The Beertender: Into the Black

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No matter what the calendar says, summer ended for me on Sunday, September 27, at around seven in the evening. It was at this time that dusk turned to dark, the wind picked up and the Kölsch keg blew.

My friend Joe has a sweet draught system in his house. It's a small True cabinet with a two-tap tower that sits right next to his kitchen table, which means on nights when he and I are sitting around shooting the proverbial poop, we don't even have to stand up to refill. Jealous? Me, too.

One recent Sunday evening, Joe and I were sitting in his backyard with some other folks, enjoying some Schlafly Kölsch (tap #1), when Joe's lovely girlfriend came home from a hard day's work and tried to pour herself a well-earned beer. Plooshhhh. No more Kölsch.

OK, what's behind tap #2? Looks like an oatmeal stout! Oh, yes, please. So each reveler filled his or her glass in turn, and the evening progressed much as before.

Sometime during that first glass of the Black, I paused, realizing that I had just gone from drinking perhaps the palest, lightest ale style to one of those sandwiches-in-a-glass beers without hesitation. Now, granted, I'm a geek, but not everyone at this gathering was as promiscuous in their choice of drink. There was something about this beer that made it a no-brainer at that moment in time -- other than the fact that its tap was right next to the beer we had been drinking, and that it was closer to us than the beer fridge, which involved stairs and glass bottles and openers and... well, anyway.

There's a reason many breweries put out a kölsch during the summer. It's sunshine in a glass. It's a breeze through amber waves of grain. It's perfect summer swilling. Oatmeal stout, on the other hand, is rich and velvety with a nice soft bitterness, making it the perfect beer for when the wind blows the acorns from the trees, and you suddenly find yourself with an opinion about pumpkins.

Despite its name, oatmeal stout is still made of mostly barley, with a small dose of oats added to boost the silky smoothness of the brew. The rather large dose of the dark-roasted malted barley is responsible for its deep black color, with the oats keeping the roastiness in check and adding just a hint of sweetness. Though undeniably hearty, oatmeal stout remains amazingly smooth and drinkable, making the switch from a light-bodied, delicate kölsch much easier than you'd expect. If you have anyone in your life who is still afraid of "dark" beers, you could do worse than turning them on to oatmeal stout.

Schlafly Kaldi's Coffee Stout is another great cold-weather beer. Stouts often display a coffee note from the dark malt, but this beer ups that quotient by introducing some actual coffee into the mix. Try it with some high-quality Halloween chocolates, make a holiday milkshake with it, drink it at room temperature around the fire -- just drink it.

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer for Gut Check every Wednesday.

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