I thought I’d take a moment to take a look at one of my favorite styles of beer since our carboys and most equipment for brewing have been packed up for the eventual move … now we just need to find a tenant and an adorable apartment to call out own! (More on that later)
Much like the oatmeal your mother encouraged you to eat during the winters of your childhood, oatmeal stouts have been described as “nutritional” in the past, especially for breastfeeding mothers (the practice of drinking stouts while lactating is still supported by many, as seen by a quick Google search).
But oatmeal stouts aren’t just for the ladies—mothers or otherwise—they are an excellent beer for anyone to drink and brew at home.
According to the BJCP Guidelines, oatmeal stouts are a subcategory of stouts (category 13) and have a medium-light to medium-full bodied, creamy mouth feel. Brewers can thank the oats for their beer’s mouthfeel; the grain’s addition to the brew kettle gives this type of stout its recognizable silky texture without adding too much sweetness.
Aroma is rich with coffee and roastiness—most often from the darker malts used, like black patent. Flavor mimics the aroma; oatmeal stouts are described as roasty, malty and sometimes chocolately, depending on the malt bill. Appearance is brownish-black, with a latte-colored head that can be thin-to-thick, depending on the glassware and pour.
Hops are not the stars of this beer, and should be selected to balance the malt; many brewers like to use East Kent Goldings, a traditional hop variety from the UK. More specifically, the IBUs for this style should range from 25-40 for a regular-strength (non-imperial) oatmeal stout.
The amount of oats used in each recipe differs, but most home brewers should shoot for 1-1.5 pounds of oats per 5 gallon batch. Also, something to note is John Palmer’s opinion on cooking oats before adding to the mash.
Rolled and flaked oats have had their starches gelatinized (made soluble) by heat and pressure, and are most readily available as “Instant Oatmeal” in the grocery store. Whole oats and “Old Fashioned Rolled Oats” have not had the degree of gelatinization that Instant have had and must be cooked before adding to the mash. … Cook according to the directions on the box (but add more water) to ensure that the starches will be fully utilized.
If you’re not familiar with this style, it’s always a wise idea to try a few varieties from your local pub or liquor store first to decide what qualities you want to impart in your brew. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is a classic, pouring a deep brown-black with a thick, mocha-colored head and giving off coffee and roast in its nose. But if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, then Stone Brewing Co.’s 12th Anniversary Ale would have done the trick (if you can still find a bottle hidden somewhere in a cellar). This ale was more commonly known as the Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, and it packs an intense flavor punch in the way of dark chocolate, coffee, and roastiness. According to the label, the 2007 hop shortage contributed to the genius of this beer because the brewers opted to use unsweetened chocolate from Chuao Chocolatier for most of this oatmeal stout’s bittering.
For novice homebrewers, it might be best to lean more toward the traditional angle of this style, but if you have a bit of a creative streak, go hell-bent for challenging the style’s guidelines and try adding chocolate, fruit, or even infusions of tea.