Cookie in a Glass: Grouters Unite!
“Oats go way back in brewing, at least to medieval times,” says Randy Mosher, author of “Radical Brewing” (2004, Brewers Publications). “Because oats are cheap, and because they produce a cloudy beer poorly suited to aging, they were usually associated with smaller, lower quality beers.”
Although the consumers of today’s oatmeal brews might be considered connoisseurs, early consumers of oatmeal ales had a reputation quite to the contrary. “People who drank such weak, thick, grainy ales were known as grouters, a term that indicated poverty and is related linguistically to ‘grits,’ ‘grist’ and ‘groat,’ which is a term specifically referring to oat kernels,” Mosher says. While the low cost of oats attracted many early brewers, the color imparted by oats also played a role in drawing brewers to this plentiful grain. “Because of their pale color, oats often found their way into white beers all up and down the North Sea region. The classic Louvain/Hoegaarde witbier recipe still includes oats (5%),” Mosher says.
Although cheap, oats have frequently been held up as a healthy grain — remember the oat bran craze of the late 1980s? And, until government regulations prevented them from doing so, brewers used to remind their oat beer drinkers of this. As recently as the late 1800s, oatmeal stouts in the United Kingdom touted their supposed health benefits to lactating and pregnant women. Unfortunately for brewers, some of the factors that make oats so healthy can contribute to problems in the brewhouse. Oats have a high protein content, averaging around 17% and peaking around 24%. (Compare this to barley malt at around 12%). The much-touted creaminess of oats is largely due to its high lipid content, around 10% — 3 to 5 times more than most other cereal grains (other than corn, which has a lot of lipids in its germ). Finally, the nice consistency you enjoy in a bowl of hot of oatmeal is mostly due to its beta-glucan content, around 4% in rolled oats.
The secret recipe of one oatmeal-based white beer even offers up a mysterious trans-continental challenge, à la “The Da Vinci Code.”
“One white beer survived in Devon and Cornwall, England until the late nineteenth century. Known as Devon white ale, it included a large proportion of oats, plus oddities such as egg whites. The exact recipe, apparently, was a secret, and there is no complete Devon white ale recipe, at least that I have been able to find,” Mosher says.
In 1980, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery revived commercially produced oatmeal stout, which hadn’t been mass-produced since before World War I. Since then, at least 60 breweries, including Tröegs, Harpoon and Wild Goose, began pumping out oatmeal stout.
Fortunately, brewers don’t need the Devon white ale recipe or a craft brewery to create a rich, satisfying oatmeal ale or stout, or even an oat-adjunct witbier at home.
Oats or Oatmeal? Flaked, Rolled or Whole?
Quick: What’s the difference between oats and oatmeal? Oats are the actual seeds of the plant, Avena sativa. These seeds are categorized as cereal grain, in the same family as barley. Oatmeal, on the other hand, refers only to rolled, crushed or cut oats. This definition is used primarily in North America; the definition of “oatmeal” outside North America generally refers solely to finely ground oats.
Brewers can even purchase oat flakes at most homebrew supply stores. In fact, flaked oats are the most popular type of oat used in homebrewing, offered by homebrew supply stores for about two dollars a pound or in bulk for around thirty-six bucks for twenty-five pounds. Some manufacturers use the terms “flaked oats” and “rolled oats” interchangeably. To that end, Rick Sellers, host of the brewing podcast Pacific Brew News, notes, “You probably have rolled oats in your cupboard, so just check before you order your brewing ingredients.”
Also, Rick Hagerbaumer, cohost of the podcast BigFoamyHead.com, cautions against using instant oats with added sugars and flavors (such as maple brown-sugar oats or fruit-infused oats).
Whether using oatmeal (as in Quaker from your cupboard, which are rolled oats) or flaked oats (as in your local homebrew supply store), the oats should ideally impart a rich body to the final product. “The goal is to give the beer a smooth, creamy mouthfeel and a nice thick foamy head,” says Hagerbaumer.
When using flaked oats or rolled oats, such as instant oatmeal, you do not need to cook the oats prior to brewing with them. These types of oats have already been treated with heat and pressure, which makes the starch soluble.
However, if you use rolled oats not packaged as instant oatmeal or use oats packaged as “quick oats,” you must cook the oats before brewing with them. Simply cook as instructed on the package, but add a bit more water. (For example, raw, crushed oats should be cooked for 15 minutes at 190 °F (88 °C) in at least two quarts of boiling water.) Let the cooked oats cool to at least 157 °F (69 °C) prior to adding to the mash.
When adding the cooled, cooked oats to the mash, be sure to do so slowly. Otherwise, excessive oxidation may occur in the mash, or the mash may be scorched.
