Firestone Walker | Rum Barrel CocoRado
Not content to rest on its niche beer style laurels, Firestone Walker has taken its classic Helldorado, a barrel aged Blonde Barleywine, and applied a tropical treatment, aging the beer in a combination of rum and rhum agricole barrels before conditioning it on coconut. The result is Rum Barrel CocoRado, a delightfully unique subset of a subset within beer styles. If you’re being different, you might as well dial the eccentricity up to 11.
To explain CocoRado, we must first explore Helldorado. First released in 2012, Helldorado is the lightest beer in Firestone Walker’s barrel program owing to its pale malts. While Blonde Barleywine is a nebulous and perhaps marketing-focused style, Helldorado does present elements of Barleywines with malt and caramel sweetness. As with most barrel aged beers in Firestone Walker’s portfolio, there is a distinct barrel character of utter smoothness, demonstrating a mastery of barrel aging and blending they are well known for. Vanilla is certainly present as are some lightly toasted malts. A barrel aged beer on the lighter side in body (but not ABV at 12-13%), Helldorado presents an unusual foray into what Firestone Walker can conjure.
Upon this eccentric base Firestone Walker chose to up the ante for members of the 2023 Brewmaster’s Collective with Rum Barrel CocoRado. “Rather than blend down the unique and defining character (of the rum barrels), we allowed it to be loud and informative. That’s what small batch club beer is all about – something you would never taste in the broad market” explains Matt Brynildson, Brewmaster at Firestone Walker. Indeed this beer is well defined by its barrels, a mixture of Jamaican rum distilled from molasses and rhum agricole distilled from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice on the island of Martinique.
Further expanding on the philosophy of Rum Barrel CocoRado is Jordan Ziegler, Vintage Barrel Manager. “It was an admittedly edgy decision to age this beer in rhum agricole barrels as well as traditional rum barrels… We felt that Helldorado, as a Blonde Barleywine, was our best canvas for clicking with the flavor profile of these barrels.” In addition to the barrels, coconut is added to the beer to enhance the underlying tropical elements. “The coconut was shaved and toasted, and the beer was circulated through it post-aging until we gained the level of coconut character we liked.” Rum Barrel CocoRado is meant to be a spirit driven beer defined by the barrels it has rested in. Says Jordan, “this beer was destined to be a conversation starter. It’s not unlike the Scotch Parabola we made some years ago which was aged in single malt Scotch whisky barrels and had a pronounced peaty character.”
Let’s give this spirit focused beer a proper tasting. Immediately upon pouring Rum Barrel CocoRado into a glass, its namesake makes itself well known. Rum hits you in the nostrils, briefly paralyzing your senses into thinking a cocktail awaits you. Those rum and rhum agricole barrels quickly greet you upon first sip. The molasses sweetness and a distinct grassiness from the Martinique terroir make themselves known and provide a strong backbone upon which the shaved and toasted coconut shines. While pastry levels of the tropical fruit are not used here, the coconut adds flavor depth as one might add a fruity element to their boozy cocktail, balancing the spirit forward with a rich and refreshing treat. Cotton candy with a hint of earthy wood round out the unusual melange of flavors. That sip goes down, and it’s all coconut and rum, further elevating the idea that this is a beer cocktail. 12 oz of 12% is doable, and that well balanced blend will entice you to drink it all by yourself.
While not for everyone. Firestone Walker Rum Barrel CocoRado demonstrates the mastery that Firestone Walker possesses in their barrel program. It is an ambitious beer, barrel aging an obscure style (Blonde Barleywine) with seldom used barrels (rum and rhum agricole) to create a tropical treat not often found outside of a tiki bar. Firestone Walker is stepping outside of normal bounds with some of their Brewmaster’s Collective beers, and the adventurous beer lover can only hop on the ride and see where it goes.