The very first micro-brewed beer I ever tasted was Kinnikinnick Old Scout Stout at the now long gone 20 Tank Brewery in San Francisco. As I took those first swallows, it was like the beer I had been waiting for all my life finally arrived to my palate. I had had Guinness before that, which maybe seemed real stout-y at the time, but Old Scout Stout instantly made Guinness taste to me like black water. That’s not really a knock on Guinness, which is an Irish dry stout, thus really an apples and oranges comparison. But as to Old Scout Stout, I remember it roasty, rich, slightly sweet with a tan head, but very drinkable. In fact when I’d go to 20 Tank that was generally all I’d order, so to have 3-4 full pints of any stout speaks to how easily drinkable it was. After I moved back down to San Diego, anytime I planned a trip to visit friends in S.F., I would plan the trip to coincide with Old Scout’s availability as it wasn’t always on tap.
Sadly, 20 years later, that beer is now a distant memory. I’ve tried to brew stouts over and over, trying to unlock that mysterious combination of dark roasted malts to replicate the flavor of Old Scout–a flavor that I’ll only know again once I taste it. I’ve made good stouts, but in chasing 20 Tank’s and getting in the ballpark of Old Scout, no, I fail every time and it’s been the devil of me. Once I had a stout from Alpine Brewing Company in Alpine, CA that was very close to Old Scout, but that was years ago and I think they either no longer brew it, or their recipe for their Captain Stout changed, because it’s not the same.
For the above reason, stout is a style near and dear to me, and as a style there are quite a few distinct sub-styles, from lighter oatmeal stouts to the more dessert-y sweet stouts and Russian Imperial Stouts. Drink a Guinness and then a barrel aged Russian Imperial and you’ll wonder how they can both be called stout. Point is, I’m always looking for a new stout that can stand apart from the rest.
Last night I bought Barrelhouse Brewing Company’s “Stout”. The label indicates it is an Oatmeal Stout, but it’s in small letters so it’s barely advertised as one. I’d also never had anything from this brewery before, but my first clue it was probably going to be good was that the brewery is located in Paso Robles, CA. Located in California’s Central Coastal area, Paso Robles is home to some fantastic wineries. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s not the kind of place that would support bad beer. Firestone Walker, another great brewery, is also located there.
And I wasn’t disappointed. The thing I loved about Barrelhouse’s Oatmeal Stout was that it was sort of the archetype of the style. It was dark, rich, minimally sweet, and had all that smooth creamy mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout. Alcohol and minimal hop character are very well balanced with the roasty character that gives stout those coffee and chocolate notes. There was no harshness or bitterness often encountered with stouts, nor was there any cloying sweetness. As the bottle professes, this was a very drinkable stout and part of its beauty is how laid bare it really is. Trust me, I love stouts that have coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, that are barrel aged, or have chili peppers in them–Hell, I do that sometimes to my own beers. But sometimes you want something brewed to style “on the nose.” And when you get a beer that by all accounts should be familiar yet still manages to rise above the masses, then you have something special. That happened to be my experience with this beer.
Next time I’m up in those parts, you bet I’m going to sidle up to the Barrelhouse Brewing Co. bar and enjoy it fresh on tap.