Finally, if you use whole oats, you must either cook the oats thoroughly prior to use, or more commonly, mill the oats to a coarse or medium grist to ensure the starch is exposed for conversion. The hard casing around the oat makes conversion impossible without some adjustment to the whole oat. Unless you have some good reason to use whole oats, you’ll be better off using one of the more convenient forms.
Homebrew supply stores also offer variants such as roasted or malted oats.
Pure oats (in any form) must be mashed with barley malt to be converted; however, Mosher suggests an easier, alternative method. “It is malted oats that are normally used in oatmeal stout. Malted oats are a lot easier to use with conventional brewing, and are less likely to create sticky, hard-to-lauter mash.”
“One tidbit about malted oats is that oat diastase (the group of enzymes that that catalyze starch-degrading reactions) contains almost exclusively beta amylase, which means they are converted best at a somewhat lower temperature (140–
145 °F/60–63 °C) than malted barley, and when mashed, tend to produce a very fermentable wort.”
Another added edge to the oats’ flavor can be achieved right at home prior to brewing. “My own trick for using oats is to toast them slightly. Put them on a cookie sheet in an oven at 325 °F
(163 °C), and bake them a few minutes. When they start to smell like cookies, they’re done. It’s best to let the toasted oats sit for a few days before brewing, as freshly roasted grains sometimes have a harsh edge to them. The cookie aroma stays in the finished beer, and can be quite lovely. Very nice in a brown ale,” Mosher says.
“I love oatmeal stouts. The body can be so smooth and silky,” says Sellers. “I think most beer enthusiasts also love a good oatmeal stout,” he adds.
Brewers who use oats can expect an array of satisfying characteristics:
• Creamy: the lipids in the oats expel oils into the brew, creating a creamy, medium- to full-bodied brew.
• Chocolaty: oats generally add a slightly bittersweet flavor of chocolate to the brew.
• Roasted: even if the oats are not toasted/roasted prior to the brewing process, the grain itself lends a roasted flavor to the beverage.
• Silky: one word used time and again to describe oatmeal stouts is “silky.” This trait arises from the oily properties of the oats.
• Darker color: the color for an oatmeal stout should range from a medium brown to black in color.
• Nutty: oats can impart nutty undertones.
• Earthy: oats can impart earthy undertones.
• Coffee: a perfect oatmeal stout is similar to coffee with a dash of cream.
• Frothy: ample carbonation adds to the zest of an oatmeal brew.
According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), oatmeal stouts should have “mild roasted grain aromas, often with a coffee-like character.” The BJCP also calls for a head that’s creamy and thick, with coloring ranging from tan to brown. Ideally, the oatmeal beverage should be full-bodied and dark with at least a hint of oatmeal flavor.
Earthy? Silky? Sounds like grandma’s oatmeal cookies in a glass.
All in the Technique
The adage “a little goes a long way” is no exception when brewing with oats. According to Mosher, “a small amount of oats (5–10%) can add a nice oily creaminess to any beer where appropriate, and aids in head retention.” The oats in this case are added to the mash.
The mash may become gummy as a result of the oats, especially when using larger quantities of oats. “I don’t brew a lot with oats because I am afraid, personally, of stuck mashes in my brews,” Sellers says. “I have used small amounts of oats, always using rice hulls when I do to avoid the aforementioned problem.”
Rice or oat hulls added to the mash help alleviate the clumping and stickiness derived from using oats. The added bulk hulls (no more than 5% of the grain bill, according to Sellers) basically keeps the oats from settling to the bottom and obstructing the sparge. The hulls are flavorless and left behind in the lauter tun, so the beer’s flavor is not impacted by their addition.
If using more than 25% oats (not generally recommended), one way to reduce the gumminess is by incorporating a beta-glucanase rest. The mash should rest for 20 minutes at 98–113 °F (37–
If you’re just not up for the possibility of a sticky mash, oats can also be steeped in a muslin bag, according to Hagerbaumer. You can also use a cheesecloth and add oats to an extract batch, taking the bag out around 115 °F (46 °C), Sellers says. Be warned, however, that the starch in oatmeal can only be converted to fermentable sugar if it’s mashed, so steeping clearly eliminates that conversion. Also, experts do not recommend boiling oats.
Sellers offers advice to novice homebrewers: “The only hesitation I have for brewing with oats is for new homebrewers, brewers who have fewer than five batches of all-grain brew under their belts, who may be discouraged with mash or sparge difficulties. Even if your favorite beer is oatmeal stout, hold off until you’re confident in your beer-making ability, because panicking has never been a confidence builder and I’ve often had to call for help from experts when things like stuck sparges occur.”
Nearly any type of beer can achieve enhanced flavor and creaminess by adding oats. “I’ve used oats in several different stout recipes, for example, a double chocolate oatmeal stout. I’ve also used oats as an adjunct in a witbier recipe that came out exceptionally well,” Hagerbaumer says.
