Whenever I try a new beer, I compare it to a similar offering from Samuel Smith Old Brewery. These venerable beers have decked the shelves of quality liquor stores for at least two generations in the states, and continue to sell because of their fundamental quality as interpreted by people who enjoy having a pint that is a flavor experience in itself.
The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout has a slightly bitter, thoroughly grainy, and rich dark taste that rewards the drinker with an even consistency from top to bottom of the glass. Unlike the hipster beers which ramp up a single flavor component, the slight bitterness expands into a creamy caramel which balances the yeasty tastes. The reason for its bitterness is revealed as it becomes clear that without that to balance the sweetness, this beer would seem like syrup, where with it, The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout takes on the flavor dimensions of a good coffee: an initial bite, then a caramelized nuttiness, followed by a smooth and warm taste, all of which are ensconced in a basic richness that makes this the beer you want if you can have only one.
It is not exactly the news to write a review praising Samuel Smith Old Brewery in 2015, but it is a good reminder: for half of what you spend on hipster IPAs, you can get a classic that has nurtured casual drinkers for generations. It is too intense in both flavor and body to drink like an alcoholic, but serves as the perfect complement to a winter afternoon. Unlike most beers, it feels clean and whole in the mouth and does not break down into its constituent components. Like the best of beers, it combines flavor with composition and delivers a 5% ABV without it overshadowing the other aspects of the beer. Keep your trendy beers; this is all I’ll need.
Quality rating: 5/5
Purchase rating: 5/5
Tags: beer, england, oatmeal stout, samuel smith old brewery
As much as I enjoy a bitter beer, or an idiosyncratic one, Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout confuses the outward appearance of refined taste with the taste itself. An intensely sour and dark beer, it swings away from the pleasurable dimensions of beers toward small rooms full of “experts” who like highly demonstrative, artificed tastes. Such drinkers are looking for a beer to talk about how much they enjoyed, rather than enjoying it, while overpraising it like metalcore in a big heavy metal magazine. They will discuss its oddities, use vague terms like “creamy,” and generally miss the point: this beer is designed toward unbalanced extremes to make talking points, and has character within.
As a result, it makes a terrible everyday beer, and while it might be good as a Guinness substitute in a black and tan where a dark and bitter beer is necessary to offset the Bass or other pale ale used in contrast, by itself constitutes the same kind of unpleasant drinking experience that eating straight dark chocolate provides to the culinary palate. Like gourmet food that carries the pretentious epithet an acquired taste, this oatmeal stout misses out on the balance of a really good version of this sub-type, in which harvest flavors balance the bitterness to create a sense of transition, and instead aims toward something for gritted-teeth hipsters to use as a conversation topic when explaining the superiority of their taste to yours. At that it succeeds because there is so much to talk about but none of it is interesting. Take for example the separation of flavors so that the aftertaste is a tarry version of the foretaste; or perhaps, the strange fermentation overtones as if something random were included in the vat, or the process did not quite complete. Independent breweries are quite trendy now but this beer shows that it is not the size of the brewery, but the intent of the brewer, that makes a great beer instead of a faddish mediocre one.
Quality rating: 2/5
Purchase rating: 1/5
Tags: beer, convict hill, oatmeal stout