Popular in the late 1800s, the last oatmeal stout was brewed before the First World War until Samuel Smith reintroduced this style in 1980.
The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin.
The theme for this months blog posts is lost beer styles. I had to think about this topic for a moment, then I recalled reading a snippet about one of my favorite beers and the style it represented. To say the Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout is the epitome of a style may be a bit of an understatement. They actually resurrected the style, brought it back from the dead. And so, I wanted to learn more.
If you'd like to read other blog entries on this theme, visit the Tale of the Ale blog site.
"Oatmeal stout is a stout with a proportion of oats, normally a maximum of 30%, added during the brewing process. Even though a larger proportion of oats in beer can lead to a bitter or astringent taste, during the medieval period in Europe, oats were a common ingredient in ale, and proportions up to 35% were standard. Despite some areas of Europe, such as Norway, still clinging to the use of oats in brewing until the early part of the 20th century, the practice had largely died out by the 16th century, so much so that in 1513 Tudor sailors refused to drink oat beer offered to them because of the bitter flavour.
There was a revival of interest in using oats during the end of the 19th century, when (supposedly) restorative, nourishing and invalid beers, such as the later milk stout, were popular, because of the association of porridge with health. Maclay of Alloa produced an Original Oatmalt Stout in 1895 which used 70% "oatmalt", and a 63/- Oatmeal Stout in 1909, which used 30% "flaked (porridge) oats".
In the 20th century many oatmeal stouts contained only a minimal amount of oats. For example, in 1936 Barclay Perkins Oatmeal Stout used only 0.5% oats. As the oatmeal stout was parti-gyled with their porter and standard stout, these two also contained the same proportion of oats. (Parti-gyle brewing involves drawing off the first part of the mash and using it to make strong ale, then remashing the grain and drawing off the second runnings for a less strong variant.) The name seems to have been a marketing device more than anything else. In the 1920s and 1930s Whitbread's London Stout and Oatmeal Stout were identical, just packaged differently. The amount of oats Whitbread used was minimal, again around 0.5%. With such a small quantity of oats used, it could have had little impact on the flavour or texture of these beers.
Wikipedia tells part of the this beers storied comeback...
Many breweries were still brewing oatmeal stouts in the 1950s, for example Brickwoods in Portsmouth, Matthew Brown in Blackburn and Ushers in Trowbridge. When Michael Jackson mentioned the defunct Eldrige Pope "Oat Malt Stout" in his 1977 book The World Guide to Beer, oatmeal stout was no longer being made anywhere, but Charles Finkel, founder of Merchant du Vin, was curious enough to commission Samuel Smith to produce a version. Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout then became the template for other breweries' versions.
Oatmeal stouts do not usually taste specifically of oats. The smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins, lipids (includes fats and waxes), and gums imparted by the use of oats. The gums increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of smoothness."
Michael Jackson wrote in February 2002, about this chance meeting in history via his book.
...in brewing, they are most typically used in stouts, to which they impart a distinctively silky character. Oatmeal Stout is an old style rediscovered. In England, it was revived by Samuel Smith's, at the request of Charles Finkel, founder of Merchant Du Vin. Charles had learned about the style (then extinct) from my 1977 "World Guide to Beer".
A definitive source for any beer style may well be the The Oxford Companion to Beer, overseen by the Brookyln Brewery Beer Master, Garrett Oliver. Here is what the "Companion" has to say regarding the oatmeal stout.
oatmeal stout is a sub-style of stout, the distinction being the inclusion of up to 20% oats by weight in the grist. The addition of oats, a cereal grain with high concentrations‚ relative to barley‚ of body-enhancing beta-glucans, water-soluble lipids, and proteins, adds a distinctly silky and rich mouth feel to the beer. Stouts brewed with oatmeal became popular in late 19th-century England, with the stout style in general, and oatmeal stouts in particular, being associated with nourishment and viewed as healthful, restorative drinks. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the style had largely disappeared. A mention of oatmeal stout in Michael Jackson's 1977 tome The World Guide to Beer led an American beer importer to commission such a beer from Samuel Smith, a brewery in Yorkshire, England. Since the creation of that first modern oatmeal stout, the style has grown in popularity with more than 100 commercially brewed examples available today. Oats are most often used as rolled oats, added directly to the mash, usually at around 10%-15% of total grist weight. Alcohol content by volume varies from as little as 4% to as high as 7.5%, with most examples below 6%. Oatmeal stouts are often somewhat sweeter than dry stouts, but less sweet than sweet stouts or milk stouts. Hop bitterness varies with each brewer's interpretation of the style but is generally moderate, with an emphasis on bittering, rather than aroma hops.
