NOTE: In the 2021 BJCP Style Guidelines, Oatmeal Stout is now Style 16B in Category 16 Dark British Beer which contains average to strong, bitter to sweet, modern British and Irish stouts that originated in England even if some are now more widely associated with Ireland. In this case, “British” means the broader British Isles not Great Britain.
Most people when you say oatmeal think back to that bowl of hot nutritional goodness mom used to serve for breakfast in the winter months. Oatmeal stouts hark back to the old days when everything seemed okay and mom was there to look after you.
A romanticized image I know, but oatmeal stouts evoke those same comforting feelings with their uniquely smooth body and their rich, roasted, chocolate flavors. No wonder it’s such a popular style of stout, it simply tastes great!
The Birth of Oatmeal Stout
Originating in 19th Century England, Oatmeal stouts were created when brewers discovered adding different versions of oats or breakfast oatmeal to the stout made beer a healthier drink, in pretty much the same way milk solids and lactose were added to milk stouts.
In actuality, most oatmeal stouts only contain about 5 percent oatmeal in the entire recipe due to problems with astringency when more is added. Even so, the marketers jumped at the chance to claim their beers were healthy, and the beers were even prescribed by physicians for lactating mothers and sick children.
One advert in the Aberdeen Journal in 1894 even extolled the virtues of Oatmeal Stout with the following rhetoric:
“OATMEAL STOUT (Rose’s) most nourishing and strengthening, strongly recommend for Invalids. See medical opinions. Brewed from oatmeal, malts, and hops only”
It was a very popular beer in the 1800s when it was thought to be a nutritious supplement to people’s diets. The style was popular with beer drinkers in the late 1800s but declined soon after and the last versions of oatmeal stouts were brewed just before World War II. Rationing meant brewers had to make do with what was available and oats in beers weren’t considered the most worthy use of limited rations.
The Revival of Oatmeal Stouts and Introduction to the US Craft Beer Market
When Michael Jackson, the respected beer critic, and writer, referred to a defunct Eldridge Pope Oat Meal Stout in his well-renowned book, “The World of Beer ” (1977), oatmeal stouts were no longer being commercially brewed anywhere. Sadly the oatmeal stout had been lost in history for several decades.
But the mention of oatmeal stout was enough to spark the curiosity of Charles Finkel, the founder of Merchant du Vin (a large foreign beer import company) to commission the Samuel Smith Brewery of Tadcaster in England to produce an oatmeal stout again.
The Sam Smith brewery of Yorkshire in the UK started brewing an Oatmeal Stout again in 1980, after a hiatus of several decades. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Oatmeal Stout was soon imported into the US in the early 80s, right on the cusp of the start of the American craft ale scene.
This original Oatmeal Stout is still sold in the US today and is highly respected, often seen as the benchmark for all Oatmeal stouts.
The Oatmeal stout style was also boosted in popularity in the US as homebrewers of the 70s and 80s latched on to everything that was English in origin.
Homebrewed oatmeal stouts are a very popular American craft beer style, and for good reason. If you love stouts, and who doesn’t, or are new to the style, an oatmeal stout is a good introduction to the style. The flavors are dark roasted grains with bitter chocolate, coffee, and cream notes. It’s like the English version of a dark milkshake.
Oatmeal stouts have continued to grow in popularity and there are now over 100 producers of this modern-day oatmeal stout. Some beer aficionados, though, would argue it doesn’t class a beer as it doesn’t meet the German beer purity standard, which dictates a beer should only use barley, hops, and water.
What Makes an Oatmeal Stout Different From Traditional Stouts?
What separates an Oatmeal stout from traditional stouts such as an Irish Dry Stout or Imperial Stouts is the addition of oats to the unmalted barley and extra sweetness.
Although many people think that sweetness comes from oats, it actually comes from the number of malts used, such as chocolate malts mixed with common varieties like two-row English ale malt and caramel malts.
A special yeast is also used in making an Oatmeal stout which doesn’t consume too much sugar, resulting in a great balance of the roasted barley character and the sweetness of specialty grains. The oats add a silky smoothness and make an Oatmeal Stout much fuller bodied.
Oats give the stout a rich creamy (most often described as “silky”) mouthfeel and a huge long-lasting head. Oats can add a nutty, grainy, or earthy flavor, but too much can make the beer seem astringent (although the other big flavors in a stout can sometimes hide this character).
