I’m usually not all that impressed with oatmeal stouts. They take the best qualities of an imperial stout – powerful flavor, thick mouthfeel, booziness – and water them all down. The final product is often too mild and thin with nothing to combat the malty sweetness. That’s not a beer I want to drink, or a style that fits with how I drink.
When drinking beer, you might typically find yourself imbibing in one of three ways:
Only having one – This is the weeknight standard. If I grab a beer during the week I like to stop at one. Maybe it’s a new IPA I’m excited about or it can also be the perfect time for a boozy triple IPA or Russian imperial stout. Regardless, I’m trying to savor this one beer so I want something exciting or full flavored.
Maybe I’ll have two or three – It’s probably the weekend. I want to drink good beer but nothing so heavy I’ll be full, nothing too boozy and nothing with so much flavor my palette is toast after only one. This is the sweet spot for IPAs, sours and many other styles.
A session – What craft drinkers call a session, the less forgiving call a binge. There is a wedding or some other special occasion, or maybe #2 above has gone awry. This should be planned or outright avoided. Session IPAs, pilsners, and other quaffable ales really shine here. Keep it under 5% alcohol by volume if at all possible.
These aren’t the only ways to enjoy our favorite beverage, but I think it is fairly comprehensive. This is my issue with oatmeal stouts, where do they fit in the options above? They are clearly too heavy and boozy for a session. The lack of big flavor coupled with an often thin mouthfeel doesn’t provide enough intrigue for an “only have one” kind of night, and two or three malty stouts will fill you up even if you can tolerate the sweetness.
That’s not to say oatmeal stouts are always a bad buy. There are definitely some great beers in the style that can provide enough interesting characteristics to satisfy as your only beer of the night. I discovered two on a trip to Maine in Bissell Brothers’ Umbra and Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom. Both beers were packed with notes of chocolate and roastiness with a creamy mouthfeel and enough bitterness/booze to balance out the sweet.
It's like Founders brewed this beer to give us faith in the oatmeal stout style.”
Founders Breakfast Stout is another great example, ranking third on our in house directory among oatmeal stouts. At 8.3% ABV, Breakfast Stout comes in a little boozier than most, which may be why Founders calls it a “Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout.”
That chocolate aroma comes through immediately after the pour. Founders Breakfast Stout is a totally opaque dark brown (almost black) in the glass with a tight bubbled brown head that hangs around.
Leaning in close reveals the coffee notes of the aroma, still surrounded by chocolate – sweet chocolate not bitter. All the bitter notes in the aroma come from the coffee. Honestly, it smells more like a roasted coffee with strong chocolate notes than a beer.
The taste is anything but mild. While the chocolate was apparent right off the pour in the aroma, it is the coffee that dominates the taste. Huge roasty and bitter java flavors wash over the palate and are cleaned up by the sweetness of the chocolate and malt. That middle movement of sweet chocolate gives way to a drying bitterness on the end which must come from the hefty 60 IBUs.
All these flavors dance over a creamy body with just enough prickly carbonation. It's like Founders brewed this beer to give us faith in the oatmeal stout style. All of the trademarks of an imperial stout turned down slightly – but in a way that still satisfies.
Breakfast Stout is a winner any time of the day.