Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout: Best in Class?
It is surprisingly rare to run across a beer that seems to have everything going for it; an accessible style, easy to drink yet complex, suitable for most any occasion, and it’s green. Actually, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is nearly black, but the Andersonville Brewery is solar powered and the beer comes in an environmentally friendly can. Decent craft beer in cans is definitely the wave of the very near future, and all beer drinkers should eagerly embrace this improvement. These aren’t the tin cans that made your great grandfather’s Schlitz taste like metallic soup. Unlike bottles, cans keep the beer fresher by eliminating its two worst enemies, light and air, so the canned beer is much more likely to taste exactly as it was meant to when it first rolled out of the brewery. And, Barney Flats is a beer that deservers to have its brewery-fresh taste preserved.
Stouts, in general, are becoming more popular with both drinkers and brewers for a variety of very good reasons. They’re versatile beers and can encourage creativity in brewers. Oatmeal stouts are still relatively rare, but becoming less so. Don’t be put off thinking about that gloopy mess nobody wants to eat for breakfast. All that the addition of oats does to a stout is smooth it out a bit and, give it a little more body. Barney Flats looks like just about any other decent stout; dark, dark brown with a better-than-average tan head. And, the first whiff isn’t out of line, either. It has the same roasted malt, coffee and chocolate you can find in many stouts, but the more it opens up, the more there is to discover. Even before tasting it, you expect this one to be a notch better than expected.
The flavor doesn’t disappoint. It holds mostly true to the aroma, with the dueling coffee and dark chocolate flavors dominating things, but there are surprises for the discriminating. The hops are not going to win the battle with all that malt, but they make more than just a token appearance. There’s also a sprinkling of mint and some other herbs. The beer is smooth and creamy, with more sweetness than a typical oatmeal, almost more in line with a milk stout. The beer is comfortably medium bodied, letting you know you’re drinking something, but not filling you up.
This is just as well, because it’s a fine dinner beer. Usually, a beer that will go with just about anything doesn’t do it particularly well, but Barney Flats does. Soup to nuts, and especially any chocolaty dessert, I can’t really think of anything this beer would pair poorly with, even if it would do better against a slab of roasted meat than a delicate salad, perhaps. With a rather tame 5.7% alcohol level, you could even carry on enjoying them well after dinner. It has more complexity than just about any regular stout, but is far more drinkable than those massive Imperial ones.
And, for me, that is exactly what makes Barney Flats such an ideal beer. It works better in just about every situation than any other stout. Do you like knocking back pint after pint of Guinness? You can do the same with these, but it adds an extra dimension or two of flavor. Do you go for those giant, full flavored, heavy, often experimental Imperial stouts the beer snobs seem to lust after these days? Well, Barney Flats has some of that complexity, but you can afford, in terms of price and relative sobriety, to enjoy more than just one of these in a sitting. A very good, solid, versatile, flavorful stout; maybe the best oatmeal stout brewed in America today. Appropriate almost anytime. And, it’s green.