Unlike pirates, many brewers despise rum barrels. Not for the flavor they impart—as we found in the beers below, that aspect of rum-aging is on point—but because the casks are both tough to get and notoriously unpredictable. Unlike distillers of bourbon, most rum producers are located far from the U.S., so shipping is an issue, and because rum barrel-aged ale is a relatively new and small subset of the beer world, distillers aren’t accustomed to maintaining quality for a secondary market. Many barrels that make it to a brewery arrive in poor condition, leaking worse than a wooden ship that’s been swiss-cheesed by cannon fire.
So, rum-aged beers are rare and valuable, and anything rare and valuable is worth stashing in a treasure chest to rest for a while. Cellar them well and these two rum-aged imperial stouts will become treasures as precious as any booty in the seven seas.
Odell Jolly Russian 2016
Beer lovers in Odell’s distribution footprint may remember Russian Pirate, a 13.3%, Caribbean rum barrel-aged imperial stout released on draft in 2015. Jolly Russian is the same beer, just in a much tinier (and much more cellar-friendly) package. Its aroma is powerful: chocolate milk, sweet molasses, marshmallow, cocoa and a wet, vanilla-heavy barrel of indeterminate origin meld at first whiff. Let the beer sit and cushiony, bready malts—like the inside of a bread roll—emerge alongside soft, smoky steak char. But the Russian’s sugary flavor calls for aging, as sweet Hershey’s chocolate up front leads to a squishy French toast middle and brandylike, craisin-and-vanilla finish. All these flavors have their moments, but like a mutinous crew they never really come together. Stash a bottle in a chest, bury it, mark its location on a map and forget about it for a year to give it some time to coalesce.
Prairie Pirate Noir 2015
One year after stashing this 12%, Jamaican rum-aged imperial oatmeal stout below decks, its aroma has become stuffed with malted milk balls, baker’s chocolate, hazelnut and graham crackers. Strong golden rum fumes swirl in the aroma, but they are softened somewhat by notes of earthy tobacco and burnt marshmallow. Time has turned Pirate Noir’s flavor into something of a donut: tasty at the initiation of the sip and at the finish, but lacking a supportive center. Sharp oak and dark Belgian chocolate lead the flavor across the abyss, but the best part is after the swallow, when marshmallow and graham cracker bubble up to dance with the remnants of vanillalike rum and dark cocoa. The lack of a middle, however, worries us, and the body has become worryingly thin—any more time in the cellar and the malts might drop out completely. Drink this one before the tides turn completely.