Okay, so we know how the oatmeal stout was resurrected, and what makes it so unique, and how Samuel Smith's is the epitome of the style. Obviously the next question what else is out there?
Five Must-Drink Oatmeal Stouts
In an article about the oatmeal stout, 5 Must-Drink Oatmeal Stouts shares an opinion about this beer style.
"Several Cicerones cited this classic creamy, chocolaty beer as a favorite. It's "an obvious world class example of the style" says Chris Kline of Schnuck Markets. "To me," says Jesse Vallins of The Saint Tavern, Samuel Smith's version "sets the benchmark for the style: bittersweet, roasty, and smooth, with a long, lingering finish." They point to the texture and body as standout qualities, along with the flavor: "It's creamy and full with just a hint of graininess‚ and it just nails that almost-coffee, almost-chocolate flavor profile," says Josh Ruffin of Brassiere V."
They're quick to suggest it as a stellar beer for pairing with food. "Most of the time, we equate stout with adjectives like thick, rich, and luscious. Oatmeal conjures stick-to-your-ribs fullness. But Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout is incredibly easy to drink at any meal," notes Aaron Brussat of The Bierstein . "I love it with wild game or even a rare flank steak," notes Ruffin. "The gamey, iron-like character of the meat matches perfectly with the roasted malts, and that hint of sweetness in the stout latches onto any caramelizing of the meat." Vallins suggests serving it with "rich, bloomy rind cheeses like Brie de Meaux or Pierre Robert. The creaminess of the cheese resonates with the similar qualities in the beer, and the bitterness and roast of the beer make it a pairing like coffee and ice cream." Only got cheddar around? That'll do just fine.
Food Pairings & More
A Craft Beer article has information on how to pair the oatmeal stout and other useful information.
Cheese :: Aged Cheddar
Entree :: Chicken in Mole Sauce
Dessert :: Sweet Potato Cheesecake
Glass :: Nonic pint
The Samuel Smiths website adds to the list of agreeable foods to enjoy with your favorite oatmeal stout.
"Pizza and salad, Italian foods, steamed clams, grilled ahi tuna, lobster with drawn butter, steak, ploughman's lunch, crumpets, shish kebabs, vegetable ragout and eggs Florentine, dark flavorful bread and aged Stilton. Serve at 55 F."
For what it is worth, whether you put much credibility in the public rating systems, here are all of the oatmeal stouts with more than 1,000 reviews on BeerAdvocate.
Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout - Samuel Smith Old Brewery | 4.21 (rAvg) | 6,091 (#Revs)
Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout - Rogue Ales | 4.14 (rAvg) | 3,168 (#Revs)
Velvet Merlin - Firestone Walker Brewing Co | 4.01 (rAvg) | 2,613 (#Revs)
Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout - Anderson Valley Brewing Co | 4.06 (rAvg) 2,303 (#Revs)
Beer Geek Breakfast - Mikkeller ApS | 4.11(rAvg) | 2,225 (#Revs)
New Holland The Poet - New Holland Brewing Co | 3.92 (rAvg) | 2,131 (#Revs)
Tröegs Java Head Stout - Tröegs Brewing Company | 3.78 (rAvg) | 2,043 (#Revs)
Velvet Merkin - Firestone Walker Brewing Co | 4.3 (rAvg) | 1,944 (#Revs)
Oatmeal Stout - Breckenridge Brewery | 3.64 (rAvg) | 1,409 (#Revs)
St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout - McAuslan Brewing | 4.08 (rAvg) | 1,103 (#Revs)
I tell those I come in contact, when they are deciding on their next beer or want to learn more about beer options, there are generally three things to think about. First, be aware of what you like about a beer. Take the time to look up what beer style of the drink in front of you. Second, notice the brewery of that beer. And third, take a photo or keep a beer journal. If you frequent a particular store, they can help lead you to similar beers that may expand your palate and beer knowledge. I have favorite beer styles and favorite brewers. I know I enjoy oatmeal stouts and beers by Samuel Smith. Now I can try other beers of that style and by that brewer and usually be safe with my choice.
What blows my mind is the knowledge that perhaps a generation of beer drinkers was not able to enjoy this beer. And so, I send out a special thank you to Michael Jackson for planting the seed in his writings and to Charles Finkel of Merchant du Vin for taking the initiative to re-create this beer style. Cheers"