My experiences with the style of a black IPA or Cascadian dark ale or whatever you want to call it (a hoppy, dark beer) has been varied. There have been some good ones. There have been some odd ones. Then, there is Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack, which falls closer to the former.
It’s got a 95 on Beer Advocate, which I feel is deserving. Hell, the brew won the gold medal at last year’s Great American Beer Festival in the American-style black ale category.
What’s interesting about Wookey Jack is it throws a bit of a wrench into the typical black IPA recipe by using rye in its grain bill. For a style that is supposed to strike a unique balance between dark, roasted grains and (usually) citrusy hops, adding spicy rye can easily push a beer’s profile closer to the hop end of things.
As soon as I popped the cap on this bottle, West Coast hops broke out. A sign of double dry-hopping by Firestone Walker. Citra and Amarillo hops go crazy in this brew, offering strong and pungent aromas of tart grapefruit and papaya. There was just a touch of a rye sting on the nose, which was more or less the only aspect of the malt I could find. Even as the grains try to shine, the hops of this beer never stop coming through.
The flavor of Wookey Jack was a bit less definite, although it certainly had a low-acid bitterness throughout each sip. The slight roasted tastes of Midnight Wheat and De-Bittered Black Malt help to ground this beer in its black IPA style. Without them, the flavor of IPA would just get away from itself.
Touches of pine, but mostly pineapple, linger on the tongue and each sip finished sweet, in spite of the dark grains. The finish was a bit chalky and dry. It’s clear that the use of rye in this beer is what keeps the taste from going too dark – think a thin porter – because the peppery bite of the rye matches perfectly with the hop usage to minimize the grain bill. It’s all exactly what I would think an American black ale would be, quite honestly.
The warm beer of my final sips seemed to have the sugary sweetness of marshmallow. So that was fun.
For good measure, here’s a picture from the bottle of a lion and bear getting ready to battle. I guess the star next to the bear means he’s from Russia, but he also has six-pack abs. That’s pretty intimidating aside from the fact that, you know, he’s a giant bear standing on his hind legs and getting ready to box:
Wookey Jack stats:
- Malt: Pale Malt, Malted Rye, Dash of Cara-Rye, Midnight Wheat from Briess and De-Bittered Black Malt
- Hops: German Magnum (bittering), Citra and Amarillo (flavor/aroma and double dry-hopped)
- Adjuncts/Additives: N/A
- ABV: 8.3 percent, and you’d never guess it
- Brewery: Firestone Walker of Paso Robles, California
- Beer Portfolio: Beer page and brewery page
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac