DuClaw Hell On Wood Review: Creative, Crazy, and Cravable

Extreme, outrageous beer names are all the rage these days in the US. Some of them, quite frankly, emit a too-obviously-contrived feeling, as if the namers are trying to outdo one another with 8-year-old-boy inventiveness, each trying to make up cool, totally awesome! names to outdo the others: if you have ever wondered why any beer would be called, say, Satan’s Toilet Leftovers or Fat Guy’s Armpit, then maybe you can relate. Well, let me say that DuClaw Brewery is like what I just described, but on cocaine. The names of their beers are all a bit absurd, without exception. But hey, you should not judge a beer by its label, so I decided to give a fair chance to Hell On Wood.

Hell on Wood comes from the DuClaw brewery. It is their Devil’s Milk seasonal barleywine, aged in Kentucky White Oak Bourbon barrels and release every so often to great acclaim, often winning the Brewer’s Association of Maryland Governor’s Cup gold medal — in fact, both Devil’s Milk and Hell On Wood have won the medal in various years. For reference, a barleywine is basically an ale with a high alcohol content, often with an amber color and fruit on the aroma and flavor. Aging it in oak imparts a complexity, a profundity, and a rich flavor profile that is unrivaled in the world of beer.

DuClaw Brewery is actually a brasserie (brewpub) in Baltimore, Maryland and its environs (with multiple locations and one main brewery). The company was founded by Dave Benfield as a home-brewing project while at university. In 1996, the company went official, and from then it has continued to grow and win awards. The company’s philosophy is to brew experimental beer, disregarding traditional rules and categories. So, can they live up to their hype? Let’s take a look at Hell On Wood (10.6% ABV) and see for ourselves.

Everything On Tap Review – DuClaw Hell On Wood:

Bottle: Hell On Wood can be enjoyed on tap at DuClaw’s brasseries, but it is also available in a dark-brown glass bottle. The label is almost black with orange lettering. I assume that the Halloween appearance is intentional, given the beer’s name. But upon closer inspection, the near-black label is wood, and the lettering is red-hot carving.

Pour: The color is a deep Burgundy red with swirling hints of purple. The clarity is hazy, and thus I assume that it is bottle-conditioned, though the company does not say either way. The head is very thin, almost non-existent, and a khaki-beige, and it dissipates relatively-slowly, which is unusual for a barleywine. It leaves no lacing.

Aroma: Unlike a standard barleywine, the bouquet is not fruit-forward. Rather, it shows a predominant note of oak on the nose, supported by leather, whiskey, malted grains, molasses, and flowers. But there is an undertone of apples and pears. This is the sort of aromatic profile that I personally enjoy.

Flavor: Maple syrup, molasses, and ethyl alcohol hit the tongue on the attack, followed by apple and pear, and whiskey. The hops manifest only as an undercurrent of pine bitterness. The finish is full of oak and leather, leaving an aftertaste of light alcohol. Overall, it is a very nice complexity. The hops are understated, but this is not an IPA after all.

Mouthfeel: This is a very soft, fluffy beer with only moderate carbonation. While the aroma and flavor are world-class, I find the mouthfeel to be weak and silky.

Structure: I am torn here. The flavors are broad and complex with a true depth, but the mouthfeel is too light. Obviously the ale can stand up to barrel aging, but still, it lacks something in the structure.

Food Pairing: This time is difficult. The complex aroma and flavor profiles would do well with rich, roasted meat, game, and fowl, and complex, strong cheeses. But the structure seems a bit too thin for these heavy foods, and might pair better with seafood.

Overall Rating Out of 5 Possible Beer Mugs:

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