Ever since the introduction of Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Oatmeal Stout to the US in the mid-1980s, oatmeal stouts have become a firm favorite of many beer drinkers.
A variant of the classic, British-style stout and Irish stouts, many of the notable brewers on the craft beer scene here in the US are producing their own oatmeal stouts including well-known outfits such as Deschutes, Anderson Valley, and Founders to name but a few.
Let’s take a quick look at how this beer style was born and why it disappeared for so many years. We also answer the question of whether American stouts using oatmeal compare well with the modern-day oatmeal stouts from Britain.
Oatmeal Stout’s Origins as a Health Drink?
It may seem crazy in the 21st Century to be talking about an alcoholic beverage, especially a decadent beer, but milk stouts and classic oatmeal stouts were first introduced in the UK in the late 1800s in an attempt to increase the health values of beer.
Stouts originally derived from the Porter beers, which were popular with dock workers in early 18th Century England. The word “stout” was used to describe a stronger version of this dark beer and was quickly adopted by the Irish who made dry stouts, most notably Arthur Guinness of St James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin.
Oatmeal stouts were seen as being healthy and restorative drinks packed with nourishment – what’s a better start to the day than a bowl of oatmeal? Although the classic oatmeal stouts of the 19th century may have contained up to 20% oats, modern-day brewers have found too many oats can give the stouts a too-astringent flavor.
Unsurprisingly, they’re not actually that healthy, you’ll find a much higher oat content in oatmeal cookies than in an oatmeal stout. But just like the cookies, oatmeal stouts are darned tasty!
Unfortunately, oatmeal stouts’ popularity waned in the mid-20th Century and after WWII there were very few brewers still making them. By the 1970s, you wouldn’t find an oatmeal stout on any of the taps in a British pub, even by the keenest of beer obsessives.
It wasn’t until the beer expert, Michael Jackson, wrote about oatmeal stouts in his 1977 book The World Guide to Beer, that interest was revived in this classic beer.
Homebrewers in the US who just loved anything “English” started looking at how to brew oatmeal stouts, but it was the interest of Charles Finkel of Merchant du Vin (a large importer of foreign beers) who really kickstarted the oatmeal stout revival.
George Finkel commissioned the Samuel Smiths old brewery of Tadcaster in Yorkshire to produce an oatmeal stout in 1980.
Imported into the US just at the start of the initial craft beer revolution, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout was the first widely available in the US commercially produced oatmeal stout and still remains the benchmark of what an oatmeal stout should be today.
If you walk down the beer aisle of your local supermarket or 7/11, you are sure to spot a few oatmeal stouts, especially in the winter months when beer lovers are looking for warmer malt-forward dark beers rather than the pale hoppy beers of the summer.
A crew of beer experts recently recognized over 100 different American stouts you can buy today, many as cans of beer, but also many on draft. Below we will look at some favorite oatmeal stouts for you to try.
Tasting Notes for Oatmeal Stout
Before we look at the top Oatmeal Stouts in 2022, let’s take a quick glance at what they should taste like. The BJCP classifies them as a dark British beer along with other stouts, brown ales, and porters.
Although they’re dark in color, the dark malts aim more for a dark brown rather than the jet black of a traditional Irish stout like Guinness. (Although Guinness claims their stout is a dark ruby color.. they must use a different optician than me!)
On the whole, they are a more drinkable type of stout as the sweetness of the roasted malts pairs well with the biscuit-like flavor of the oats. The oatmeal also makes this a creamy brew with a sometimes described silky smoothness to the full-bodied beer.
The complex flavors can include notes of chocolate, sometimes even bitter chocolate although an oatmeal Stout will normally lack a distinct hop bitterness.
Other intense flavors from the roasted malt character include caramel and sometimes an earthy nuttiness, maybe even hints of hazelnut. Most brewers will use a specialized yeast strain that doesn’t consume too many of the sugars in the malts which accentuates the sweetness further.
Hops are traditionally used sparingly and don’t affect the aroma or bitterness too much. The aromas will normally be notes of coffee from the roasted barley and other malt aromas.
Although classed as a stout, it’s not really that “stout” (old English for strong) but rather more at the session beer end of the alcohol content scale with an average ABV of about 5 – 7% although some American craft brewing companies have often bumped that up to the level of an Imperial Stout at 8% ABV or higher.
This originally low to medium alcohol style is packed with those darker malt flavors and has a rich and smooth body from the oatmeal.
