Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout
Samuel Smith consistently brews the best beer England has to offer, and their oatmeal stout is the best of their best. They do it old school. Back when beer still tasted like beer. When the lighter styles still had some muscle, and mistakes weren't covered by an avalanche of hops. From the old Tadcaster brewery in Yorkshire, and a well they've been drawing their magical water from since the 18th century, this is the benchmark stout. I don't really understand why oatmeals aren't more popular than they are. Maybe the double whammy of being a scary, dark stout and pegged with grandma's favorite breakfast food right in the title. It's enough to send both sets of potential drinkers running back to their stand-bys. It's a shame, because they take an already fine beer style, and make it even better by adding another level of smooth, creamy, yet complex flavors that really do taste great, and are less filling.
Sam Smith's excellent version is definitely black. Black, black. As in a complete absence of light, black. The bubbly, tan head that tops it fades to lacing quicker than expected, but these beers tend not to stay in the glass past that point anyway. The aroma is surprisingly faint from such a big, black beer. You almost have to go looking for it but, once found, it smells like you expect it to taste. A molasses sweetness wrapped around roasted coffee, and there are probably a few other things under all that if you look harder. No point, though. This is a drinking beer.
The first blast is all molasses sweetness, but just as that registers, the bitter hops knock it back down where it belongs, and then the coffee comes out. There's a creaminess that's immediately counteracted by sharp carbonation. Keep on drinking, and each sip brings a new discovery. Some Yorkshire earthiness. Toffee. Nuts. Dark Chocolate. But it's as smooth as silk, and none of these flavors is getting in the way of any of the others. It holds a perfect balance. It feels thick and coating in the mouth, but isn't heavy. The mere 5% alcohol doesn't even add a hint of warmth. This oatmeal stout is pure drinking pleasure. One of the few beers that is complex, yet remains easy to drink and very sessionable.
There's probably no beer in the world better paired with a big plate of bangers and mash. Any roasted meat will be fine, but something smoked would be ideal. Ribs would be excellent with and/or marinated in this beer. If you have a slab of powerful cheese that's too big for some wimpy wine, this beer will stand up to it and push back. So, it's a fine food beer, if you're having something with big flavors. But it really excels at being the good, solid beer to drink, one after another, with friends and family. Maybe the price chases some away, but what could be better at an early tailgate party?
Any beer from Samuel Smith is going to be quality. Some of them are ridiculously good, but often carry a ridiculous price as well. The oatmeal stout, again, is perfectly balanced. It's a fabulous version of an under appreciated style, and is fairly priced. Guinness is a perfectly fine beer, but this is a notch better. It was one of the first beers back in the day that started people searching for better beer, one of the ones that the beer snobs had to try. Those snobs aren't always wrong. And in this case, there's no denying greatness. It has to be said, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout – not just for breakfast anymore.