Bruery Smoking Wood: Annoyingly Close to Excellence

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I recently sampled the Bruery’s Smoking Wood, a 13% ABV Imperial Porter that’s brewed with beechwood and cherrywood smoked malt and a hearty dollop of rye, and then aged in rye whiskey barrels. It got me to thinking about how something can have all the hallmarks of excellence and then leave you totally unfulfilled.

Allow me to explain in terms that any manchild with a mancave can relate to, by comparing beers to video games and television shows. 

HBO’s Deadwood is perhaps my favorite television show of all time, a masterpiece set in a gold-mining camp in the waning days of the wild west. It’s an unflinching character study exploring the primal urges that motivate us as human beings – greed, lust, religion, the desire for power, and even love.  If Deadwood were a beer, it would be my beloved Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, a huge and peppery Bourbon barrel aged stout that cuts out all pretenses of civility and delivers massive amounts of delicious pleasure to the senses.

Deadwood opened me up to other western-themed stuff, like the video game Red Dead Redemption, which is basically Grand Theft Auto with horses.  It too is a deeply satisfying distraction, and if it were a beer, it would be another of my favorite Bourbon barrel aged treats – New Holland Dragons Milk, a boozy, no-nonsense strong ale that’ll kick your palate in the mouth and put hair on your chest.  I consider both Dragons Milk and Red Dead Redemption to be lovely variations on a manly theme.

Now if Deadwood and Red Dead Redemption were to have a baby, it would bear a striking resemblance to the AMC series Hell on Wheels, which follows the story of a blood-hungry Civil War vet who is tracking down the men who murdered his family.  The action takes place in and around “Hell on Wheels,” the name given to the movable railroad camp that houses the men and the horses and the whores that laid the track which united the coasts.

This show has all the elements of a classic; a dynamic and rough historical setting, a flawed hero, people trying their best to carve out a hardscrabble life, lots of brooding anguish, poor personal hygiene – you name it, and Hell on Wheels delivers.

Except it really doesn’t.  There’s just something not quite right about Hell on Wheels that makes me crazy.  The storyline is a little too predictable maybe, or the writers pull a few too many punches and fall back on cliches instead of delivering truly memorable characters.  It’s a good enough show to watch, but the whole time I have a little voice in the back of my head saying “this should be SOOOO MUCH BETTER!”

And that’s exactly how I feel about The Bruery’s Smoking Wood, which has all the elements of a beer I should love (dark roasty malts, a kick of rye, boozy barrel aging), but still manages to cock the whole thing up.

smoking-wwod-picSmoking Wood pours black as coal, with a creamy tan head.  It certainly has its name on the nose, which smells like smoked bacon and whiskey and a hint of chocolate (just like my breath over the holidays).

The first sip greets your palate with a slippery hint of smoke, which gives way to chocolate and caramel, followed by a peppery rye kick and touch of booze on the back end.

While all of this sounds awesome, there’s an off flavor when the smoke begins to fade and the rye begins to ascend.  It’s only there for a moment, but I got the fleeting taste of Band-Aid astringency on the first few sips, until my palate adjusted to it and it faded into the background in subsequent draws from the glass.

The beer wasn’t infected as far as I could tell, it’s just a bad combination of flavors, like how putting blue cheese together with sirloin makes the whole affair taste like liver.

Honestly, it was a real disappointment, but I finished the bottle, just like I’ve watched every episode of Hell on Wheels and will continue to do so.  After all, 80% of awesome is still better than nothing, but it’s also excruciating in it’s own special way to get that close to being excellent, but somehow missing the mark.
Unlike Hell on Wheels which is basically free to watch, I won’t be coming back to Smoking Wood any time soon, as it costs over $20.00 for the 750ml bottle of the stuff.  If it ran $14.99 a pop I might pick it up again, but I can’t spend that kind of dough on a beer that reminds me of a better, cheaper one.

I guess what I’m saying is Smoking Wood is no Deadwood, and that’s too bad, because I’m always looking for the next classic in which to fall in love.

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Categories: Beer, review

Author:Jim Galligan

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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24 Comments on “Bruery Smoking Wood: Annoyingly Close to Excellence”

  1. King
    January 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    You watch to much television.
    I saw it and couldn’t pull the trigger, thanks for confirming my reluctance.

    • January 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      It’s an interesting beer, but unfortunately there should be quotation marks around “interesting.” You did well to skip it.

      • January 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

        I’m not a big sour or spice guy, but minus Black Tuesday…I’ve yet to be impressed by there offerings.

  2. January 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Now granted I’m a huge fan of smoked beers, but I thought this one of the best beers I had in 2012. If it were cheaper, it would forever be in my fridge.