The Top 10 Oatmeal Stouts
Now that we know what an oatmeal stout should taste like, where it came from, and why it’s so popular again, let’s take a look at some of the favorite oatmeal stouts you may spot down your local beer hangout, craft brewery tap room or even the 7/11.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.0%
Let’s start with the original oatmeal stout, which kicked off this style in recent years. Most beer experts consider this creamy, chocolaty beer as the benchmark all other oatmeal stouts should be measured by.
With its bittersweet, roasty, and smooth style, it typifies all that is good in an oatmeal stout. Standout qualities include the texture and the body along with the flavors of dark bread and caramel coming before the pleasantly bittersweet finish.
It’s a creamy beer with just the slightest hint of graininess and has an almost coffee, almost chocolate-flavor as you would expect from a mild stout. Still traditionally brewed in vast open fermenters made of slate, alongside a clean and earthy hop finish, you’ll swear you can taste the creamy chalk of the slate.
At only 5% ABV, it falls at the lower end of the scale for today’s oatmeal stouts, but the body is not watery with a smoothness from the oats. Easy to drink, this isn’t a beer that will stick to your ribs like porridge and can be a great accompaniment to most foods, especially grilled meats.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.8%
Barney Flats is considered by many expert beer guides to be one of the best American-crafted oatmeal stouts. Anderson Valley certainly doesn’t disappoint with this rich, dark brew.
A creamy, almost velvety smooth texture combines with robust roasty flavors like espresso, toasted bread, and even a hint of red fruits. All of this is underscored with the foundations of a caramel and toffee flavor.
Even though it has some sweeter chocolate notes and a fairly full body it’s still very easy to drink. A silky mouthfeel comes from the addition of just the right amounts of oats.
Perfect for pairing with a barbecue, we recommend this as a complement to spicy dishes as the creaminess of the beer is able to quench most chili heat. Even matching it with a crispy Chinese suckling pig could work as the hint of cherry flavor brings out the sweetness and depth in the meat, not to mention the smoothness contrasts with the pork’s crispy skin.
Once you’re finished with the main course, of course, like all oatmeal stouts it goes well with chocolate desserts.
Belhaven Scottish Oat Stout ABV 7%
We jump across the pond again for our next pick of the top Oatmeal stouts. The Scottish have been mastering the art of malt-forward dark beers for centuries and brewing since 1719 Belhaven is now the oldest working brewery in Scotland. What they know about “healthy” beers remains to be seen though, remember this is the country where they eat deep-fried Mars bars!
This Scottish oatmeal stout, or Oat Stout, as Belhaven calls it, pours a very dark brown in color with aromas of both milk and dark chocolate, toasted bread, rum, and coffee.
With an ABV of 7%, it’s a slightly warming beer with coffee flavors and molasses hitting your tongue along with that smooth, some would say oily, texture of the oats shining through.
Next Burn’s Night, try hunting down a few bottles of this stout to go with your haggis, neeps, and tatties. Scotland isn’t just about the whiskey, they also have a heritage of fine dark beers too as exhibited by this fine Oat Stout.
Founders Brewing Company Breakfast Stout ABV 8.3%
Founders Brewing Company in Michigan is better known for hoppy beers, but they also make some excellent porters and stouts.
This oatmeal stout from Founders reads like the ingredients of a decent breakfast with a double dose of coffee, Sumatra and Kona roasted coffees, and both bitter and imported milk chocolates. The aroma is of earthy cacao and fresh ground coffee.
As you sip the beer, you get a pleasant black licorice bitterness, which accentuates those more intense flavors. This creamy brew can compete with any standard cup of joe you may find at breakfast, with the oats adding extra creaminess to the mouthfeel.
For Bruch gatherings, it’s a perfect alternative to any traditional fizzy cocktails and would be ideal with a stack of pancakes, some maple syrup, and a side of bacon. The only thing which would concern me is the worryingly high ABV for a breakfast style of beer. But if it’s a weekend, what the hell, what else have you got to do all day?
Summit Brewing Co Summit Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.0%
With a creamy tan head and a rich black color, this oatmeal stout from Summit was until recently only served on draught at select locations. After 17 years, it’s now finally available in bottles offering a different experience from the better-known draught version.
Still using the same recipe as the Nitro draught version, this well-balanced oatmeal stout offers a brightness to the flavor with a crisp finish. Notes of hazelnut, caramel, and chocolate abound with a robust yet creamy finish from the addition of oats.
Sharp yet sweet, it uses Northern Brewer, Pilgrim, and Fuggle hops for a more defined hop aroma. Look for it in your local store now as it comes available in both 6-packs and 12-packs of 12 oz bottles.
With an ABV of just 5%, this verges on a session oatmeal stout but there’s no longer the need to search for a bar serving it on draught for that session.
