Olde Hickory Brewery has been cranking out barrel-aged imperial stouts for years. Among its annual releases are Lindley Park, a bourbon barrel aged stout with raspberries, and Event Horizon, a straight-forward BA imperial stout. Both of those special releases are complemented by Olde Hickory’s seasonal Imperial Stout that gets its stellar flavor profile from the addition of honey. Considering the brewery’s track record for the big dark brews, I knew that last fall’s release of Calico Jack would likely continue the trend.
Calico Jack is one of three recent brewery-only releases from Olde Hickory. The rum barrel-aged imperial stout has what the brewery calls a Caribbean-inspired mix of vanilla, coconut, coffee and cayenne pepper. Which, of course, explains the pirate-esque name and label art. When I think of stouts with peppers, my mind immediately goes to the likes of Westbrook Mexican Cake and Cigar City Hunahpu, both of which have reputations for being some of the best to include that ingredient. Having had both of those a few times, my expectations for Calico Jack were high, especially with Olde Hickory’s knack for creating really solid stouts.
The beer pours black, which is exactly what you want to see in an imperial stout, and leaves a nice mocha-colored head. It doesn’t have that viscous motor oil-like texture that some stouts exhibit, but there’s plenty of body here for the 9.5% ABV brew. Of course, those thicker oily beers also pack a much higher ABV, and the body of Calico Jack is on point for one that’s measured at just under 10%.
When I first take a whiff, I get the roast from the malt itself, a bit of rum barrel, a hint of coffee and some black licorice notes. The first thing my tastebuds encounter is the sweet chocolate flavors, no doubt enhanced by the barrel aging, that build to the spice of pepper. Let me be clear: this beer isn’t spicy so much as it has a lot of pepper flavor. Cayenne here does give your tongue a bit of a tingle, but it certainly doesn’t light you on fire. It’s very pleasant, something that can’t be said of all beers that are brewed with or aged on peppers. The sensation fades in about 20 or 30 seconds, leaving you wanting another sip to get it back. There’s a nice mouthfeel here too, which makes Calico Jack a solid complement to its sibling Event Horizon.
As it warms, the peppers get a bit more intense, but they never become hot or overpowering. In terms of how that ingredient is treated, I’d say Mexican Cake or Hunahpu is an apt comparison. With Calico Jack, though, the spice is met with sweetness that strikes a good balance. While the beer was brewed with vanilla and coconut, I couldn’t tell if the those two ingredients or the rum barrel was mostly responsible for the sweetness, but there’s no doubt all three contribute to the end result. I did get a bit more vanilla in those as my glass warmed, though. The rum barrel aging adds flavor and not the heat of alcohol — another balance that many barrel-aged beers can struggle with.
This is a nice big stout with a number of ingredients that have the potential to be overpowering. With Calico Jack, none of them are, despite the cayenne pepper getting most of the attention here. The flavor profile is nicely layered, allowing you to experience different components at different times as you’re drinking the beer. Rum barrel aging contributes to the near perfect amount of sweetness and a balance that some rum barrel-aged beers bypass to become almost cloying. Instead, Olde Hickory touts the complexity of this beer, a statement I found to be true.
Brewery: Olde Hickory
City: Hickory, NC
Style: Imperial Stout
Availability: Limited, Brewery-only release