this case Sri Lanka—that was very much not a lager. In fact, Lion Stout, from Biyagama’s Lion Brewery, had the consistency of motor oil, was bursting with bittersweet, dark chocolate flavor, and packed a punch, too, with an ABV of 88 percent (note: not really). The fact that I found it at Cost Plus World Market, which specializes in bad pottery instead of good beer, was all the more serendipitous.

What's in a name? Arab traders called Sri Lanka Serendib, which shares an etymology with serendipity. It used to be called Sinhala, and its people and language still go by this name. Sinha means "lion," and the Sri Lankan flag, which is officially badass, has a lion (with a sword!) on it. Sri Lanka just means "venerable island." Ho-hum.
What is a beer like this doing in a country like Sri Lanka, a tropical island just a few years past decades of religious- and ethnic-fueled civil war? The answer is that, for all its (many, many, MANY) faults, sometimes colonialism does at least some good. India benefits from its use of English as a lingua franca to help it stay plugged in to the global economy! And… ummm… well, Vietnam has banh mi, thanks to France, and Sri Lanka has this beer. Good job, Europe!

Not sure what all this hubbub about lions is in Sri Lanka, as they have never lived there (the country is circled on the map here).
And Lion Stout is as colonialist as it gets. It is a dark, heavy, English-style beer, with an English language name. It comes from a brewery founded in 1881 by one Sir Samuel Backer to cater to English managers of tea plantations, and is currently made primarily for export (much like the tea on those plantations), because heavy local taxes have made beer unaffordable for most of the Sri Lankan population. Hell, the bottle and cap even call the beer’s home country Ceylon, the colonial name that hasn’t been used since 1972. 

This beer is as much from Ceylon as Chiang Kai-shek was from Formosa.
Despite it’s ΓΌber-Englishness, and the fact that it’s now owned by the Danes, the fact that beer is made in Sri Lanka is ultimately good for Sri Lanka. It provides jobs for Sri Lankans, and export income for the economy. So maybe the Brits left behind something a little bit more substantial, and beneficial, than just tasty beer.

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