Oatmeal stouts typically fall into a weird no man’s land of beer consumption for me. I’ve been over this before. Water down the mouthfeel and flavor of a good stout and can or bottle it – that’s what it feels like is the genesis of most oatmeal stouts.
What’s left is often a thin beer that lacks the strong coffee, chocolate, dark fruit or malty notes that distinguish the stout style. Worse still, the utility of these beers leaves a lot to be desired. Too heavy for a session or really even more than one, and not enough intrigue to satisfy as the only beer of the night.
It is a style that I generally pass up whether on a shelf or tap. But drinking Founders Breakfast Stout for the first time in a few years has peaked my interest and renewed my faith in the oatmeal stout’s potential.
Founders offering is definitely not short on flavor. Tons of bitter and roasted coffee notes combine with sweet chocolate and maltiness to create a delicious balanced beer. The 60 IBUs dry out the finish and leave you wanting more – which is dangerous at 8.3% alcohol by volume.
It is that higher ABV that I think separates Founders’ oatmeal stout from those in the 6.0% and under range. It allows for a full mouthfeel that is so uncommon to the style, capturing the best aspects of a big imperial stout while just slightly dialing back the sticky thickness.
I made a mental note to pick up another oatmeal stout, this time with a lower ABV, to put that theory to the test. When scrolling through my local beer store’s new additions on Untappd, I noticed Firestone Walker’s Mocha Merlin – an oatmeal stout with coffee infused coming in at 5.5% ABV – the perfect candidate.
I grabbed some Mocha Merlin and headed home excited to see how it measured up.
the flavor matches the fullness of the aroma.”
I was a little concerned immediately on the pour. A small but persistent head of tight tan bubbles sits on top of a totally opaque dark brown beer in the glass. But the thinner stream from the can was almost totally transparent. Will Firestone Walker fall victim to the thin mouthfeel that turns me off from the style?
The aroma is anything but thin. Much like Founders Breakfast Stout, Mocha Merlin wafts big waves of coffee to go with some chocolate and toasty notes – leaving a full aroma that is more reminiscent of coffee than beer.
The first sip reveals my concerns about the mouthfeel were warranted. This is a less than full bodied beer that certainly veers towards watery. But that is where the complaints end because the flavor matches the fullness of the aroma.
Coffee dominates the first taste with complex bitter and roasted flavors together. The chocolate notes combine with the coffee to create a true mocha flavor. It is similar to a great mocha flavored ice cream but without the accompanying sweetness. To get all of this flavor without being too sweet at only 27 IBUs and 5.5% ABV is outstanding.
The only aspect that holds back Mocha Merlin from greatness is the thin mouthfeel. It makes sense, it would have to be nearly impossible to get a feel resembling a stout at half the ABV. The flavor doesn’t totally make up for this shortcoming, but it is mocha magic. Maybe this is the ceiling for oatmeal stouts under 6%?