Firestone Walker Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin ABV 8.5%
Another oatmeal stout which was previously only available on draught is now widely available in bottles across the US.
The barrel-aged version of this oatmeal stout is a must-try, aged in bourbon barrels that have been used for well-known premium bourbons such as Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve as well as the barrels of Rittenhouse Rye.
With a soft and rounded smooth barrel-aged character, it also has that distinctive sweetness found in oatmeal stouts.
The decadent chocolate and espresso flavors merge with the vanilla characteristics from the wooden barrels and make it the perfect match for more chocolatey desserts like a molten lava cake. With such a balanced finish you will have trouble believing it’s really 8% ABV.
Freemont Brewing Company Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal Stout ABV 8.0%
Being classed as an Imperial Oatmeal Stout, with an ABV of 8%, Dark Star is a deep black stout that uses oats for that silky mouthfeel balanced with a firm hop handshake.
Magnum and Williamette hops are used to give it a higher level of bitterness with 50 IBUs but this is balanced with a selection of malts for sweetness including roasted barley, 2-row pale, C-60, Carafe 2, and chocolate malts with flaked oats.
The resulting aroma is one of roasted coffee, toasted bread, baked chocolate, dried fruits, and warming spices. With a moderate sweetness and bitterness, this stout has a slight acidity and Unami with that smooth coated carbonation expected from an oatmeal stout.
Freemont Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal Stout has won several awards over the years including a Gold medal at this year’s, 2022, World Beer Championships in the Oatmeal Stout category, a Silver medal for Best Imperial Stour at the Mountain Brewers Festival, and the Judges Pick for Stout at the 2019 Sip Northwest Awards.
Brasserie McAuslan St Ambroise Noire à l’Avoine Oatmeal Stout ABV 5%
Drier than most oatmeal stouts, this stout originating from the Brasserie McAuslan in Montreal, Canada still has a texture that is silky and smooth from the use of oats. The bitter finish of 45 IBU is perfectly balanced between the roasted malts and hops.
An intensely black stout, it carries strong hints of espresso and chocolate in the flavor, while the oatmeal contributes to the full body and a dense mocha-colored head.
The chocolate and espresso flavor combines with a complex aroma of toasted oats, coffee, chocolate, dried figs, and burnt sugar. Another oatmeal stout that is a perfect accompaniment to chocolate desserts and is very drinkable at a session-like 5% ABV.
Rogue Ales Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.8%
As you would expect from Rogue Ales, this Oatmeal stout is more intensely bitter at 60 IBU than some beer obsessives would argue is appropriate for this style. However Rogue is one of my favorite craft breweries from Oregon and the bitterness of their ales is the main reason why.
Rogue themselves describe the beer as being ebony in color with a rich creamy head (the oatmeal influence), an earthy flavor, and a mellow chocolate finish.
In reality, the roasty malt, toast, and creamy oatmeal give a slight sweetness that transitions into an assertive bitterness that lingers. That abundant American hops flavor and bitterness help to cut through the sweetness and add complexity to the flavor.
A rich blend of both milk and dark chocolate is complimented by some bread notes and a little dark cherry peeking through. The sweetness carries through with flavors of coffee and chocolate and the oatmeal is used well but some would argue is overpowered by the hops. It’s a sweet oatmeal stout but not too sweet.
This is definitely one worth trying if you’re missing the hops of your favorite ales.
Schlafly Beer/The Saint Louis Brewery, LLC Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.7%
With its plain bottle label, you would be forgiven for walking past this oatmeal stout when in the beer aisle of your local store. It almost looks like a generic stout. But don’t be fooled by its simple style of packaging, this is a classic British-style oatmeal stout that is dark, smooth, and slightly sweet.
Just enough bitterness at 40 IBU and hops balance out the richness of the roasted malts nutty characteristics and the smooth creaminess of the oatmeal flakes. Freshly roasted coffee beans, cocoa, and hints of dried fruits and raisins dominate the aroma of this jet-black ale.
Smooth and balanced it uses hops from both UK (Northdown) and Poland (Marynka) along with pale and caramel malts, roasted barley, and oat flakes for a super flavorsome stout that is dangerously easy to drink at just 5.7% ABV.
Choosing the Best Oatmeal Stout
Hopefully, you have enjoyed our look at some of the top oatmeal stouts currently out there. It’s certainly been a welcome revival of this nearly forgotten beer style that Sam Smiths and Merchant du Vin decided to resurrect in the early 1980s.
Have we missed any of your favorite oatmeal stouts off the list? Let us know!
If you fancy brewing your own oatmeal stout, check out our oatmeal stout recipe page which can be found here.