    • January 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      Are you also a fan of Johnson & Johnson products? Because then it’d all make sense. :)

      • January 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

        Sorry, I don’t follow. :p

        • January 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

          The Band-Aid flavor – I figured you might be a gentleman who enjoys the flavor of adhesive bandages…

  3. January 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    I couldn’t disagree more–this is one of the best beers I’ve had in a long time. However, I had it on draft, which may be a different experience from having it out of the bottle. It was normally $10 per goblet, but I went at happy hour and it was only $5, an exceptional value for the high quality of this beer.

    • January 8, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

      I’m very interested to try this on tap. I’d have two at $5 a pop, but not another bottle at $20+.

      I’d also love another taste of it from the bottle, just to confirm that mine wasn’t a touch skunky or something. Now I just gotta wait for someone to offer me a sip. :)

      • January 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

        Yeah, $20 a bottle is definitely steep, especially if you weren’t thrilled with it the first time. I just bought a bottle of 5 Golden Rings, which was $12…I would have thought Smoking Wood would be around that price too, but I haven’t seen it at my local shops.

  4. January 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Can’t comment on the TV metaphors–I’ve never seen any of the shows you like. But, from experience I’d say that what you may taste in a beer isn’t necessarily what I, or Don, or somebody else might taste. Factor in the fact that you drink your beer from untainted crystal and you’ve got another dimension to consider.

    Give that beer another go in a standard beer glass, or on draft, or wait a few years before you try it again. I’ll bet it’ll taste different to you.

    BTW, I had a similar let-down w/ Dark Hollows. The bottled version just didn’t measure up to what I experienced from the draft version. I was sorely disappointed.

    • January 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      I agree about different glasses and the people holding them, and I usually will try a beer a few times before I write it off. I guess the thing that annoyed me about this beer is that it was so close to being really excellent that it was a bigger disappointment than if it actually sucked.

      Sorta like starting a sneeze but not being able to finish it. So close to happy, but soooo far away!

  5. January 9, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Jim – Just last week I conducted a BA beer tasting which included the Smoking Wood. Of the 8 selections, this actually came out at the bottom. I thought it was good but not sure it’s one I would bunker down. I felt it was unabalanced and didn’t deliver the goods.

    http://bourbondork.blogspot.com/2013/01/holiday-beer-chug-lug.html

    • January 9, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      Interesting. I’ll have to give it another shot, but at $20+ a bottle, I imagine it’ll be awhile…

  6. Brett
    January 9, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    The fact that it’s $20+ is inexcusable. A beer really needs to be world-class to justify that outrageous price. I’ll drop $11 for a 750ml of Three Philosophers any time, but I honestly could not name a beer over $20 that really wowed me to the point that I felt the price was justified.

    $4 beer vs. $8 beer – enormous difference
    $8 beer vs. $12 beer – significant difference
    $12 beer vs. $16 beer – takes a real geek to appreciate the difference
    $16 beer vs. $20 beer – ripoff, unless something other than the brew is driving the price (limited edition bottle, imported from across the world, etc.)

    • January 9, 2013 at 10:07 am #

      Off the top of my head, the only $20+ beer I’ve had that I’d buy again (many are worth a taste out of curiosity, but not a second pass) is Firestone Fifteen, which is delicious, unique (it’s an amazing blend of many different beers) and really, really satisfying.

      • January 16, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

        Firestone XV is a great beer, have you tried the XVI yet? All of Firestone’s “boxed” special edition beers are delicious. I just picked up a bottle of Pelican’s Mother of All Storms and it was $24, hopefully it lives up to the price tag.

        • January 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

          I haven’t had the XVI yet, but will try it exactly 23 minutes after finding it on the shelf (given that my house is 22 minutes from the beer store).

          Good luck with the Pelican – I get pretty picky when the price tag is that high.

  7. David
    January 9, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    it is called “Smoking Wood”, no self respecting man should drink something called “smoking WOOD”.

    • January 9, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      Throbbing wood, no, but smoking wood, maybe…

  8. January 9, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    This is a damned good analogy, and I say that without having seen Hell on Wheels or tried the Bruery Smoking Wood.

    • January 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      Thanks, John. As a writer, I’m bummed I didn’t figure out an unfinished sneeze is a quicker way to get to the same point.

  9. January 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Smoking Wood is pretty expensive. I found it for $24 and had to pass on it. Sounds like I made a good choice I guess haha. Hopefully what I picked up instead will be good.

    • January 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      Yeah, pricey and an innovative idea, but one that’s not worth the asking price. If you can get a taste definitely do it – it’s not awful by any stretch. Maybe talk a buddy into grabbing one and sharing… :)

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