Halloween candy is just fine, but come fall, I crave creamy, chocolatey oatmeal stout. These beers are silky-smooth thanks to the oaty addition, and the flavors tend to evoke roasty coffee with cream. They're ideal for serving with all sorts of autumnal meals: roasted root vegetables and pork shoulder, slow-braised beef stews or chili. When dinner's over, oatmeal stouts can stand in for coffee alongside whatever you're offering for dessert.
I asked our crew of beer experts—all Certified Cicerones—about the best of the bunch. Which oatmeal stouts should you seek out? Here's their list.
1. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Several Cicerones cited this classic creamy, chocolaty beer as a favorite. It's "an obvious world class example of the style" says Chris Kline of Schnuck Markets. "To me," says Jesse Vallins of The Saint Tavern, Samuel Smith's version "sets the benchmark for the style: bittersweet, roasty, and smooth, with a long, lingering finish." They point to the texture and body as standout qualities, along with the flavor: "It's creamy and full with just a hint of graininess—and it just nails that almost-coffee, almost-chocolate flavor profile," says Josh Ruffin of Brassiere V.
They're quick to suggest it as a stellar beer for pairing with food. "Most of the time, we equate stout with adjectives like thick, rich, and luscious. Oatmeal conjures stick-to-your-ribs fullness. But Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout is incredibly easy to drink at any meal," notes Aaron Brussat of The Bierstein. "I love it with wild game or even a rare flank steak," notes Ruffin. "The gamey, iron-like character of the meat matches perfectly with the roasted malts, and that hint of sweetness in the stout latches onto any caramelizing of the meat." Vallins suggests serving it with "rich, bloomy rind cheeses like Brie de Meaux or Pierre Robert. The creaminess of the cheese resonates with the similar qualities in the beer, and the bitterness and roast of the beer make it a pairing like coffee and ice cream." Only got cheddar around? That'll do just fine.
2. Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
As far as American-made versions of the style go, this beer from Anderson Valley Brewing Company was the most popular among the Cicerones we polled. It just "hits all the right notes" says Adam Sivits of 13 Virtues Brewing: "a creamy, velvety smooth texture with robust roasty, espresso, and toffee flavors." Sivits argues that an oatmeal stout should have some sweet chocolate notes and fairly full body, but still be easy to drink. Melissa Long-Higgs pronounces Barney Flats "deliciously complex" and recommends pairing it with barbecue. Bill Carl of Southern Wine & Spirits of Haiwaii recommends it with spicy mole dishes: "The creaminess of the beer quenches any chili heat while matching the bitter chocolate with the dark malts." James Tai of Beer Acolyte suggests matching it up with "some crispy Chinese suckling pig, as the tinge of cherry flavor in the beer brings out some sweetness and depth in the meat, and the slight slickness in the texture plays a wonderful contrast to the pork's crispy skin." Finished with dinner? Ryan Spencer of Bailey's Taproom says it "makes an exceptional pairing with chocolate desserts."
3. Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin
"The mythical Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin is available in bottles again this year, and the imperialized and barrel-aged version of their Velvet Merlin seasonal oatmeal stout is a must-try," says John Verive of Beer of Tomorrow. The first bottle release happened last year—before that, this deep, intense oatmeal stout was only available on draft (and pretty infrequently) and mostly made to blend into the brewery's yearly anniversary release. The oatmeal stout is aged in bourbon barrels used for Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve, as well as barrels from Rittenhouse Rye, and it clocks in at 8.5% ABV. Verive describes it as "soft and rounded with a smooth barrel character and a distinct sweetness." Melissa Long-Higgs says, "The marriage of this beer's decadent dark chocolate and espresso flavors with the vanilla characteristic it gets from the barrels makes it irresistible and a perfect match for a chocolate dessert like molten lava cake." Verive has been busy experimenting with the ideal accompaniment: "I've done more than my share of research into beer and doughnut pairings," he says, "and I've not found a better beer to accompany a twist, a cruller, or a maple bar than Velvet Merkin." We're going to need to try that.
4. Summit Brewing Company Oatmeal Stout
It makes sense that a Minnesota brewery would offer some tasty dark beers for cold nights, and our Cicerone crew reports that Summit Brewing in St. Paul steps up....but you gotta go to the Twin Cities to taste it. "Summit Brewing Company produces a delicious draft-only oatmeal stout," Pat Fahey of The Cicerone Certification Program tells us. "This beer is worth seeking out if you ever have the misfortune of finding yourself in Minnesota in the winter. Served on a nitrogen tap, this beer is velvety smooth with a luscious, creamy head." Joe Falkowski of J.J. Taylor Distributing Co. describes the beer as "full flavored, silky smooth stout with plenty of chocolate and coffee notes," recommending a hearty pairing like beef stew. Fahey's pairing thoughts: "With chocolate malt flavor and smooth roasted notes, the beer links up perfectly with the char on a nice pub burger."
5. Founders Breakfast Stout
Founders Brewing Company in Michigan makes some perfectly nice hoppy beers, but our favorites from their lineup are the porter and stouts. Founders Breakfast Stout is a rich, dark spin on oatmeal stout with chocolate and Sumatra and Kona coffee added. "Not only do you get the creaminess of an oatmeal stout, but the generous additions of bitter chocolate and roasted coffee make this a special coffee chocolate oatmeal stout," says Kendall Joseph of Beer Makes Three, who calls the Breakfast Stout not only his favorite in the category but "one of my all-time favorite beers" overall. If you're hosting brunch, consider this instead of any fizzy cocktail: "I like it with a stack of pancakes with real maple syrup and a side of Benton's hickory-smoked bacon," notes Joseph.
Of course, if you get a group of beer obsessives together, they're never going to agree on just five 'best' beers in any given category. Our crew weighed in with many more. Jesse Vallins of The Saint Tavern put in a plug for St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from Brasserie McAuslan in Montreal. "It has a beautiful complex aroma of toasted oats, coffee, chocolate, dried figs and burnt sugar," says Vallins, pointing out that the St Ambroise is "drier than most oatmeal stouts, but the texture is silky and smooth, and it has a bitter finish perfectly balanced between roast and hop."
Looking for something stronger? Becki Kregoski of Bites 'n Brews votes for Great Divide's Oatmeal Yeti, which clocks in at 9.5% ABV. "The first warming sip is a blanket of bittersweet dark chocolate and rich roast with a touch of raisin and molasses. The creamy brew finishes with a whisper of lingering smokiness."
If you crave chocolate, Josh Ruffin of Brassiere V recommends New Holland's 'The Poet'. "It's dry for the style and more dark chocolate-forward, with little notes of anise and smoke. It's super complex for such a mild stout, and is equally at home with German chocolate cake as it is with a hearty, earthy mushroom burger."
More recommendations poured in for oatmeal stouts from Greenbush Brewing in Michigan, Benchmark Brewing Company in San Diego, Fitger's Brewhouse in Minnesota, and Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona. Our takeaway: wherever you are, you can probably find a solid locally-brewed oatmeal stout. Time to start drinking!