This week I’d like to take a look at another relatively uncommon ingredient used in brewing beer. Our feature this week is Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, produced by the oldest brewery in the county of Yorkshire in northern England. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery was founded in 1758 in the small market town of Tadcaster, and is credited with reviving the oatmeal stout style in 1980. The brewery maintains several traditional practices, including drawing its water from a 250-year-old well and continuing to brew with a strain of yeast first used over a century ago.
Due to its abundance at the time, oats were commonly used for brewing during the European Middle Ages. The practice gradually died out by the 16th century, continuing to be followed in only a few locations. But towards the end of the 19th century, driven by the reputation of porridge as a nourishing dish, oats as an ingredient in beer enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. It was even marketed at one point as a nutritious drink for nursing mothers. Oatmeal beers continued to be brewed into the 1950s but then fell out of popularity once again. The style was revived in 1980 by Samuel Smith at the request of the founder of beer importer Merchant du Vin.
Porter, the forerunner to stout as it is known today, supposedly appeared on the scene in London in the early 1720s, though its history is clouded by antiquated terminology and inconsistent accounts. It is probable however that porter was known as brown beer prior to the early 1700s, and that its popularity among the portering classes—carriers of various goods, letters, and other parcels—gave it its new name. The style was soon introduced to the Irish, who then began brewing their own in 1776. For a time, strong porters were called “stout porters,” but eventually “porter” was dropped, making stouts generally the stronger of the two styles. After periods of respective decline, revival, and evolution, however, the distinction has come to be unclear if nonexistent. Today, there are several varieties of stout, including Irish/dry stout (e.g., Guinness Draft), Russian imperial stout, milk stout, chocolate stout, and coffee stout.
In beer, oatmeal is typically used only in porters and stouts. The silky texture it imparts is due to the large amount of proteins, lipids, and gums it contains. The gums, which also give breakfast oatmeal its thickness, have the effect of increasing the viscosity of beer. When used in brewing, oats usually comprise only 5-10% of the grain bill, as larger amounts increase the viscosity of the unfermented beer and complicate the brewing process. Stylistically, oatmeal stouts have a coffee-like roasted grain character. The malts and grains may yield a milk chocolate or coffee-and-cream aroma and flavor. Hops are used for bitterness but shouldn’t add much flavor or aroma. The body is usually on the full side and the texture may be silky or even oily.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is extremely dark brown, barely admitting deep copper along the edges. It pours a thick, light tan head. Fresh bread crust dominates in the aroma, along with a little dark chocolate and coffee. The flavor is characterized by judicious sweetness and smooth roasted malt reminiscent of flavorful dark coffee. There is a slight twang of raisin-like tartness. The bitterness is considerable but complements the other qualities well. Sweet toasted grain lingers in the finish. The texture is velvety, and the body is perhaps just north of medium. The low carbonation is just crisp enough to be palate cleansing without disrupting the creamy texture.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is delightful, its most enjoyable traits being its smoothness and carefully attenuated roastiness and sweetness. The malty flavor is accented with a vaguely fruity tartness and a moderate amount of bitterness, which makes for a well rounded taste. With the exception of the silky texture, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here; it’s all just very pleasant and very well structured. This one has definitely joined my favorites.
Today’s beer was purchased at Nissin World Delicatessen in Azabu-Juban in Tokyo.