A few weeks ago, I was in the beer section of a local specialty liquor store when I overheard a conversation between a customer and the store manager. The customer told the manager that he typically drinks light to amber colored beers, and that he was looking to try a darker beer that would not be overpowering. The store manager went on to explain that color is just the result of the roasting process of the malt and that a darker color in a beer doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be more bitter or stronger than a lighter beer. After asking for a few specific beers that the customer usually drinks, Boddingtons silky smooth Pub Ale being one of them, the manager recommended that he try an oatmeal stout. The customer sounded uncertain at first, but after the manager described the rich, malty flavor profile of the beer and told him how the inclusion of oats makes the beer extra smooth, the customer was convinced and put it in his basket. As the man walked away, it occurred to me that this would make a great Sunday Suds article, and so, here it is.
Oatmeal stout is actually one of my favorite styles of dark beer. It can be somewhat hard to find, because it is not that well known of a style. Plus, historically the oatmeal added to the beer was thought to make it bitter, which has sort of given this beer a reputation that it does not deserve. In reality, the oatmeal stouts made today are produced by craft brewers who know just how much oatmeal to add to the beer to avoid bitterness, while adding richness and incredible smoothness to the mouthfeel. Fans of stouts and porters will find the same flavors they know and love in the beers they are used to, while brown and amber ale enthusiasts may be converted by the spectacular creaminess of these beers.
Today we will be talking about three oatmeal stouts. Samuel Smith, produced out of England, is responsible for reviving the popularity of the style, and is usually the easiest to find. While on the other side of the Atlantic, Alaskan Brewing Company and California’s Firestone Walker Brewery offer an American take on the style.
Brew #1: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Founded in the early 1900s, Samuel Smith was the first brewery in recent history to brew an oatmeal stout with a considerable amount of commercial success. Taking their inspiration from a brewing style of the Middle Ages, Samuel Smith refined the process, and has since been the standard by which all other oatmeal stouts are judged.
The aroma of this beer is faintly smoky and roasted, with a delicate chocolate covered raisin tone. Caramel apple, cinnamon, rum, and molasses tones also show lightly on the edges.
Crisp and minerally with flavors of chocolate covered coffee beans, this brew also has a lightly smoky tone and a faintly creamy quality. It’s steely and raisin toned, with a faint fruitiness and a nice balance. Overall it’s very refreshing and crisp for a beer with this much flavor and weight. Nicely done.
Worth Trying. 87 points.
Brew #2: Alaskan Brewing Company Oatmeal Stout
Founded in 1986, Alaskan Brewing Company has a diverse year round line that has something for everyone, featuring an amber, a Belgian style white, a pale, an India Pale Ale, and a stout. They also produce a variety of specialty and seasonal beers, like a barleywine and a smoked porter, many of which have received serious critical acclaim.
Chocolate covered graham cracker seems to jump out of the glass initially. Mocha and cacao nibs show with a very soft metallic tone around the edges.
The palate is deep and rich, with coffee beans and cacao nibs dominating the flavor profile. There is a subtle steely, metallic edge to this beer that gives it a clean, freshness. At only 28 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), there is just a subtle touch of bitterness to this beer, something like medium dark chocolate. With nicely defined roasted notes and a mineral streak, this is an interesting brew that is rich and full bodied and easy drinking at the same time. Very well balanced.
Worth Trying. 88 points.
Brew #3: Firestone Walker “Velvet Merlin” Oatmeal Stout
Velvet Merlin is a seasonal release for winter by Firestone Walker Brewery. Actually known best for their pale ales, which include a standard pale, their Double Barrel Ale (DBA), and an India Pale Ale, Firestone Walker also a diverse selection of specialty beers which include some exceptional dark offerings, Velvet Merlin being one of them. To develop its complex flavor profile, a portion of this beer was aged in bourbon barrels.
Dark, deep, and smoky on the nose, there is something instantly appealing about this brew. Very dark chocolate, espresso beans, and a distinct oat tone dominate the aroma. It’s mouthwateringly deep and rich.
Just as the name leads you to expect Velvet Merlin is intensely smooth and creamy. It’s extremely mouth filling, and it rolls in a dense foamy wave across the palate. Dark and smoky, the palate mirrors the nose almost exactly, showing bitter dark chocolate, coffee beans, and something definitely reminiscent of oats. It’s faintly sweet and very dark, but balanced nicely by subtle but firm, smoked bitterness (30 IBUs) and a very refined, persistent streak of hops on the finish. This is a very enjoyable brew, with a mouthfeel that makes you want to savor and slowly swish each creamy sip. An impressive effort and a very likeable brew.
Worth Buying. 91 points.
Please Leave a Comment:
Have you ever had an oatmeal stout? What were your thoughts?