New Glarus Brewing Company
Few beers pay homage to Wisconsin's winter landscape like as Road Slush, an oatmeal stout from New Glarus Brewing. This name underscores the brewery's Wisconsin-only identity, and here where the snow flies, it attracts beer fans who relish malty sweetness and hints of coffee. So just when the soupy brown sludge inundates our winter byways, it's time to park whatever you're doing and consider a more enjoyable form of slush.
What is it? Road Slush Stout from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Style: The oatmeal stout is commonly deep black in color and medium- to full-bodied. What distinguishes this stout from other versions of the style is the addition of oats to the grist. This grain lends softness and roundness to perceptions of the beer's palate. These types of stouts are generally credited as English in origin. In the late 1800s, oatmeal stouts were quite common and considered table beers for meals; at the time, the use of oats gave consumers an impression the style was a healthier beer than others. While the oats offer a softer texture, oatmeal stouts are not considered as sweet as milk stouts that may have additions of lactose for body and sweetness. Oatmeal stouts range from 3.8-6% ABV.
Background: Road Slush was first introduced by New Glarus in 2008, but unfortunately for its fans, the beer hasn't been releasing since 2011. Perhaps the brewery is making up for lost time this year by producing around 1,100 barrels, the largest annual allotment of this beer that it has turned out in a single season.
This beer has a strong traditional English character. It's made with English pale, chocolate and caramel malts, and also has enough roasted barley to give it a firm coffee-like backbone. This isn't a coffee stout, though, in which coffee is added to the beer; rather, this flavor is a reflection of the amount of roasted barley that's used.
New Glarus adds flaked oatmeal to the mash to give the beer its smooth texture and body. "Stouts in general have a big roast to them, so when you combine it with oatmeal you soften the flavors of that roasty edge," says Randy Thiel, the brewery’s quality assurance director.
In making Road Slush, all that malt is balanced with a light amount of Northern Brewer hops, a variety first developed in England. The beer is also fermented with an English ale yeast. It takes about a month from brew day to release to make this beer, which is longer cycle than many of the ales that New Glarus turns out in six-packs.
"We like to give it more aging time in the fermenter because we think it makes for a smoother beer," says Thiel. "It's just a very straight forward beer to make with nice pleasant results, all from its simplicity."
Road Slush is a beer to enjoy warmer than one is accustomed to for many others. Thiel recommends serving it up to 60° F, almost at room temperature, to bring out more of that sweeter maltiness and softer qualities in the palate. Road Slush finishes at 6.3% ABV. It sells for around $8 per six-pack, and should remain available through February.
- Aroma: A roasted maltiness with a hint of coffee-like roast to the nose.
- Appearance: Black body with ruby highlights. A thick, rocky brown head.
- Texture: Silky smooth, and medium- to full-bodied.
- Taste: There's lots of chocolate maltiness, with a firm and smooth roasted coffee flavor at the state. The English ale yeast also provides a very light, faint, fruitiness that's way in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The chocolate and caramel flavors of the malt alongside the tones of roasted barley eventually soften and become more toffee-like in the end.
Glassware: As a nod to tradition and its English background and ingredients, pour Road Slush into a British pint glass. Its wide mouth and hand holding taper at the top allow the beer to show off its color and thick brown head.
Pairs well with: The oatmeal stout is very versatile with food and especially nice with sweet meats like pork and stews. For cheese, Sartori Reserve BellaVitano Gold is slightly sweet-buttery, nutty and blends well with the chocolate and roasted toffee qualities of the beer. In the past, Sartori has made a version of this cheese with a Baltic porter -- perhaps Road Slush could be the ingredient for a new line! As a dessert beer, it also goes nicely with chocolate and caramel flavors.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Think of coffee and cream when you sip a Road Slush. There are solid chocolate tones from the malt, roasted coffee from the barley, and creamy body from the oats -- all are hallmarks of a quality oatmeal stout. This beer's deep black body and thick brown head live up to the image conjured up by its name. That name is cute and memorable, but it doesn't necessarily make for a very appetizing perception among those of us living here in Wisconsin who deal first-hand with the real thing.
While I do enjoy the full-flavored nature of Road Slush, and overall feel it's a great oatmeal stout, my preference is for a little less of the roasted coffee character that comes in early in the profile. But those who enjoy that coffee-like accent will likely love this beer. What I enjoy even more comes in the finish, where there's a blend of chocolate, caramel and a lighter roasted character, all softening to a toffee-like ending. That's when this beer is at its height of being silky, smooth and inviting.
Road Slush is among the best Wisconsin made oatmeal stouts you'll find right now -- it's comfort food for the soul of the winter beer drinker.