Eric Nerds Out: Jolly History

By Eric Ortega, Drake’s Tours & Education
December 11, 2017

Winter is just a snowball’s throw away and yet in San Leandro, we’re here without anything frozen to chuck at each other. Instead, we celebrate the cold months by crafting brews that warm us up, and that beer is always Jolly Rodger.

The Early Years

Original recipe for Jolly, 1990.

Our first ever batch of Jolly was brewed in June 1990. It was an 8.6% Barleywine with a combination of caramel malt and a small portion of black malt, with a starting gravity of 20.5 °P. While not brewed in Winter, it certainly was a recipe we now associate with ‘Winter Releases.’ It wasn’t until later that year, in November, that the first ‘Winter Jolly’ was brewed. Oddly enough, it was a 4.8% Brown Ale. These, and many of Drake’s early beers (or Lind Brewing, as we were originally named) were fermented with English Ale yeasts, which possess a more assertive Ester character and residual sweetness.

Since 1990, we have brewed Jolly every October/November. For a long period of time Jolly hovered in the realm of a Strong (8.0+ ABV) Amber to Brown Ale. Occasionally straying toward pitch black Porters and Stouts. Early in our history, we utilized a modest 10BBL (310 gallon) Mash Tun that was a former dairy tank. Recipes from 1994 and 1995 show that batches of Jolly had to undergo two separate mashes to reach the target starting gravity. Brewing logs show notes from brewers panicking as the grist case became maxed out or the grain hopper began overflowing into the mill, all signs that Jolly season is in full swing.


Recent Brews

We had fun with coffee between 2013-2015 and fans of recent Jolly are in for a surprise this year. Our friends at Sightglass and Highwire Coffee are excellent to work with and their additions made our Jolly Stouts and Porters something to behold. Last year’s Barrel Aged Imperial Coffee Porter Jolly Rodger was incredibly well-received and we couldn’t be prouder of how it turned out. However, there is no coffee in 2017 Jolly.




This Year’s Recipe

Jolly Rodger Imperial Red Ale, 2017

For our 2017 batch, we will be releasing our first Double Red Ale Jolly since 2010. If there is one thing consistent in the history of Jolly Rodger here at Drake’s, it’s that it is always changing. This year’s incarnation features Patagonia Caramel 170 malt to add a vibrant ruby hue and notes of burnt toffee. We are upping our hop display this year with a trifecta of heavy citrus, piney and tropical fruit hops; Ekuanot, Waimea, and Centennial to be specific. It turned out better than we could have expected and 22oz bottles are now available at Drake’s Barrel House and Drake’s Dealership.

Also available is Barrel Aged Jolly Rodger 2017. We’ve taken last year’s Transatlantic Winter Warmer and aged it in rum barrels. This is our first homage to the privateer’s (see also: pirate) spirit of choice as it is our first release from rum barrels. It is still retaining the plum and stone fruit yeast character, but picking up rich molasses and spiced hard candy flavors.

Grab a glass and toast to our winter tradition; as chaotic and surly as the Pirates who flew the flag.

Drake’s Beer Educator Eric Ortega is our resident historian and human Swiss Army Knife. By day, he gives tours, private tastings, beer classes and occasionally bartends. “Eric Nerds Out” is a recurring column where our man Crockett can generally spreads his encyclopedic knowledge of beer history.