Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stout Month Review: Stockyard Oatmeal Stout

I love pseudonyms, particularly due to the problems they present. Someone pens a text, and then adds a signature to it which is not their proper name: are they the author of this text?

I want to say: yes and no. Surely the text would not exist, were it not for the skill and the organization of the one behind the pen. But the concept of "author" is usually stronger than that: we want the text of an author to say what the author intends themselves to say. This need not be the case at all with a pseudonym. Kierkegaard, of course, is the textbook example. It is usually quite wrong to say, as we casually do, that "Kierkegaard suggested that...", "Kierkegaard held that...", etc.: precisely speaking we should say that he was the author of very little, but that he penned quite a lot. What he penned appeared under the names de Silentio, Climacus, Anti-Climacus, and so on, and we should not assume without further ado that these books say what Søren Kierkegaard intended.

But then again, one does not need a full-blown pseudonym to pen what one does not intend. Think, for example, of A Modest Proposal, which appeared under Jonathan Swift's own name. And think too of the contrary case of a pseudonym that allows an author to write exactly what they intend, but something which for one reason or another cannot appear under their own name (George Eliot, Lewis Carroll). There is, in any case, a sort of disconnect between authorship, the name which a text appears under, and the one penning the manuscript. This is by no means to say, as some of the more hasty among us might want, that there is no such thing as an author. This is nonsense: there are and have been plenty of examples of authorship in the simple and quite boring sense. A more serious question might be whether "authorship" should maintain its status as a kind of standard for any act of writing.

Here we have the Stockyard Oatmeal Stout, which is a pseudonymous beer. It claims to have been made by the "Stockyard Brewing Co." in Chicago. This company does not exist: there is no website, no address, no nothing. Instead, Stockyard is brewed under contract especially for Trader Joe's (where I bought it), and - if the internet is to be believed - it is in fact the work of our friends at Goose Island.

Now, this should seem a bit strange. First of all, Goose Island also sells an Oatmeal Stout under its own label; I've had it, and I like it. Second, that stout costs more money ($8 for a sixer), and you can buy it in many more places. So what's going on here? Has Goose Island simply repackaged their stout in a nice new red bottle to make some extra bucks? There's one way to find out.

First of all, the bottle. It's not the classy affair that the Goatmoose Stout's was. It's red and slightly garish; front and center is an old guy in a cap smirking at you, apparently just as happy as you are that you've saved two bucks. I'm not sure who the hell he's supposed to be, but he's certainly old and looks kind of vaguely blue-collary. There's also some cows and trains and other people in caps and... look, I don't know. I honestly don't think the Macbook guys put much work into this one, folks. Anyways, despite the rather stupid bottle, let's open this thing up and see if it actually is our old friend the Goatmoose.

Well, it pours dark brown with (yes) a half-finger off-white head - just like the Goatmoose stout. The smell is mainly of oats and just a little bit of fruitiness - just like the Goatmoose stout. The taste -

Actually, the taste is pretty different. It's more smooth and creamy than the Goatmoose for a start, and much more dry as well. Up front, I get a little tingle and some baker's chocolate. There's not much to say about the middle or the back end, to be honest - it's all a fairly successful mix of dry stout creamy and oatmeal stout smooth, with just a hint of bitterness after a moment. The aftertaste is a dry tang - some roasted hickory melded with mildly sour hops, and just a touch of malty sweetness. Not bad, and not at all the same beer as its brother. It does taste "cheap" in a way that's difficult to describe, though. Parts of the middle and the end almost remind me of a lager, it's actually quite thin (despite the creaminess), and the alcohol (although this is only a 5%er) comes out more strikingly than I would have thought.

I started this one expecting to get a fairly straightforward oatmeal stout like the Goatmoose, and what I got instead was an odd medium between the Goatmoose and an Irish stout. It's nowhere near as sweet as the Goatmoose - nor is it as refined - but it trades it out for more bitterness, a little more creaminess, and an extra touch of hops.

So which one is best? Well, if the two were priced the same, I'd say to buy the Goatmoose for drinking just one beer and to buy the Stockyard to make a night of it. Despite the odd lager character, the Stockyard is less sweet and lacks that sliminess I detected in the Goatmoose - and that makes it easier to drink in the long haul. But then, the Goatmoose is quite a lot more refined and interesting. You might actually be able to impress someone with the Goose Island stuff, while the Stockyard is fairly forgettable. The thing is, though, these aren't priced the same. At Trader Joe's, a six pack of Stockyards is six dollars. That's even less than the Black Hawk Stout I reviewed a few weeks ago. It tastes cheap, then, because it is cheap. That price, combined with its easy drinkability, makes it a hell of a good candidate for a party beer (even if, overall, I think I slightly prefer the Mendocino).

So I'm torn. I think the Goatmoose stout is the better beer in the end, but in a lot of ways this is the one I'd prefer to drink. It's not all that great, there's not all that much nuance to it, it's even kind of watery and grungy, but I think I like that unpretentious character. As far as pseudonyms go, Stockyard - with its worker's looks - couldn't be a better disguise for the rather too petit bourgeois Goose Island. This is a working man's beer, a stout for that anonymous blue collar joe on the label. It's the goddamned backbone of America, this stout is. So park that F-150, loosen the belt on those jeans, crank the Springsteen, and pop the cap on a manly American bottle of Stockyard. And hope to God no one finds out you were shopping at Trader Joe's.

Grade: C+
Summary: If Tom Hanks were a stout.

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