One other problem with using a little too much oats in the grist is that the mouthfeel can go from “silky” to “oily”. It seems that around 10% of the grist is the threshold for this oiliness and intense flavor.
Some things to consider when brewing an oatmeal stout are: when most people, judges included, think of an oatmeal stout, they imagine a beer that is very rich in body and mouthfeel with a big nutty or biscuity flavor from the oats. Using English two-row pale ale malts along with quantities of well-modified malted grains can give that extra sweetness to the biscuity taste.
I’ve often seen Munich malt used in Oatmeal stouts in proportions up to 15% to add nutty qualities to a whole-grain homebrewed oatmeal stout. A mix of darker crystal malts, caramel, and/or cara-malts can provide that extra sweetness and body. These are usually kept to about 10-15 % in total, although the cara-malts will not contribute to the color too much.
Being sweeter than an Irish stout, the roasted barley used will normally make up less than 5% of the grain bill. Two-row barley or American six-row barley is often used for less of a dry taste
Chocolate malt and or black/patent malt will often make up another 10-15 % of the grain bed. As roasted barley is decreased, the levels of chocolate or black/patent malt are increased.
Hops are used sparingly in an Oatmeal Stout and it’s very rare any finishing hops are used. The bitterness level of Oatmeal stouts tends to be much lower than other traditional stouts with a minimal emphasis on hop aroma and flavor.
For more details on brewing your own Oatmeal stout, either a whole grain-oatmeal stout or a dry-malt extract version, check out our “How to Brew Oatmeal Stout” page. (Add link when completed)
Food Pairings with Oatmeal Stout
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash
Pairing an oatmeal stout with food is very easy and it goes with almost anything. If you’re looking to emphasize the sweet flavor, choose desserts that contain either chocolate, caramel, or darker fruits.
The stouts have enough bold flavors and sweetness to also stand up to most game dishes, grilled meats, or hearty casseroles. You could even try braising a medium-rare porterhouse steak in an oatmeal stout for added flavors to the dish.
Oatmeal Stout Description
If you’re studying for your BJCP exams, here is the vital info you’ll need from the 2021 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines. It’s always recommended though to check the BJCP website for any updates which may have been made.
|IBU||25 - 40|
|SRM||22 - 40|
|OG||1.045 - 1.065|
|FG||1.010 - 1.018|
|ABV||4.2% - 5.9%|
The aroma should be of mild roasted grain aromas, often with a coffee-like character. You should also note a light sweetness that can leave you with a coffee-and-cream impression. The fruitiness should be low to medium. Diacetyl in this beer should be medium-low to none. The hop aroma should be low to none (UK varieties are most common). A light grainy-nutty oatmeal aroma is optional but highly desired.
An Oatmeal Stout should be medium brown to black in color with a thick, creamy, persistent tan to brown-colored head. It can be opaque (if not, it should be clear).
The main impression should be of a medium-sweet to medium-dry palate, with the complexity of oats and dark roasted grains present. Oats can add a nutty, grainy, or earthy flavor to the beer. Dark grains can combine with malt enzymes to give the impression of milk chocolate or coffee with cream. There should be a medium hop bitterness with a balance toward malt sweetness. Diacetyl should be medium-low to none and hop flavor medium-low to none.
It should have a medium-full to full body, smooth, silky, sometimes an almost oily slickness (if the percentage of oats is high) from the oatmeal. It should definitely be creamy with a medium to medium-high carbonation.
Overall, an Oatmeal Stout will be a very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavor.
Sweetness generally falls somewhere between sweet and dry stouts, although some beers fall in the extremes of being fairly sweet to quite dry. The level of bitterness also varies, as does the oatmeal impression. Light use of oatmeal may give a certain silkiness of body and richness of flavor, while heavy use of oatmeal can be fairly intense in flavor with an almost oily mouthfeel. When judging, allow for differences in interpretation.
An English seasonal variant of sweet stout that is usually less sweet than the original, and relies on oatmeal for body and complexity rather than lactose for body and sweetness.
Pale, caramel, dark roasted malts, and unmalted grains. Oatmeal (5-10%+) is used to enhance fullness of body and complexity of flavor. Hops primarily for bittering. Ale yeast. Water source should have some carbonate hardness.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Young’s Oatmeal Stout, McAuslan Oatmeal Stout, Maclay’s Oat Malt Stout, Broughton Kinmount Willie Oatmeal Stout, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Tröegs Oatmeal Stout, New Holland The Poet, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout, and Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout.