Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Out of season?

It's hard to think of a better time for a nice stout than in the dead of a long, cold winter. Something about snow on the ground and seeing your breath seems to really bring out the warming nature and smokey flavor of a stout. It's like chicken soup for the beer enthusiast, more comforting than any food, and in my opinion rivaled (perhaps even beaten by a slight margin) only by a sweet, bitter, loaded barley wine. In fact, between the two, even I would be challenged to ask for anything more on a cold winter night in front of the fireplace. However, that being said, it cannot be stressed enough that there is hardly a bad time for a stout, and on a warm spring evening I decided to solidify that notion with a bottle of Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout by Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

I was able to secure one and only one bottle of this brew almost a year ago on a business trip to California. Since Anderson Valley does not distribute to MO, or even anywhere near here for that matter, I've been unable to find another. This being the case I was looking for a somewhat special occasion to open it, however, given the lower gravity I'm assuming this brew was not meant to be aged so I decided the wait had gone on long enough.

As usual I poured into one of my trusty Boulevard Smokestack chalices even though I'm sure that's not the proper glassware for an oatmeal stout. The color was typical of the style, almost completely black with hardly any light shining through. The head was soft and creamy, although it did not take long for the fluffy foam to recede to a thin off-white layer, leaving a trail of thick lacing which coated the walls of the glass for the duration of my partaking. The smell is of roasted coffee, chocolate and smoke, fairly standard for the style. Mouth feel was also standard, which is to say a little thicker tasting than lighter fare but short of the lip-smacking stickiness of a barley wine. As with most stouts the flavor improves greatly as the beer slowly warms to just below room temperature which is a reason as good as any to slowly savor this brew. As far as taste goes, the first thing you'll likely notice is the smokey flavor up front with a slightly higher than normal hop presence, followed by bitter-sweet chocolate malts and a well-rounded alcohol finish. This seems to have a much stronger flavor than I was expecting given what, in my experience, is a fairly mild style.

I won't pretend to be an expert on oatmeal stouts since I can count on one hand the ones I've tried but that won't stop me from calling this my favorite so far. It's an easy-drinking stout that would be just as comfortable in front of the fireplace watching the snow fall outside as it would sitting on the back porch around a firepit on a warm spring evening.