When someone tells me they want to “try a craft beer—but not an IPA,” I nudge them toward something like oatmeal stout. It’s full-flavored without being aggressive, it showcases a lot of great beer ingredients, and it checks in at a modest 5 to 6 percent ABV. It has easy appeal.
Yet oatmeal stout is far from boring, and a great example of that—and one of my all-time favorites—is Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout, a beer that uses its signature ingredient—oats—to soften and balance a bigger, bolder (and thus more American) interpretation of the style.
I got some helpful insights into this beer from Danny Connors, senior innovation manager at Rogue. Here are his tips for making your own high-intensity oatmeal stout.
Notes from the Pro
Connors points out that the defining ingredient in oatmeal stout really opens a lot of doors in terms of the grist. “The oats give a great balance to some of the bitterness from the roasted malts,” he says. “As they mellow each other out, you can kind of amplify both elements to make a very flavorful beer.”
This kind of recipe savvy and awareness always makes me go all googly-eyed; a hallmark of great brewing is knowing not only what ingredients taste like together, but also what options they create within the recipe design itself. Oats—thanks to a big helping of beta-glucan—soften and smooth out the flavor profile of a beer, expanding the options in choosing from a range of chocolate and roasted malts. “The added creamy texture is a nice finishing touch,” Connors says. Rogue further accentuates that creaminess whenever this beer is served on nitro.
There is a downside to using a big dose of oats, however: This can be a tough lauter. “All of the dark and roasted malts in stouts can be very sticky in the lautering step, and oats will only make things worse,” Connors says. If you haven’t had the joy of a stuck lauter or sparge, you’re missing out—this is a real concern. “So,” he adds, “sometimes some rice hulls are necessary to help with the run-off.”
Translation and Application
When you’re thinking about applying Rogue’s approach to your own oatmeal stouts, there are some things to keep in mind.
First, Rogue’s approach really leans into the sharper flavors. Compared to my own recipe, the amount of oats is similar—about 10 percent of the grist—but Shakespeare uses more simply-roasty standard chocolate malt and roasted barley, whereas I lean into pale chocolate malt for my roastiness. In practical terms, this makes Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout more assertive on the palate—and, of course, it works beautifully. However, if you hit your recipe with the heavier dose of dark malts, adjust your expectations accordingly. You’ll find that the profile more closely matches your version of an American stout, with its stronger roast flavors, even if it’s at the lower end of that ABV range. The oats will soften flavors, but the shift in them will be noticeable if tasted side-by-side.
Second, definitely go with those rice hulls if you have any doubts about the ability of your grain bed to drain well. This isn’t a standard step for me, but I suspect that has more to do with dumb luck and my mash-tun geometry (wider than it is tall). An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, after all, and rice hulls are cheap. Half a pound or so into the mash for a five-gallon batch will all but guarantee that you won’t spend a ton of time and pain trying to coax your wort into the kettle.
Third, Rogue’s beer doesn’t get its bitterness only from those roasted malts. Don’t be afraid of the bittering here—Shakespeare clocks in at a whopping 70-ish IBUs. That far outstrips my own version (and what style guidelines typically call for), but the oats will absorb a lot of that bittering impact, just as they do with the dark malts. It also makes for a beer that ages well; even if your IBUs fall off significantly with time, you’re still left with a beer that has good balance despite the sweet-and-silky oat flavor profile.
Last, a note on the nitro option. It’s true that serving on a CO2-nitrogen gas mixture is a great way to soften the edges of this beer—but it’s not an option everyone has. If you don’t have access to a nitro system, consider reducing the bittering by about 10 to 15 IBUs and serving at no more than two volumes of CO2. This should protect you from going too far down the sharp-and-bitter path, because it will keep the carbonic acid levels a bit more in check (and the lower carbonation will create a softer mouthfeel).
Rogue Shakespeare Stout truly is a classic. If you have a home nitro setup, there are few beers that would be better suited for it—but even if you don’t, this is still a winner. It may also serve as a great base recipe for your American stouts: Just bump up the late hopping, and you’ll be well on your way. “For,” as Shakespeare once wrote, “a quart of ale is a dish for a king.”