Samuel Smith Tadcaster Oatmeal Stout
The first word this Oatmeal Stout implies after pouring is “frothy.” The head which appears atop this heavy black stout stands like a foamy gatekeeper between you and your first silky smooth sip. But thankfully, it’s one which yields quickly enough.
The feeling of the fluffy foam head making a beer mustache comes across as appropriate and almost makes one long for the age of simmering class warfare amidst the backdrop of the industrial revolution. The reasonable price point and simple drinkability of this smooth oatmeal stout is complemented by the needless yet pleasant decorative gold-colored foil which covers the neck and cap.
Boasting itself as “The Celebrated” oatmeal stout, this offering from Yorkshire’s oldest brewery asserts itself as being the inspiration for hundreds of other “commercial” oatmeal stouts out there. Tasting this, my mind is forced to dwell a bit on the nature of stouts, porters and their origins.
Conventionally, prior to making the mash of core ingredients, the grains that were to be added would often be roasted first in large, wood fired ovens. When going for a richer and more thorough roast, the brewers roasting the oats would find that – just like in modern brick pizza ovens – the actual heat distribution between the center of the oven and the outer edges had considerable effects on the product they were cooking.
While grains in the center would typically roast to their desired darkness and temperature, those along the outside of the pile would often overcook or burn. Yet as grain prices today often dictate the importance of maximizing the use of available stock, in the 1700s, the prices mandated that none go to waste. So, not wanting to waste the now-burned grains, brewers experimented with using them in the creation of new, darker and heavier brews. These first initial creations, with their deep appearance and equally robust flavors, became their first market tests on the working classes and commons, quickly becoming very popular with port workers.
As such, the name “porter” seemed only natural and stays with the variety to this day. It wasn’t long following the establishment of this new brand that brewers began over roasting their grains intentionally for production of the porter, with the new even darker grains along the outside of these batches soon being used for their own alternative purposes, creating a brew so thick and rich in flavor, that the name “stout porter” was an almost inevitable moniker for this new, dark as night heavyweight.
So okay, fine, the old institution that is the Samuel Smith Brewery and the rather interesting history behind the stout and porter themselves is sort of hard to avoid bringing up when considering this Tadcaster Oatmeal brew. But it’s not simply for the novelty, nor the word count and column inches I gain from doing so either. Because within the advent of the Oatmeal Stout as a style of brew itself, a clear historical evolution is evident – both while considering it against heavier imperials and more modern chocolate stouts, as well as while drinking the beer itself.
An Oatmeal Stout, in terms of body and flavor is a comparatively safe stout to take on. Whereas for instance, a Russian Imperial style stout with its orange-ish, nearly red head and its deep, dark intensity can sometimes be too much for some, the use of oatmeal as an ingredient in the brewing process lends the oatmeal stout a lightness and balance that its heavier cousins lack. Not quite as light and smooth as a porter – which itself still maintains a weight greater than its lager, pilsner or wheat beer counterparts despite being lighter than the thicker stouts – the oatmeal stout is one of the more gentile and silky varieties a casual or experimenting drinker can sit down to. And it is the drinkability and comparatively easy-going nature of this dark black brew which could cause one to nod in understanding at claims that such became the inspiration to others.
This is, in addition to its packaging, presentation and historical relevance, where the Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout really shines through. It’s drinkable. Easily drinkable.
Though the deep brown of the pour turns to a dark black in the glass and though it remains possessed of the same richness and body of a typical stout, its balance and smoothness make for easy sipping with this, what is, short of its oatmeal element, meant to be a heavy, filling drink. Settling pleasantly on both the front and top of the tongue, the robust, creamy, almost coffee-like texture come complemented by a somewhat dry, grainy, mildly nutty flavor. The inherent malty notes and almost entirely absent hop profile pairs well with the smoother oatmeal flavoring, reducing the sweet punchiness that is typical of other stouts, while at the same time preserving the rich body that defines it.
Stouts and porters themselves are most often seen and considered to be seasonal beers, meant to be enjoyed for their richness and weight during the colder, darker seasons. If golden lagers, hoppy IPAs or spiced Belgian saisons are the lights snacks of sweltering summer, brews such as these are the hearty feasts meant to sustain one during the long winter. And in this, especially with respect to the smooth palatable silkiness of the oatmeal stout, this sort common sense, homespun, working class spirit is present in the drinking of this earnest yet complex British brew.
With every sip, it’s easy to imagine the turbulent times when those who had forever existed in the subsistence bottom of pre-Victorian England’s socio-economic food chain, began insisting that they were entitled to more than their meager means and lot and life afforded them. It’s easy to feel, in the flavor of this beer, the longing for richness and fulfillment beyond the simple survival or imbibing of the same old, well established class conventions. This stout is almost regal, both in packaging and presentation, yet there is something honest and straightforward to it, that lets you trust and respect it as you drink.
Sure, it may spend its days shoveling coal into a furnace with soot filling its working class lungs, but it remains high-brow enough in spite of this to where it’s comfortable after the day is done to ponder the works of Plato and Aristotle, or debate the virtues of some new provocative piece literature. It does these things without feeling or conveying any sense of contradiction, but rather leaving the height of its brow line to be a matter for your consideration and judgment.
The Oatmeal Stout is a beer that encourages hearty, bold enjoyment, while also intimating to something refined and luxurious. Without the need to bombard the senses with how presumptively great and complex it is, the Oatmeal Stout nicely straddles the gap between a porter’s smoothness and a stout’s raw gravity. And this is why I feel calling this beer a safe black stout, without being condescending or demeaning to its flavor is not only fair, but in context is actually a compliment to what it is and what it stands for.
Nicholas Goroff is a beer lover, writer, actor, ex-political professional and devoted anti-ideologue. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
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