When you want to make a stout but you know the people drinking it aren’t roast heads (like hopheads, but for roast—we should try to make that happen, linguistically), you might be tempted to go with the Sweet Stout. That can make for a beer that’s too dessert-like and/or a poor fit for warmer weather, though. A better option is to trot out a beer that’s not bone dry, not intensely roasty, not saccharine-sweet, and not overly alcoholic—but still clearly a stout. It’s Oatmeal Stout time.
Oatmeal Stout is, in my humble estimation, the easiest-drinking stout there is. Some point to Dry Stout, which runs lower in ABV and in body, but where Dry Stout often relies on nitrogen to smooth out its rougher, drier edges, Oatmeal Stout creates a beer that doesn’t overwhelm the palate or the liver while still providing a lot of great secondary flavors. You find mild roast aromas and flavors, full grainy flavor (whether from oats or not, but more on that in a moment), some good balancing bitterness, and a full but not thick mouthfeel. As for the roast, in Oatmeal Stout, it’s much more like a latte than a cup of black coffee, and the difference is nicely noticeable: my father, who hates coffee and anything that tastes like coffee, will drink a healthy dimpled mug of this beer with a smile (and a Happy Father’s Day to all!).
The style also allows for a significant level of creativity, which means that you can choose to dress up whichever part of the profile you prefer, making the beer sweeter, more bitter, less roasty, or more “oaty,” as you like it.
There’s a bit of a debate on just what contribution is or should be made by the oats in Oatmeal Stout. In this recipe, they’re added almost exclusively for mouthfeel. Maybe they add some flavor, too, but don’t count on it: the “oat-like” flavors you get will come from the rest of the grist, not the oats. And for those contemplating the “roast your own oats” route, be forewarned that I’ve frequently seen that ruin a beer and never seen it create one that outperformed its competitors by virtue of their addition.
Start with 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of Maris Otter and 1 pound (454 g) of 10L Munich malt: that will give us a bready baseline from which to work up. To that we add 1 pound (454 g) each of flaked oats (no surprise there!), Victory malt, and pale chocolate malt. The oats will add some smoothness, the Victory will add what people think the oats should taste like, and I like pale chocolate here because it prevents the roastiness from getting too aggressive while ensuring that it’s still evident (a flavor that can actually be “missed” if you go with something dehusked or with my old stand-by, chocolate rye). Then, to round things out, I add ½ pound (227 g) of English 45L crystal for that nice, nutty flavor and a touch of sweetness and another ½ pound (227 g) of Midnight Wheat. Why the Midnight Wheat? Because I want this beer to be black as night, but I don’t want to pay the roasty piper by using roasted barley or black patent.
I go low on IBUs in this recipe to prevent people from mistaking “bitter” for “roasty,” so 25 IBUs of anything at the top of the boil will suffice, and then add 1 ounce (28 g) of Fuggles with 10 minutes left in the boil: I love what that “taste of English dirt in the morning” flavor does for this beer.
Finally, select London Ale III (Wyeast 1318) for fermentation. For one thing, it finishes a little sweet, but for another it’s a highly consistent yeast, which can’t be said for some of the ESB-style strains. You’ll get just a bit of berry aroma out of it, but otherwise it’s clean and simple.
Since we want body, I recommend mashing this beer a little warmer than usual (154°F/68°C), but even that might be overkill: the grist really should do most of the heavy lifting here.
A simple and steady 66°F (19°C) fermentation is good enough here. Attenuation isn’t a principle concern, so there’s no need to drive the fermentation with a whip the way we do in other styles, and this yeast isn’t a prolific diacetyl producer (though a diacetyl rest at the end of fermentation is a good habit to get into, needed or not).
Finally, carbonate a bit higher than you ordinarily would with your English-inspired ales. It will add a fuller mouthfeel, and since we went a little easier on the IBUs, we can accommodate a little bit more “bite” from the carbolic acid. About 2.25 volumes should be good, but if it seems sharp on the palate, dial it back. The slight increase in mouthfeel isn’t worth making the flavor profile noticeably rougher.
This is a true year-round beer that will be as nice to drink on a warm summer evening on the porch as it is on a cold winter night by the fire. Trust your grist, and enjoy. Cheers!
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