Not all stouts are created equal. Guinness, the Irish stout that is the first exposure for many craft beer drinkers, is a tall pint of tan-black roasted beer that (believe it or not) has fewer calories and a lower alcohol content than regular Budweiser or Coors. Moving up the spectrum, one encounters flavorful American stouts, milk stouts, chocolate stouts and, at its inevitable end, the craft-fan darling of the strong, hoppy, Russian imperial stout (RIS).
Yet an off-ramp on this stout highway can lead you someplace much darker: the oatmeal stout. Like many other adjuncts oats have been used in brewing for centuries as an extender of the more expensive base malts, and brewers have learned to use them best for the unique properties they bring to the finished product. The American obsession with excessive hops -- and thus imperial stouts and strong IPAs -- usually overshadows creativity with malt, but it really shouldn't.
Oats do not impart much flavor to a finished beer; that much comes from the roasting of the barley and other grains. But oats contain large amounts of proteins, starches, lipids (fats and oils) and gums that do not ferment and remain in the finished beer, increasing its viscosity (think oatmeal) and lending it a heavy, creamy feel on the palate without being sticky, sugary or oily. Most recipes contain no more than 5-10% of oats but contribute a fine haze to the resulting beer, leaving an already dark beer now black-beyond-black.
Happily, it seems local brewers are revisiting this beer style once again and showing some flexibility even within the style guidelines. Rahr & Sons has produced their seasonal Snowmageddon for several years now as a commemoration of their 2010 brewery roof collapse. Snowmageddon is strong for an oatmeal stout at 8.5% ABV and leans more toward the roastier chocolate and coffee flavors with a thick palate and robust flavor profile.
Four Corners Brewing only recently released their oatmeal stout named the Notorious O.A.T. Their beer is more traditional for the style at around 6% ABV with a much dryer flavor that shows off the dark malt base. The use of oats in this beer is noticeable when compared to other stouts like Guinness or even the stronger RIS, as the smooth mouthfeel is very distinctive and makes it easily quaffable for "all-day drinking." (This has recently become my favorite of all the Four Corners beers.)
However, there is no better oatmeal stout made in Texas today than Armadillo Ale Works Quakertown Stout. Named after an historic African-American community in Denton and currently contract brewed in Dallas by Deep Ellum Brewing, Quakertown Stout pushes dark to its limits. It is the strongest of these beers at 9.2% ABV but not heavy or hot on the palate, maintaining a perfect balance between the roasted malts and silken weight with just a touch of maple syrup after fermentation to soften the dry astringency of the malt. This beer will stand up glass-for-glass to any imperial stout made today but will never get the same level of hype.
AAW: "We'd like to know what we can do to improve it [Quakertown Stout]."
PH: "Put it in a bottle."
--Direct quote from me (c.2012)
Oatmeal stouts cry out to be paired with wintry days and roasted meats, strong cheese and desserts, possibly even a fine cigar. They are exceptionally good as a base for stews and chili, as their low hops profile makes them easy to cook with and reduce without becoming harsh.
Availability: Snowmageddon is a winter seasonal release, currently found on tap and in 22-oz bottles. Notorious O.A.T. is also a seasonal, possibly to become a year-round beer, and is now only on tap around North Texas. Quakertown Stout is available throughout the year and just recently found its way into 22-oz bottles.