Saturday, December 17, 2011

An eye-opening experience with Ipswich Oatmeal Stout

I recently experienced a reality check. A sip of one particular beer reminded me that rareness does not equate superiority. I already knew this, of course. It’s common logic we all possess. But it’s too easy to make yourself think a beer tastes better when it receives high praise and is also hard to find.

Case in point - I desire a particularly highly-rated beer that’s found on shelves just two weeks out of the year. It's from a brewery in a magical, far-away land known as Michigan. That beer is Breakfast Stout (FBS), brewed by Founders Brewing. Founders makes some amazing beers and releases two other versions of Breakfast Stout that are even more elusive. But let’s focus on FBS for now.

A stout for coffee lovers, FBS is brewed with Sumatra and Kona coffee, along with flaked oats, and bitter European chocolates. It’s serious, succulent, and gets a lot of attention in beer circles. Beer geeks in New England love tracking it down when it’s released in September. Massachusetts is the only New England state to get it and one of only eighteen states in total to see Founders products. Although Founders says they make FBS available for three months out of the year, I never see it on shelves for anything longer than a few weeks upon initial release.

I bought 3 four-packs of FBS this year and I’m still enjoying them slowly. Meanwhile, I recently re-discovered the Oatmeal Stout from Ipswich Brewing. I thought I'd had tried it before, but couldn't recall how long ago. It was eye-opening. While FBS is technically an imperial stout, and Ipswich’s Oatmeal Stout is not, their alcohol levels differ by only 1.3%, and they have fairly similar flavor profiles. I started to wonder... 

...Let's pretend someone who has enjoyed FBS in the past came by my house to enjoy the first FBS of this year's batch (thus, they haven't had it recently). If I blindly poured them an Ipswich Oatmeal Stout, would they immediately be able to tell it wasn't FBS? If they could tell, how many sips would they require to catch on? Could you trick a few people this way? Maybe. Maybe not. But the two beers are similar enough in spirit that it makes me want to conduct this blind taste test for real. 

While these two beers aren’t technically the same, and FBS is more robust, they seem like siblings that sing the same song. FBS is the more alcoholic brother that sings louder, which doesn't mean everyone would enjoy it more. One could drink either to essentially fill the same desire, and Ipswich is available year-round throughout New England. Given that major difference in availability, it’s hard to not recommend Ipswich over a beer like FBS to a New Englander who hasn’t had either. I say this knowing that some beer geeks would throw rocks at me for making this claim. How dare I compare two beers that are technically different in style. My answer to that is that I love both, so lay down your ax and settle down, Gimli. Some of you are too quick to declare one is not allowed to compare something like an imperial stout with another stout that blurs the lines between regular and imperial. Bah, humbug. It's all in good fun. 

Now that winter is here, it’s time to rediscover porters, stouts, and spicy winter warmers. If you’re looking for a stout, reach for the Ipswich Oatmeal Stout and enjoy it first on its own. Don’t have it with dinner. Have it after dinner. Then maybe another bottle with dessert. You’ll notice chocolate, coffee, caramel, and powdery oats on the nose. It’s very roasty, and tastes of bittersweet chocolate up front, followed by prominent notes of caramel and coffee. A flash of bitterness lingers on the finish. While the mouthfeel is creamy, it isn’t heavy at all and isn’t as dry as other oatmeal stouts. Overall, it's immensely enjoyable.The 7% ABV is very well hidden and while the aroma and flavor is similar to an imperial coffee stout, it drinks much easier. 

Today’s lesson: Sometimes that rare/expensive beer is easily replaced by a local brew you take for granted. Without question, Founders makes terrific beers. But so does Ipswich. And their Oatmeal Stout is arguably one of the most delicious sweet stouts easily found year-round in New England. Instead of hunting for something rare, grab an Ipswich Oatmeal Stout and thank me later.