I have no shame in saying that when I started homebrewing, I brewed quite a few clone recipes. Attempting to recreate commercial beers gave me targets before I was able to work out flavor combinations in my mind. Now, coming up on 10 years since I brewed my first batch I’m more likely to get inspiration for flavors than I am to mimic a beer completely. No matter how much I brew, there will always be a place for drinking interesting commercial beers!
The core flavors (firm roasted barley and Simcoe hops) for this half of my oatmeal stout were cribbed from Goose Island Night Stalker imperial stout. While the Bourbon County Brand Stout variants (Coffee, Vanilla, Rare, Backyard, Proprietor’s etc.) are delicious and rake in the hype, this non-barrel-aged, dry-hopped variant may have made the biggest impression on me. Coffee and chocolate with bright pine and tropical fruit was something I hadn't tasted before. I usually prefer my hoppy beers pale and dry, but fresh this huge hoppy stout really worked! What I wanted to brew though was a beer at less than half the original's ABV.
Appearance – Black. As in, not a hint or an edge or a highlight of ruby/amber to be spotted. Impressive for a 5% ABV beer. Head is light tan and very sticky. Good tight retention.
Smell – Roast leads. Lots of coffee. Fresh crushed roasted barley. Then the Simcoe hops appear with their fresh pine and mango. As the beer warms in the glass a fresh toasted bread aroma joins in. The only disruption is a singed (almost plastic?) edge to the tail. Overall appealing and varied.
Taste – Nice rounded coffee-like bitterness. It comes across as more than 30 IBUs thanks to the dark grains and dry hops. The beer has enough sweetness to keep it from tasting thin or pallid (always a risk with “reasonable” gravity beers). Finish is pure fruity 80% dark chocolate. Hop flavor could always be more potent, but they meld nicely with the base beer. Very much a hoppy stout, and not a session black IPA.
Mouthfeel – For a stout, I couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of the mouthfeel. It has silky-smooth body thanks to the oats with moderate carbonation.
Drinkability & Notes – Hops, malt, and tame alcohol content? I was sold before the first sip. While I was aiming for a more potent hop aroma, what is there is fresh/bright, and it is drinkable and balanced. The sort of stout that drinks like a bigger beer (which I find preferable to hiding alcohol). The resulting balance is probably closer to Rogue Shakespeare than Goose Island Night Stalker.