When the days grow short and a nip comes to the air, summer’s days have past and give way to autumn. And with this season comes many favorite things — the brilliant colors of the maples, sweaters, and stouts.Read More
Introduction to The Session
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.
The theme is “Snowed In,” and I want it to be open-ended. It’s the first week of February—we are solidly in the grip of the winter, which means hunkering down from the cold and, depending on where you live, waiting for warmer days to thaw out the ice and snow. But perhaps it’s one of those winters, where the snow starts falling… and falling… and falling some more, and the next thing you know, schools are closed, there’s four or more feet of snow on the ground—and you are effectively snowed in and not going anywhere.
Jon Abernathy, this month’s host, offered a variety of topics to stir the creative process. The one that was close to my heart was “What style(s) of beer do you prefer for this cold weather?” And with that in mind, and a record snow fall in the making, I took on the task of writing and drinking—in no particular order. So with this in mind, I began to dig in… And then dig out!
An interesting concept that we are sometimes familiar with here in Maryland Eastern Shore. But interestingly enough we just experienced a record-setting snowfall. So this months topic is right on.
So if I had to pick one beer to be snowed in with – which I was snowed in but didn't have to choose just one beer – it would be Russian Imperial Stout. I've always love the style for many reasons but being snowed in really cause me to focus on those highlights.
Some of my all-time favorite beers are found in this style include North Coast Old Rasputin, Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout, Stone’s Russian Imperial Stout, Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout and Dogfish Head Brewery World Wide Stout.
Others that I'm looking forward to drinking some day are the classics, Dark Lord Imperial Stout from 3 Floyds Brewing and Parabola from Firestone Walker Brewing.
The one that had recently that just blew me away was the Bell’s Expedition Stout. Bell’s is a brewery that recently started shipping to Maryland. Whenever I was fortunate enough to travel to the upper Midwest I would come in contact with some of their beer, particularly the Two Hearted Ale, but not many of their other beers. It was during this most recent snowstorm that I opened a bottle of the Expedition Stout that I had been planning on aging. Well, I was going to drink a couple and age the others.
There are times when you have a beer and you simply enjoy it. And there are other beers that from the first sip enters your mouth you know it is one you will remember and being having again and again, recommending to others, and yes, even writing about.
First, this is a mature beer. It is deep in color and in taste, with many layers of bitter chocolate, espresso, licorice and a warming boozy effect at 10.5% ABV. It scores 94 pts and the Bros give it 98 pts on Beer Advocate.
Expedition Stout offers immensely complex flavors crafted specifically with vintage aging in mind, as its profile will continue to mature and develop over the years. A huge malt body is matched to a heady blend of chocolate, dark fruits, and other aromas. Intensely bitter in its early months, the flavors will slowly meld and grow in depth as the beer ages.
A Long Winter’s Nap
So the snow has come and gone. A couple days of shoveling works up a thirst that must be quenched. Bell’s description for the Expedition Stout is that the shelf Life is “Unlimited” with Winter availability. I recently read, and highly recommend, Patrick Dawson’s excellent book on aging beer entitled Vintage Beer. As expected, this one fits the profile for aging perfectly. I still have five more of my Bell’s in the beer fridge. Therefore, I really must have another before putting them away in my cellar for their long winter’s nap.
Beer Style of the Month
To best understand the beers you enjoy and also those next beer decisions to what you are likely to enjoy a helpful bit of knowledge is a better understanding of the recognized beer styles.
There are two primary bodies, The Brewers Association and The Beer Judge Certification Program that have devised systems for describing and categorizing beer from around the world and indeed history. And then online beer nerve centers like Beer Advocate have developed a tangential system for beer styles based largely, but not entirely on these other two systems. So, depending on what your reading, a beer can be classified as more than one beer style. When describing beer style for the purpose of this writing, we will be using the Beer Judge Certification Program styles, which are also the official styles of the Cicerone Certification Program.
Why is an oatmeal stout a good beer for January? For several reasons, one it is a beer that is just better when allowed to warm up a bit. Many people don't prefer a very cold beer in the winter months. Some sources state the best serving temperature is 45-50 degrees F. Test this for yourself, the flavors will change as the beer warms up. Another good reason is that heavy and smooth mouthfeel (texture) and the roasty notes of this beer just suites a winter setting.
Comments from the BJCP guide: Generally between sweet and dry stouts in sweetness. Variations exist, from fairly sweet to quite dry. The level of bitterness also varies, as does the oatmeal impression. Light use of oatmeal may give a certain silkiness of body and richness of flavor, while heavy use of oatmeal can be fairly intense in flavor with an almost oily mouthfeel. When judging, allow for differences in interpretation.
History: An English seasonal variant of sweet stout that is usually less sweet than the original, and relies on oatmeal for body and complexity rather than lactose for body and sweetness.
Ingredients: Pale, caramel and dark roasted malts and grains. Oatmeal (5-10%+) used to enhance fullness of body and complexity of flavor. Hops primarily for bittering. Ale yeast. Water source should have some carbonate hardness.
Four To Try
The problem with a national beer review of a particular style along with recommendations is that you can't always find all or perhaps any of the beers being reviewed. So, these four recommendations are for beers available right now (2016-01-31) at The Winery, Chester MD.
- Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout - the classic beer for the style. Available year round. Rated at 94 points on Beer Advocate.
- Ninkaski Oatis - this brewer is from Oregon and a new comer to Maryland. It is available year round. Rated 87 point on Beer Advocate.
- Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin - available in the fall, you can find some lingering on the shelve for a few months. It is rated at 89 points on Beer Advocate.
- Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout - available year round. Brewed in Colorado. Rated 83 points on Beer Advocate.
I like to suggest to people 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. You will often find that that brewery makes a bit more effort when crafting a beer. If you like this one, chances are you'll enjoy other beers they offer.
And third, take a photo or keep a beer journal. If you frequent The Winery or any 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.
One last note about beer ratings. You can use them as a general rule and not as a definitive guide in deciding your beers to buy. I have found some beers that are my favorite to be rated much lower than my palate would dictate. Choose wisely grasshopper!
The February 2016 Beer Style of the Month will be barleywine.
Other journal entries on oatmeal stout
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, a beer that has created a lot of beer buzz, no pun intended.Read More