John Henry West Indies Pale Ale: 9.4% abv
Here’s a look at a unique pale ale made by a brewery in Minnesota. To be honest, we can’t tell you a whole lot about them, but we can tell you they’re out there. We can also give you a guess on whether or not you should buy a bottle. I don’t believe to any degree that one should ever stop looking for a new, better craft brew or spirit or wine to try. The adventure on its own is an extremely rewarding experience.
So why did we pick this one? There is a simple reason: this particular pale ale was aged in dark rum oak spirals. They also have a beer aged with bourbon, and one with brandy. There is debate about whether oak spirals or oak casks impart better flavor, but we don’t think that those anorak discussions are worth spending time on when exploring. There is not a large amount of experimentation done with rum-aged beers, and especially dark rum as far as we can tell. Bourbon tends to dominate in these parts. Innis and Gunn does it with great success, so can this company pull it off too?
Let’s start with the nose and find out. The aroma is dark, but maybe not overly-potent. There is a unique mixture of flavors, but it starts with light roasted malt, oak, molasses, caramel, gentle hops, light coffee and chocolate in dark flavors. There is another aspect in fruit smells, including pear, black berries, strawberry, and pineapple. The nose is a very satisfactory start to the beer. From here, the taste becomes a little different.
The arrival is empty in mouth-feel, but has some contributing flavors of spice, sweetness, slight tartiness and some citrus. One can experience aggressive molasses which can only be assumed to be from the dark rum, toffee, and orange peel. This isn’t a complex arrival, but does introduce the beer adequately. Now that the red carpet has been rolled forth, the taste comes out. The body is sugary, with the same molasses character as the arrival. There is the addition of caramel, orange-like citrus, toffee, and some raisons. The body does a good job of building off of the arrival without overdoing it.
The finish is going to have the same effect though. Molasses. You might notice a common note here, and we’ll comment on that soon. The finish contains grainy notes including barley, wheat, and yeast, but is complemented by vanilla, toffee, raisons, hops, and even a distinct soda water taste. The finish is medium short, so it doesn’t stick around too much.
The end of this tune is that there is a definite presence of dark rum, which is both good and bad. We think that it over-dominates the taste profile, and does not leave room for complexity. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but we’d like to see a little less rum balance. This company could learn from the whisky industry and mix this rum-casked beer with some 2nd or 3rd fill cask beer, or some fresh beer to balance the flavors. This is a decent beer, and we’d like to see more experimentation with these non-traditional aging spirits.