Study session #16… meet Category 16: the Dark British Beers. Very small group tonight (only four!) as we contended with a nasty winter snow storm that forecasts predicted would start to peak more-or-less smack in the middle of our study session. But we had enough to move ahead. And by that, I mean that we had Category-appropriate beers, and more than two people to talk about them.
Category 16: Dark British Beer
The BJCP style guide describes Category 16 beers as (emphasis added):
This category contains average to strong, bitter to sweet, modern British and Irish stouts that originated in England even if some are now more widely associated with Ireland. In this case, “British” means the broader British Isles not Great Britain.
|16A. Sweet Stout||16B. Oatmeal Stout||16C. Tropical Stout||16D. Foreign Extra Stout|
|20 – 40 IBU||25 – 40 IBU||30 – 50 IBU||50 – 70 IBU|
|1.044 – 1.060 O.G.||1.045 – 1.065 O.G.||1.056 – 1.075 O.G.||1.056 – 1.075 O.G.|
|1.012 – 1.024 F.G.||1.010 – 1.018 F.G.||1.010 – 1.018 F.G.||1.010 – 1.018 F.G.|
|4.0 – 6.0% ABV||4.2 – 5.9% ABV||5.5 – 8.0% ABV||6.3 – 8.0% ABV|
In my broad observations, these four styles have many similarities. There’s the characterful British-heritage yeast that is likely to impart some fruity esters. There’s the “coffee-and-cream” impression that is likely to show up in all of them. “Roasted grains” should play a prominent (if not dominant) role in the aroma and flavor profiles. Medium-full to full body in all. Low to no hops in all. Dark, nearly opaque beers with thick, creamy, tan heads.
It would seem that if ever there was a category where the devil was in the details… this might very well be it.
- 16D. Foreign Extra Stout. Guinness Export Stout. Judged; structured tasting. Scores ranged from 39 to 42. The general consensus was that, while a pleasing beer overall, it could use a little more alcohol and a more pronounced roast grain character. Maybe these are our abused American palates at play? But at the table, we all felt that for this beer to really shine as an example of this style, it needed more of those elements.
- 16D. Foreign Extra Stout. Dominion City Shed No Tears. Not judged; quick style comparison. The finish seemed longer and had a stronger overall alcohol impression. Still did not seem to have a strong enough roast grain character like we were looking for in an interpretation of the style. That said, we spent some time discussing the fruity ester qualities, and in particular comparing them to the ones we detected in the previous example. Clearly, if these were in fact ester, they would be yeast-derived; but what effected ester production the most?
- 16B. Oatmeal Stout. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. Judged; structured tasting. Scores ranged from 32 to 39. Negative comments called out “rubbery” or “metallic” aspects. “Metallic almond?” was one recorded remark. Relatively strong ester character, but some of the expected oatmeal-derived impressions seemed muted. One study group member commented: “I don’t know that I would have entered it as an Oatmeal Stout if it was mine.”
- 16B. Oatmeal Stout. 3 × homebrew examples left over from the 2017 Noonan competition. Apparently the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners for that category that year. Much discussion of what made them similar to one another vs. what differentiated them, and also how they compared to style benchmarks. Sidebar discussion of common “metallic” component to many beers fermented with British-heritage yeast strains; coincidence? the yeast itself? something else? Also some discussion around the finish in this style, and where the line was for “too bitter” vs. “an American interpretation of said style”?
- 16A. Sweet Stout. Left Hand Milk Stout. Not judged, not scored; quick impressions only. Again: “an American interpretation of the style” (vide supra); leading us into a discussion (again!) of paying attention to the comments in the style descriptions, especially when they say things like “open to brewer interpretation” or “regional variation” etc. This (in turn) led us to a discussion of the style comparisons between 16A and 16B, and how one needs to watch out for those scenarios where a beer may straddle that line, and how do you make that call as a judge? (Short answer: judge against the style the brewer claims/believes, but trust your instincts, and call out that stuff accordingly.)
- Bonus beers. With the Make the Cut competition coming up, there were a few candidate brews being offered up for feedback by a couple of the evening’s attendees. We sampled; we gave feedback. (Full disclosure: I was the main beneficiary there.)
And as for this time… no specific call-outs for Takeaways. None that wouldn’t be repeats anyway. So until next time…