Blackberry Way Oatmeal Stout

Blackberry cobbler smashed into a beer glass—why wait for dessert?
  • Grain bill:  Golden Promise, Flaked Oats, Caramel Malt 60L, Honey Malt, Carafa III
  • Hops:  East Kent Goldings, Barbe Rouge, Bramling Cross
  • Yeast:  Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale 1469
  • Secret ingredients:  Blackberry Puree, Apple Cider, Vanilla Bean, Pecan Extract, Lactose


Origin Story:

I owe this one to my in-laws.  Richard is a very conservative beer drinker—Amstel Light is his go-to—and has eyed my creations with great wariness.  However, both he and Brenda swear to the salubrious nature of blackberry brandy.  If you have a cough, try some blackberry brandy.  If you are a bit dizzy, try some blackberry brandy.  If you break your arm, try some blackberry brandy.  They suggested that my beer might be a bit more appealing—possibly more health-giving?—if I incorporated some blackberries.

Now, I do love me some blackberries.  I also hadn’t yet done a full-on, pedal-to-the-floor pastry stout with all the trappings.  Pastry stouts often tend towards the chocolate end of the dessert tray—what if I were to go the other way and focus on, say, a blackberry cobbler?

This perspective helped me settle on the style and other ingredients I’d add.  An oatmeal stout would be a good, hearty base vehicle.  Vanilla and nuts definitely have their place in a good cobbler.  Why not add a little apple cider for some complementary flavors (and to boost the final alcohol ABV while we’re at it)?

From a learning perspective, my primary objective was to play with lactose, which is a common addition for pasty stouts.  Lactose is a sugar that yeast can’t digest, so it sticks around in the final product and adds both sweetness and mouthfeel to the beer.  Ultimately it wasn’t that hard a lesson—just dump a pound of sugar into the boil and see what happens.

Blackberry Way ended up weighing in at 9.7% ABV, and is rich and fruity, but just on the right side of the cloying line.  Under the right circumstances it might be able to knit a bone.

The name of the beer is a tip of the hat to the Move song of the same name, a minor-key cousin of “Penny Lane.”  When I was brewing this beer, I had a vision of an abandoned brewery overrun with blackberry vines as nature started to reclaim its own.  I feel like Laura gave it an Alice Through The Looking-Glass feel in her label illustration—this would have been an amazing place in its heyday.

Music Pairing:

As a kid born at the tail-end of the 60s to parents a little too old to be Boomers (meaning:  the household record collection tended towards the Kingston Trio, Glen Yarborough and Barry Manilow), I started my exploration of music in earnest probably around 1981, with a very steep learning curve.

This gave me a complicated relationship with the Talking Heads.  I ran into the video for “Once In a Lifetime” on an episode of SCTV and was weirded out.  I didn’t entirely get “Burning Down the House” when it was in heavy rotation on MTV.  The singsongy “Road to Nowhere” from a couple of years later was more my speed.

But we were going in different directions:  just as I was getting into prog and post-punk, the Heads were getting into Americana and simplicity.  As I got into college, I was crushing hard on Remain in Light and Fear of Music, and writing off Little Creatures and True Stories.

When a new album, Naked, was announced, it all seemed very dubious.  But this record turned out to be not a death rattle, but a glorious extinction burst—syncopated, funky, trenchant, full of Latin percussion, full horn sections, and Johnny Marr on guitar.  If there’s a right note on which to go out, this was the one.

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