When a new brew is unveiled at a release party, the more unusual the beer, the more excited are the expectant craft brewing fans. One that I've been eager to taste is Jobu, a bold and strong brown ale fermented in rum barrels. Capital Brewery has had it in the works for nearly eight months, and it made my list of fourteen Wisconsin beers to try in 2014.
Last week, Jobu debuted at Lucky's Bar and Grille on Regent Street, and it didn't disappoint me or others who turned up for a taste.
One fan there was Erik Winsand, whose passion for brewing is a little different from most young craft beer enthusiasts. His father started Slab City Brewing near Bonduel in 1995. Erik actually helped around the brew house, which at the time was located in the old milk house on the family's dairy farm.
At first, I didn't recognize Erik as he sat on the bar stool next to me. However, as we shared impressions of Jobu, I recalled meeting him once in that milk house, when he was not much older than 8 or 9 years old and could barely see above the bulk tank being used as a fermenter. His specialty at the time was sticking labels on growler bottles. I had to smile, because I used to enjoy his father's beer so much, and now here beside me was a second-generation fellow beer enthusiast.
"I'm a nut brown ale fan to start with, and anything that's aged in a barrel I've got to try," Winsand said. His impressions of Jobu were straightforward: "It has a lot of sweetness, even better as it warms; it's a great beer."
This rum brown ale certainly is enjoyable, and has a fun story behind its name.
What is it? Jobu Rum Barrel Aged Brown Ale from Capital Brewery of Middleton, Wisconsin.
Style: The brown ale offers a solid malty flavor with light but firm sweetness and roasted biscuit-to-nutty caramel background tones. It is a medium-bodied beer, copper to dark brown in color. It is not a hoppy style at all, with just enough bitterness to provide some balance with the malty tones. The brown ale is thought to have evolved from its darker cousin, the porter. They range from 4.0% to 5.5% ABV.
Background: "Everybody is barrel-aging stuff, but no one seems to be using rum barrels, so this is something different," says Capital brewmaster Brian Destree. The beer is a showcase for the sweet and warm notes of rum, which blend nicely with the caramel and chocolate maltiness of the brown ale. "I didn't want to mask the deep rum flavors, but I also wanted the beer to meld with the rum," explains Destree.
Destree initially brewed 20 barrels of rich brown ale last May. That base beer was made with at least eight different malts, which gave it color, sweetness and body. "I had some odds and ends of malt around the brew house, so I threw it all in there," says Destree. Blackstrap molasses was then added, which provides some strength and flavor without adding much to the body/mouthfeel.
Last June, Destree filled about a dozen rum barrels from Jamaica's Appleton Estate with the beer and allowed it to slowly ferment. Long-term fermentation in a rum barrel imparts flavors of the original spirit, along with oak and vanilla from the wood; the flavors increase the longer the beers stays in the barrel.
Come December, Destree made a second batch of brown ale, which was then blended with the barrel-aged beer just before bottling.
A challenge is finding the right balance between the malts, the molasses and the rum flavors. "The molasses flavor is super rich and it needs to blend and add to the rum," says Destree. Mixing the barrel-aged beer with a fresh batch of brown ale helps adjust the strong molasses and rum qualities. "A little molasses and the alcohol from the rum will go a long way," he observes. Jobu finishes at an estimated 8.5% ABV.
Capital is releasing about 50 barrels of Jobu, about half of which will be in bomber bottles. The 22-ounce bottles sell for around $7/each. In Capital's Bier Stube, growlers are sold for $18 (refill). Destree isn't committing to more Jobu anytime soon because getting used Jamaican rum barrels isn't easy. The ones used for this batch where obtained from a barrel-broker in Denver. "If I can get more rum barrels, then I might make it again, but we'll have to see how well it sells," he says.
Jobu's name is a reference from the 1989 movie Major League. In the sports comedy, Pedro Cerrano (played by Dennis Haysbert, a.k.a. the Allstate Guy) is a voodoo-practicing baseball player who keeps a small effigy of "Jobu" in his locker. He would make offerings of rum to the idol in hopes of learning how to hit a curve ball. Cerrano uttered the memorable line "is very bad to steal Jobu's rum; is very bad," which is paraphrased on the beer's label.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Major League's release. Portions of them movie were shot in the old Milwaukee County Stadium, and it featured legendary Milwaukee Brewers personality Bob Uecker as Cleveland Indians play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle. Destree admits to being a big fan of the movie. "I was playing Little League when the movie came out, so I have some fun memories of it."
Capital is also getting ready for its 17th annual Bockfest, an outdoor celebration that marks the release of its popular Blonde Doppelbock. Held on Saturday, Feb. 22, tickets are available at Capital Brewery, as well as at Capital Tap Haus, Star Liquor and all four Steve's locations.
- Aroma: Hints of rum-sweetness and malt.
- Appearance: Deep bronze with a ruby-tint. Thin, soft, brown head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied with a round, soft mouthfeel.
- Taste: Starts with a light sweetness of rum, then some caramel maltiness comes in. There's also a slight fruity-sourness in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Rum flavors with a sweet-roasted hint of molasses. The subtle alcoholic strength needs to be respected.
Glassware: A snifter will focus the nose and encourage slow enjoyment of Jobu. Don't drink this beer too fast; allow it to slowly warm and you'll find layers of malt and rum sweetness.
Pairs well with: Jobu is a very nice after-dinner beer. It is best on its own to appreciate the warmth of the alcohol and the sweetness from the malts and rum. This is a relaxing brew for late evening.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Jobu will appeal to fans of sweet, barrel-aged beer with its combination of rum warmth, sweet molasses and malty hints of caramel and chocolate. I like how well the rum blends with the other flavors. There are layers of sweetness that become more evident as the beer warms, so take it out of the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes before enjoying. I noticed this most with a colder version at Lucky's Bar and Grille that had a faint sourness in the background compared to a bottle I enjoyed at home that was served closer to room temperature. The slightly warmer temp mellowed Jobu, making it more inviting and smooth, and ideal for relaxing after a meal.
While Jobu has plenty of flavor, its mouthfeel and texture is surprisingly light, at least compared to many heavy-on-the-palate, boozy "bourbon" varieties of barrel-aged brews. It comes off more moderate, without a strong taste of spirits. But don't be misled by it's lightness in body; the molasses and residual rum lend a strength that reaches 8.5% ABV. This beer will sneak up on you, so be aware that Jobu's voodoo might just seduce you into having another.