Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA

By Emily Brightman

Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian

When it comes to selecting beer at random, I’m a sucker for a distinctive name. I use this method mostly to indulge my penchant for impulsive decisions, but I’ve found over the years that this approach also has a reasonable success rate. I can admit that this is an entirely superficial decision making process, and even though my inner Shakespeare nerd keeps repeating the phrase “What’s in a name?” I still stick to this method because, at the very least, it keeps my drinking routine interesting. And it was through this exact process of arbitrary selection that led me to Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA.

Truth be told, I was initially drawn to this beer for the word “Wookey.” Being a deep, dark aficionado of all things Star Wars, my mind naturally wandered to images of the inimitable Han Solo and his trusty Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca, but as it stands, there is no connection between the two, much to my nerdy dismay. All the same, I decided to give the Wookey Jack a try and base my judgment on taste rather than pop culture relativity. Even if the beer itself was atrocious, at least I would have a decent story to tell about why I chose it to begin with.

Poured from a 650mL bottle into my trusty snifter glass, this beer lives up to its name – the color is absolute pitch black, even when held up to the light. The thin, foamy head dissipates almost immediately but leaves behind a fair amount of toffee-colored lacing. Swirled around in the glass for observation, this beer appears to have a thicker consistency than the typical IPA, which can primarily be attributed to its title of black IPA. Black IPAs are labeled as such due to their distinct dark color and malt characteristics, of which the Cascadian dark ale style of brewing is arguably the most popular variety.

As far as aroma goes, this beer is a veritable cornucopia of roasted flavors. Toasted malt is the most obvious scent, highlighted by notes of dark citrus and earthy hops. A certain piney aroma penetrates the fragrance of floral hops and subtle spices, and traces of burnt coffee are evident only in the aftermath of a strong malt scent. I don’t say this about many beers, but the first sip of Wookey Jack warrants an immediate second sip to experience the multitude of flavor.

The overall taste is smooth with a noticeable bitterness and definite charred elements. While the heavy malt flavor leaves the tongue feeling a bit thick, the complexity of the relationship between malt and hops is well-balanced by the mild carbonation and considerable thickness. Overall the taste is highly reminiscent of the composition of a classic porter, but with the undeniable zest of roasted hops that marks it as an IPA. The aftertaste is unmistakably woody. A seemingly flawless combination of cedar and pine floods the palate on the fringe of the obvious malty sourness and rounds out the bold taste of a beer that is equal parts thick and flavorful. While I have no shame in saying that this isn’t the best black IPA I’ve ever had, Wookey Jack is certainly commendable in terms of its bold flavor composition and the mere fact that it lives up to its “black” title. And as a die-hard beer geek, I can respect any brew that tastes as dark as it sounds.

The concept of pairing this brew with a meal is almost staggering, because the flavor of Wookey Jack alone has all the complexity of a three-course meal. This delectable nectar could make an excellent complement to a dish heavy on spices or smoky flavors, or even with something as commonplace as barbecue, but be warned that the flavorful intensity of Wookey Jack may overpower the dish it is paired with. Thicker IPAs of this caliber tend to be better suited for consumption on their own due to the magnitude of their flavor, and Wookey Jack certainly packs a punch in that category.

While I am marginally disappointed on a pop culture level that Wookey Jack in no way relates to my childhood Star Wars hero, this is nonetheless a powerfully tasteful beer that defies its relatively mundane packaging. As the weather marches on into the season of dark beers, the liquid comfort of Wookey Jack is sure to warm even the chilliest gullet with its sheer boldness of flavor. The charm of the Wookey may not suit everyone’s taste preference, but to those of us willing to flirt with the dark side, the benefits to be reaped are substantial. And yes, that was indeed an intentional closing Star Wars reference. Since this “Wookey” has nothing to do with the hairy creature of the Lucas universe, I have to get my kicks somehow.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]