Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Tasting Drake’s Jolly Roger Over the Years…

By William Brand
Tuesday, November 21st, 2006 at 11:48 pm in Uncategorized.



This continues an item in my column today in The Oakland Tribune and other MediaNews papers about a group of barrel-aged beers from Drake’s Brewing and the brewing wizardry of head brewer Rodger Davis and his incredible assistant brewer Melissa Myer.

Last week, Rodger and Melissa brought samples of seven versions of Jolly Roger, Drake’s Holiday beer to the Toronado in San Francisco and the next night to Barclay’s in Oakland.

I made it to the Toronado and found the beers stunning and amazing. Here’s the list and Rodger’s tasting notes and my rating.

2003. Rodger’s notes: Scotch ale based on the early 1800s way of taxing ales, where more Shillings were charged to higher gravity ales. This would be considered a 120 Shilling ale. Big and malty, from the addition of roasted barley. This beer is balanced with two hop additions of East Kent Goldings. The beer was then fermented at 50 degrees F. to keep the ester (the fruitiness) formation low, so the malt would shine through. 9 percent Alcohol by Volume. 30 IBU ( International Bitterness Units – Bud is 13 IBU.)

My notes: Licorice sweetness, followed by a hit of hops. ***.

2003 Barrel-Aged. In the early 1800s Scottish brewers would transfer their ales to (wooden) barrels, where they would condition them for up to two years. Often these beers wold sour over time from bacteria in the barrels. The 2003 Scotch Ale was placed in a brandy barrel for 18 months. This version has a slight sourness to it, but is quite complex with the many different wine-like aromas that come at you. 11 percent ABV, 30 IBUs.

My notes: Oh my, I loved this one. Brandy nose, then surprise! A tart, slightly sour taste with a bit of brandy flavor, blended with sweet malt behind and the hops coming in like violins in a symphony. Damn, I hate myself for writing that, but very honestly, this was superb beer. A week later, memory of the taste still lingers. My rating: ****. The bad news: Rodger said they had two cases left – they’re for sale at the brewery, he said, if they can find them.

2004. Rodger’s notes: An American-style Red Ale. Think of it as a dark IPA. After 2003′s version, we found the need to get back into a hoppy style, but wanted to create a beer that had a firm malt backbone as well. Roasted barley lends a nice mahogany color as well as a nice roasted malt flavor. Hops: Horizon, Chinook and Centennial. 9.5 percent ABV, 70 IBUs.

My notes: A malty nose, but the taste delivers ramped up hops. An excellent strong beer for hopheads. ***

2005-A. Rodger’s Notes: An Imperial IPA. This is a very big beer. Crystal malt lends a nice ruby red backdrop to an onslaught of hop[s. How many pounds of differnt kinds of hops can you throw at a beer and still make it somewhat drinkable? It turns out a lot! Hops: Horizon, Simcoe, Cascade and Columbus. 11.5 percent ABV, 80 IBUs.

My notes: Big nose of hops and malt. Good balanced taste, but hops come on strong in a long, dry finish. ***

2005-B. Rodger’s Notes: An Old Ale. For our 15th anniversary we decided to brew two different versions of Jolly Rodger, one a hop bomb (the 2005-A) and this one would be Roger Lind’s original recipe from 1990. So we broke out his original brew sheet and used his ingredients and threw our own brewing techniques at it. What we ended up with is a well-balanced ale that is lightly hopped with Galena, East Kent Goldings and Willamette hops. 9.5 percent ABV, 40 IBUs.

My notes: This did taste a bit like Christmas past. Big and malty with definite hop bitterness.**+

2005 – B. Barrel-aged. Rodger’s notes: This is the Old Ale, placed in an apple brandy barrel for 12 months of aging. The beer was dominated by a green apple aroma with much of it slipping into the flavor. Over time that apple aroma has taken a back seat to the French oak the barrel is made of, with apple brandy notes reminding you what the barrel’s past was. 11 percent ABV, 40 IBUs.

My notes: Got the Calvados note right away and the vanilla from the oak. Mixed well with the malt and the hops. Really liked the apple brandy quality, added an extra dimension.***

2006. (The one that’s headed to Bay Area stores now). Rodger’s notes: An Imperial IPA. We have discovefred that if hops are not used in the Jolly Roger these days, people become enraged. So here we go with another hop bomb. This one stems from a conversation with Pat McIlhenney (owner/brewer of Alpine Brewing) when he mentioned he used a whooping two pounds off dry hops per barrel in his outstanding Duet Beer. Most of our Imperial IPAs were about one pound per barrel! So what the hello, let’s see what that will do to one of our beers. Thanks for the advice Pat. This one REALLY goes to 11 percent. Hops: Warrior, Simcoe, Summit and Amarillo. 11 percent ABV, 70-IBUs.

My notes: Sweet malty nose, taste is sweet with a huge blast of hops. I’m going to buy some of this and let it age for a year. ***+

Last note: Drake’s has a happy hour party every Friday from 4 – 7 p.m. For info, check out their web site. The place is hard to find. Here’s a map.


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