Beer: Wookey Jack Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Style: Black IPA ABV: 8.3 percent
Beer names and the stories that inspired them fascinate me. Take Firestone Walker's beers, for example. Was Sticky Monkey named after a pet Capuchin that got into the glue? Did they designate Good Foot as such after tasting and recognizing its resemblance to some flavorsome feet? And what could possibly motivate someone to name a beer Velvet Merkin?
The origins of the name Wookey Jack are equally ambiguous. Some say that it's related to Phish, the favorite band of Firestone's head brewer, Matt Brynildson. Others think it's named for Wookey Hole, a village in England known for its dark caves and resident witch. I prefer to think it was inspired by this scene from Star Wars in which Chewbacca and R2D2 are playing holographic chess:
Chewbacca: Ghaaaaaaaaa! C-3PO: He made a fair move. Screaming about it can't help you. Han Solo: Let him have it. It's not wise to upset a Wookiee. C-3PO: But sir, nobody worries about upsetting a droid. Han Solo: That's 'cause droids don't pull people's arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookiees are known to do that. Chewbacca: Grrf.
Regardless of what's in the name, we know what's in the beer: pale and black malt, rye, Midnight wheat, and a dash of Wookey dust (on this ingredient the brewery is also infuriatingly silent). German Magnum hops are added for bitterness; Citra and Amarillo for flavor and aroma. The brew is then double dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo.
Wookey is the third of Firestone Walker's Jacks, joining Union Jack (an American IPA) and Double Jack (a double IPA), and is the brewery's first black IPA. Poured into a snifter, it's as inky-black as the deep space Chewie travels through. Pour it hard and you'll get about an inch of sandy tan foam that's creamy and sticky, decorating the sides of the glass in beautiful, resinous webs.
Hops are massive in the nose, and it's a beautiful blend -- lots of pine needles, orange pith and lime peel. Just a hint of dank resin is offset by a subtle smoky note and a touch of dark chocolate. It's a very forest-like aroma, like a pine tree that grows oranges downwind of a campfire.
While there's no shortage of black IPAs on the market now, a black rye IPA is a different story -- and it's what makes Wookey Jack interesting. The spicy malt interacts with the hops well, playing off the bitterness -- 60 IBUs, if you wanted to know -- while adding its own playful bite. The front of the flavor is a blend of tangerine, pine resin, subtle tropical fruits and rye. The swallow is better-rounded, with swirls of cocoa and dark chocolate meeting the fruity hops. Smoky toast rises after the swallow, lingering in the mouth until the next sip ups the hops again.
Firestone chose to leave Wookey Jack unfiltered and unfined, meaning some small particulates are left floating in the beer. While this might affect the appearance of a standard IPA, for which clarity is key, in a black IPA it's moot, and in fact improves the body, giving it a silky, creamy texture.
Roasted malts have been applied with a deft hand in this brew. There's just enough to round out the edges of the flavor, but not so much that the hops are interrupted. The flavor doesn't pull your arms out of their sockets, but rather caresses you with a Wookiee-like growl. Ghaaaaaaaaaaa.
Food pairing suggestions: Try the Wookey with some barbecue. Ribs or honey barbecue wings will bring out the brew's subtle roast.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.