I love it when a beer catches me by surprise. This happened with 49th State Brewing Company's Oatmeal Coffee Stout.
I try to make the rounds to procure new beers from various locations each week. This includes liquor stores, and of course, breweries, where the beer is always the freshest. If I don't have the time or the wherewithal to belly up to the bar at the breweries, I always appreciate it when they have cans or bottles to go.
I only had time to duck into 49th State Brewing and can-grab from the cooler on a recent beer run. I can usually get away with double parking or cheating the system by not plugging a meter or paying for parking in the lot. I'm in and out of the retail area of the brewpub within five minutes.
I don't think 49th State's Oatmeal Coffee Stout is new. But in a hurry, I got it visually confused with a couple of other offerings, including the Alaskano Coffee Lager and 49th State Chocolate Porter. Or, I might have missed it initially. I have this ineffective grab-and-go habit that can lead to snaggin the wrong beers, grabbing them twice, or other monkey-minded, impulsive beer shopping madness. Still, it's the fun kind of madness!
Aside from beer, coffee is another beverage I'm super fond of. I just don't study it like I do beer. To make my coffee, I painstakingly grind my whole beans in a small conical burr manual grinder, then use the pour-over method for the perfect cup. I only wish making beer was so easy.
When they are done right, coffee beers appeal to me because they give me the best of both of my beverage worlds. I've been known to drink coffee beer for breakfast and sometimes coffee after dinner around the fire in my mining camp.
Focusing on the 49th State Oatmeal Coffee Stout, this gem is actually an imperial/double oatmeal stout by description, which is apt. This dark wonder weighs in at 8.2 percent alcohol by volume.
What I genuinely appreciate about this beer is the intricate balance between the ingredients. When it comes to coffee beers, or really any beers using robust adjuncts, they're often overdone, and the adjunct or feature dominates the beer. Long-time readers know my rule; whatever the featured ingredient or process, the end result must first taste like a beer. When I'm drinking a beer with something else in it, I don't want to have to poke around and find the beer part of it.
A good example of this is barrel-aged beers which are made with the intention that the beer encapsulates the essence of what was in the barrel before. I don't know how often I've pushed a sample back across the bar with the comment: "Thanks. I get what your brewer is trying to do, but if I wanted a shot of whiskey, I'd have ordered one." Sure, that's extreme, but it happens, and when it does, I think it can immediately turn a tentative, curious drinker off and cause him or her to shy away in the future.
This rule can be applied to any ingredient, and trust me, tossing all kinds of different ingredients into beer is all the rave these days.
But the brewers at 49th State are master artisans when it comes to the judicious use of tricky ingredients to produce an enjoyable, perfectly balanced beer.
Case in point: consider my life-changing experience with 49th State's Thundershuk Alaska Oyster Stout. It blew both my palate and mind at first sip. I chanced across this beer in October of 2020 by using my same haphazard grab-and-go technique.
Get over the notion that because whole, fresh oysters are used in the beer, the result is some repugnant, fishy-smelling and tasting beer that people might just challenge each other to try, then shove back across the bar with the comment: "Thanks. I get what your brewer is trying to do, but if I wanted to shoot oysters, I would have ordered some."
There's no fish flavor at all in Thundershuck. So, what's with the oysters? Here's where 49th State's metered control comes into play.
The oysters only contribute a very soft oceanic salinity that accents the thicker stout base of the beer that does as much for the mouthfeel as it does for the flavor of this magical elixir. Simply, the very smooth, silky, and light-bodied beer is as tactile as it is flavorful. The first sip whisked me away as if I was on the ocean. If you don't believe me, get some for yourself; cans are still available at the downtown Anchorage brewpub.
Given that experience, I had high expectations for the Oatmeal Coffee Stout. I'm not disappointed. It turns out to be another prime example of 49th State's ability to combine ingredients that sing with each other rather than scream or argue.
49th State Oatmeal Coffee Stout pours perfectly in proper glassware. I use a thin, wide-mouth glass that's more open at the top to help showcase the aroma. Don't drink this beer ice-cold, either. It's best served slightly below cellar temperature because it really comes to life as the beer warms during consumption.
The beer pours to a dark cola color under a light tan, initially full head that dissipates over time to just cover the top of the beer. A stout's requisite aroma presents itself first. Expect substantial, but not dominating roast notes, along with other medium malt essence, an ale's light fruity notes with light coffee notes initially background, but easily discernible. The hops just peek through in the nose.
The initial sip reveals the stout's firm, almost sharp foundation, again showcasing roast and darker malt flavors that mirror the aroma, but with an additional bitter punch that might be mistaken for hop influence. After a swallow, in the background, any serious coffee drinker will easily distinguish between a malt/hop contribution and the obvious coffee addition. The coffee waits, but very quickly makes itself known.
The 8.2-percent alcohol by volume adds a boozy knock that somehow balances the beer's acridity. If you get in the beer for breakfast habit, go easy with this one; more than one can easily turn into a knee-knocker.
Still, it's a stout first and a coffee beer second. I truly appreciate this.
49th State Brewing Company Collaborated with Black Cup Coffee and used cold brew Costa Rica Hacienda Senora coffee as the caffeinated infusion. This single-origin coffee is known for its dark chocolate, tobacco, and cognac-like flavors, which somehow push through on a discerning palate. This is a coffee that's best served black, and is a perfect match for the rock-solid stout that props it up. The coffee really becomes apparent in the late swallow, giving the beer a chance to take center stage first.
It's the beer's exceptional mouthfeel that brings the experience altogether. Despite the overall boldness of the beer, once again, 49th State produced a soft, creamy experience that contrasts the beer's bigness and adds immense enjoyment, along the lines of that first morning cup of excellent, delicate coffee
The more I sensed the coffee, the more I yearned for it in each sip as it became more pronounced. Coffee, beer. Beer, coffee. Sip. Repeat. Enjoy.
This is a beer you don't want to miss while it's around.
While at 49th State, reach for the Alaskano Coffee Lager, a lighter beer infused with Costa Rican coffee roasted by Soldotna Declination Roasting, the Thundershuck Alaska Oyster Stout, and for comparison, a can of 49th State's good old flagship, McCarthy Stout. No matter what you grab, you can't go wrong with the beer artisanship that continues to pour out of one of Alaska's iconic beer destinations. Whether drinking on the spot or doing a grab-and-go, these are the kinds of beer to impress friends and visitors with.