Whatever oat-based beer you brew, the serving temperature should be between 55–62 °F (13–17 °C).
Options for complementing the oat flavor in your brew are limitless. You can keep it pure by using just the oats in addition to the big four. Or, you can try to jazz it up. “If you’re new to brewing, and have a wide appreciation of beer of all colors and styles, I highly suggest you play with oats and see what you can do to your favorite beers — heck, I strongly suggest you play with just about anything you think will do something different for your beer,” Sellers says. For oatmeal brews, chocolate malt (0.5 lbs.), coffee (0.75 lbs.), honey (8 oz.), mixed spice, brown sugar or any ingredient that sounds intriguing can be added to the mash to create your perfect rendition.
If you’re up for something more comforting, take on this variation, which might even make you feel like a kid again (a very happy kid). If you’re longing for that fresh-baked cookie taste in frothy form, look no further than Randy Mosher’s special recipe: “You could even brew an oatmeal cookie ale: toasted oats (about 10% of the grist), seasoned with a little cinnamon and vanilla,” he says. “A couple handfuls of raisins added to the secondary might add another layer.” Oh, yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Kristin Grant is a frequent contributor to Brew Your Own. She wrote about brewing podcasts in the October 2006 issue of Brew Your Own.
Breakfast of Champions (Oatmeal Stout)
5 gallons/19 L, all-grain; OG = 1.052 FG = 1.013; IBU = 33 SRM = 40 ABV = 5.0%
- 8.5 lbs. (3.9 kg) 2-row pale ale malt
- 12 oz. (0.34 kg) flaked oats
- 10 oz. (0.28 kg) crystal malt (40 °L)
- 6.0 oz. (0.17 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
- 5.0 oz. (0.14 kg) chocolate malt
- 4.0 oz. (0.11 kg) roasted malt (500 °L)
- 1 tsp. Irish moss
- 9 AAU Kent Goldings hops (1.8 oz./51 g of 5% alpha acids)
- Wyeast 1084 (Irish Ale) or White Labs WLP004 (Irish Ale) yeast (1.5 qt./~1.5 L yeast starter)
- 3.5 oz. (100 g) corn sugar (for priming)
Step by Step
Although unusual for an English-style ale, a step mash will work well for this beer. In your kettle, heat 12 quarts (11 L) of water to 133 °F (56 °C). Mix hot water and grains in your kettle and mash in to 122 °F (50 °C). (This is a thick mash at this point.) Let mash stand for 30 minutes. In a large kitchen pot, heat 5 quarts (~5 L) of water to a boil and stir this into mash after initial rest. (Now the mash with be at a “normal” thickness for an infusion mash.) Then, add direct heat to the kettle to bring mash to 154 °F (68 °C).
Let mash rest for 45 minutes. Heat mash to 170 °F (77 °C), transfer mash to lauter tun and let rest for 5 minutes (to settle). Recirculate wort until clear, then begin running off wort. Heat sparge water to point that grain bed temperature remains around 168 °F (76 °C) during sparge. Collect 6 gallons (23 L) of wort. Bring wort to a boil. Once hot break forms, add hops and boil for 60 minutes.
Add Irish moss with 15 minutes left in boil. Cool wort and transfer to fermenter. (You should have 5 gallons/19 L at this point.) Aerate wort and pitch yeast. Ferment at 70 °F (21 °C).
Countertop partial mash option:
Replace amount of 2-row pale ale malt in all-grain recipe with 1 lb. 11 oz. (0.77 kg) 2-row pale ale malt, 14 oz. (0.40 kg) light dried malt extract and 4.0 lbs. (1.8 kg) light liquid malt extract. Heat 5.5 qts. (5.2 L) of water to 167 °F (75 °C) and pour it into a 2-gallon (7.6-L) beverage cooler. Add crushed grains and flaked oats to a large steeping bag and slowly submerge in cooler. Open bag and stir grains with a spoon.
Break up any “lumps.” Note level of water in cooler after grains are added. Let partial mash rest, starting at 154 °F (68 °C), for 45 minutes. While mash is resting, bring 0.75 gallons (2.8 L) of water to a boil in your brewpot. Also, bring 5.5 qts. (5.2 L) of water to 180 °F (82 °C) in another pot. Open spigot on cooler and collect first wort. Add it to boiling water in brewpot. Begin heating this wort to a boil. Add 180 °F (82 °C) water to cooler until liquid level is the same as before.
Stir grains and let sit for 5 minutes, then collect second wort and add it — along with the dried malt extract — to your brewpot. Bring wort to a boil, add hops and boil for 60 minutes. Stir in liquid malt extract and Irish moss for final 15 minutes of the boil. Cool wort and transfer to fermenter. Add water to fermenter to make 5 gallons (19 L). Aerate, pitch yeast and let ferment at 70 °F (21 °C).