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Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

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Anderson Valley Brewing Company makes a damned fine Oatmeal Stout.

Just don’t try to make sense out of the label, where seemingly incomprehensible phrases such as “not just shy sluggin’ gorms neemer” appear.

You see, back in the late 1800s, residents of Anderson Valley, CA discovered that life without PlayStation, The View, or Facebook was more boring than anybody had expected. When these rugged Westerners grew tired of whittling, square dancing, and planning their Visitor Center, they decided to ease the collective ennui in the most logical fashion imaginable — by inventing Cockney Rhyming Slang.

Or nearly so. Boontling, as their affected dialect became known, provides the words and phrases that inspire the names for AVBC brews. Barney Flats is the Boontling name for the Hendy Woods National Forest and its “awesome virgin redwoods” located west of the brewery (according to the label). By the way, “it’s not just shy sluggin’ gorms neemer” apparently means “not just for breakfast anymore” — a reference to this sweet and filling Oatmeal Stout.

I have to take a moment to remark on the head that filled my tulip glass when I poured this pitch black stout. The foam was two fingers thick and, from the top, had the appearance of coffee-colored whipped cream. And yet, from the side, you could see the foam was formed by densely packed and precisely placed bubbles. It looked like the cross section from a Memory Foam mattress. Though the spectacle lasted only a minute or so, it was without a doubt far more entertaining than confusing tourists by creating my own language.

The aroma packs a big, malty-sweet punch. You can detect roasted malts and coffee tamed with creamer.

Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is a fun beer to drink. It has a rich mouthfeel with a light body — that despite its pitch black complexion. The sweetness so present in the nose is but a supporting character to the flavor’s roasted malts and hops. There’s a moment with many rich stouts where the sweet malt succumbs to the bitterness of roasted malt or bitter hops. I felt that battle take place, but the bitterness bowed out without much of a fight. This is what the label describes as: “An intensely rich experience with a gratifying bittersweet finish.” Cheers to that!

One final note I’d be remiss not to mention — after my first sip, I looked down and noticed the bottle cap. I could see — something — just visible through the nearly opaque bottle cap liner. It took me a good three or four minutes to peel the liner away and scrape off the glue, but I was rewarded with the discovery of this message in a bottle cap: “We will sell no ale that’s weak and pale.”

Now, I thought it was either an Easter Egg or a mistake — who would hide that under the rubber cap liner? But just a few moments ago, poking around the Anderson Valley Brewing Company website, I discovered a link explaining that each cap has a hidden phrase or puzzle — over 100 different designs. Anyone who collects at least 50 can be entered into their Hall of Foam.

It seems those Anderson Valley folk are still looking for ways to keep things interesting! I hope they stick to the beer and leave the linguistics to the professionals.

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