I've been compiling a "favorite beers" list for a couple of years to help me keep track of the brews I like and better inform my tastes. When I try a new beer, I sometimes think of how it stacks up against my favorites and whether it will become an all-timer. Of course, most beers aren't distinguishable. What does a Coors or a Red Hook ESB taste like? Good luck with that. One standout that is quickly shooting up my list is made by this little brewery in Canada, McAuslan Brewing in Montreal, and goes by the name of St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout.
I've had this several times before, most recently at the Twisted Spoke, a bar noted for its terrific beer selections which are handled with the best of care. I met some friends over there for a brew - actually, I went there desperately seeking Kentucky Breakfast Stout but the keg died half an hour before we arrived. Dejected but obviously in a stout mood, I settled for a St. Ambroise to salve my disappointment. My decision was quickly rewarded.
It's unfair to compare St. Ambroise with the legendary KBS - they're completely different entities. KBS is bold, jarring, polarizing, like a Manny Pacquiao jab to the craw. St. Ambroise's talent, if you will, lies in its presentation and how it sneaks up on you with a more subtle, deceptive, but no less distinctive flavor. It's visually alluring. It's body is black as a crow belied by a startling creamy white, thick head with large creamy bubbles like a vanilla shake. The head emits odors of fresh baked bread and nuttiness.
And that's the flavor. The first thing you taste is silky cream, then, gradually, the flavors unfold: nuttiness, bitter chocolate, toffee, wheat bread, and oatmeal. Although this beer will remind one of a Guinness, especially with the way it cascades in the glass, it's got far more in common with a Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro pour in that its body is denser than the Irish icon. Yet, it's pleasantly drier than the Left Hand with just enough sugar to round it out more than Guinness or Murphy's. It forces you to sip it and enjoy it; you cannot comfortably slam a beer of this density and creaminess.
I haven't had a lot of beers on this level. Yet I need to investigate how it drinks out of a bottle. I'm curious how much of that creaminess and beautiful presentation will be lost. I will rarely pass this up on tap. It's the type of beer that could eventually make my top 10. Brilliantly done.
PROS: A great beer that, similar to Guinness, does not leave you uncomfortably full and carries modest alcohol.
CONS: You want it all the time and you won't find it. You'll spend many lonely nights thinking about it. You soon realize you're more of a freakshow than 9 juggling midgets on unicycles.
VERDICT: Living in a circus tent ain't so bad when you can drink beer like this.
4.7 of 5 stars.