There's something quite comforting about the rich brown beers of fall. Just as the weather turns a little cooler, they show up like the changing leaves. When mixed with a little bourbon, these smooth dark brews are perfect for damp autumn days. Rocky's Revenge is one such beer, named for the local legend of a Loch Ness-type of serpent that lives in the waters of Lake Mills' Rock Lake. Made by Tyranena Brewing, it's a bourbon barrel-aged brown ale with a flavor larger than life, just like the creature that inspired its name.
What is it? Rocky's Revenge from Tyranena Brewing Company of Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
Style: The brown ale is medium-bodied and deep copper to dark brown in color. It is known for a balanced malty character with caramel and chocolate tones. The style commonly offers low hoppy bitterness. Brown ales range in alcohol content from 3.5% to 5.5% ABV.
Bourbon barrel-aging is found across many styles of beer. It is usually the intent of the brewer to meld the flavor of beer with the character of wood that lends hints of oak and vanilla, while also adding sweetness and often some warmth from the bourbon.
Background: Rocky's Revenge is the number-two best-seller for Tyranena. The beer gets its name from the menacing serpent that is believed to inhabit the waters of nearby Rock Lake. Early residents of Aztalan believed the snake-like creature was the guardian of stone tepees that supposedly arise from the lakebed. The brewery used the tepee legend to name its Stone Tepee Pale Ale. Although Rocky has not been seen for over a century, divers say they experience a feeling of being watched when exploring the lake.
Brewery owner and brewmaster Rob Larson gets the bourbon barrels for Rocky's Revenge from Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky. Each barrel is unique, and Larson tries to stick with Heaven Hill barrels to keep Rocky's flavor as consistent as possible.
Larson's process involves blending beer that is aged in the bourbon barrel with straight brown ale. Because there's always some bourbon remaining in the barrels, it's hard to estimate the final alcohol level of Rocky's Revenge. It ends up around 6% ABV.
Larson is protective of the recipe for Rocky's Revenge. He won't divulge the proportion of barrel-aged beer to non-barrel-aged beer, which is the secret to getting the beer to taste like beer and not too much like bourbon.
Larson does say that each bourbon barrel is used just once, which makes Rocky's Revenge an expensive beer to make and one of the most costly among all of his beers. However, its shelf price remains competitive at around $8-$9/six-pack.
If you're a fan of bourbon barrel-aged beers, Tyranena's Brewer's Gone Wild Series over the past few years has featured several others, including a scotch ale named Shaggin' in the Wood, an imperial porter named Who's Your Daddy, an imperial stout with additions of cocoa nibs called Doubly Down 'N Even Dirtier, and an imperial rye porter from rye whiskey barrels called Dirty Old Man.
- Aroma: Firm, but light malty nose with a hint of bourbon.
- Appearance: Clear, deep copper, with a medium soft, off-white head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, round and soft.
- Taste: The flavor of the caramel malt is up front. The sweetness of the bourbon is in the background, and becomes more evident in the ending.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Sweet bourbon tones build in the finish, without completely taking over.
Glassware: Rocky's Revenge is a great beer for a heavy glass mug. Avoid a wide-mouthed mug; look for one with a lip that is no bigger than the body, which will gather the soft foam and hints of bourbon just above the glass as you sip.
Pairs well with: This brew does well with cheeses, especially those with a slightly sweet blend of goat and sheep milk, like the Mobay from Carr Valley. However, the bourbon in this beer makes it something to appreciate on its own.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Tyranena Brewery is well-regarded for its hoppy beers, such as Bitter Woman and Stone Tepee. Beyond those, Larson has explored barrel-aging, finding a wonderful way to complement the medium malty tones of the brown ale with the sweetness of the bourbon spirit. Rocky's Revenge is a beer with a firm bourbon accent, but one that is never overplayed. It's bold and flavorful, and could be challenging for those who only drink light golden lagers. However, its sweetness and warmth makes it exceptionally appropriate for the fall weather.