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When the word "stout" is spoken, the most common association that occurs to your average beer drinker is "Guinness," which is a solid version of the Dry Irish variety. However, there's much more to stout than Guinness. For instance, a particular sub-style of the stout genre, which doesn't get the respect it deserves, is the Oatmeal Stout. Its history dates back to the mid- to late 1800s, with the discovery that adding oats to beer made it healthier. This new creation was often considered a table beer and prescribed to nursing mothers and ailing children, and believed to be a remedy for sickness in general. Sadly, the Oatmeal Stout was lost in history for several decades, only to be brought back into the world of beer in 1980 by the collaboration of Charles Finkel of Merchant Du Vin (a large importer of foreign beer) and the Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster, England). Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout was imported into the US right on the cusp of the initial craft-beer revolution in the early to mid-1980s and was the benchmark of the style, still holding some heavy respect to this day. The Oatmeal Stout style was also given a boost in popularity amongst early homebrewers of the '70s and '80s, who initially latched onto everything English in origin.
What separates the Oatmeal Stout from other Stouts is a simple addition of oats and sweetness. Generally, oats will make up only around 5 percent of the total grain to avoid problems in the brewing process due to its thick consistency when it is hydrated. Oatmeal Stouts also tend to be sweeter than the other Stouts but not due to the oats, which tend to leave more of an astringent grainy note when too much is added. The sweetness comes from the amount of malt used and the use of a yeast strain that doesn't consume too much of the sugars. These combinations leave a great balance between the roasted character and sweetness, while the oats add to the silky smoothness and cause the body to be fuller than normal. Most stand around 5 percent alcohol by volume; however, there are some that are upward of 7 percent and are quite robust.
Pairing Oatmeal Stout with food is easy and nearly everything will go well with it. If you are looking for the sweet side, go with desserts that contain chocolate, caramel or dark fruits. These Stouts are also big enough to stand up to most game dishes, as well as hearty stews and grilled meats. A medium-rare porterhouse braised with the same Oatmeal Stout works wonderful, too.
Oatmeal Stout also makes for a great session beer; that is, a beer that you can drink for a long time ... without getting out of control or obliterating your palate.
Here's just a handful of Oatmeal Stouts:
Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout - Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
Blackout Oatmeal Stout - Cambridge Brewing Co.
Buck Eye Oatmeal Stout - Beer Works
Harpoon Oatmeal Stout (100 Barrel Series) - The Harpoon Brewery
Ipswich Oatmeal Stout - Mercury Brewing
Kinmount Willie Scottish Oatmeal Stout - Broughton Ales Limited
McNeill's Oatmeal Stout - McNeill's Brewery
Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout - Samuel Smith Old Brewery
Young's Oatmeal Stout - Young's & Co. Brewery
Many of the above are available in the Boston area, either on draft or in the bottle. For the listed brewpubs, please call ahead, as these beers are often rotated or are seasonal offerings.
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