The first time I tried Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Oatmeal Stout was on a recommendation from a college roommate. I had just turned 21 and was in search of expanding my drinking habits. My local liquor store, across the street from my apartment, had a small wall of European bottles mostly covered in dust. I picked a bottle of Oatmeal Stout off the shelf—its gold papered cap caught my attention—and my roommate, who was a year older and a more experienced drinker, told me it was a great English beer.
A few hours later, I cracked the stout at our dirty kitchen table and poured it into a glass. It tumbled out of the bottle dark and thick. It felt like a milkshake—bigger and bolder than the beers I was used to—with oats adding to the body and a strong caramel toffee aroma. Its touch of roasted malt and bitter finish gave me a feeling of jumping into a pile of burnt caramel.
Samuel Smith’s began operation in 1758 in Yorkshire, England as The Old Brewery. It was purchased in 1847 by a Jon Smith, who later passed it along to his nephew Samuel, who renamed it Samuel Smith’s Brewery in 1896. Beer is still brewed at the tiny operation. Its passionate take on the traditional oatmeal stout makes it still a classic. Today, of course, we have countless milkshake beers and pasty stouts to choose from. There’s an endless supply of big and bold options that crank up the volume.
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is no longer the best I’ve ever had, but it’s still the standard we should build on.”
Recently, I revisited Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout to see if it still had the same impact. I poured a 350-ml bottle into one of my definitely clean glasses and sat back. The rich stout poured motor oil black with a whipped and airy foam. Notes of burnt toffee wafted from the glass and memories of that first pour hit me again. The mouthfeel was still soft, but nowhere near as thick compared to today’s lactose and oat-filled beers. It was sweet, but not in an adjunct way that comes from layers of unfermentable sugars added to many of today’s stouts. As the beer settled, the roasted notes were heightened, accented by sweet and earthy aromas.
Samuel Smith’s still felt new and fancy, as if I was encroaching on something special. The gold aluminum around the cap hung onto the bottle, frayed but still glistening. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is no longer the best I’ve ever had, but it’s still the standard we should build on.