Review: Bellwoods Skeleton Key Spiced Imperial Stout


It’s not often that you get to explore the outer limits of a brewery like Bellwoods. Since opening in 2012, the brewery has pushed boundaries like few other Canadian contemporaries. The brewery has experimented not only with different kinds of hops, but different yeasts and cask aging. But here, we find ourselves staring down Bellwoods’ biggest beer to date which also represents their maiden voyage into rum-barrel aging. Meet Skeleton Key, a  spiced, 13% monster freshly awoken from a 1 year slumber just in time for Halloween.

In many ways, Bellwoods seems to purposefully distance itself from the crowd, taking what’s popular and pushing it to the extreme. For instance, when sweet Vanilla Porters were in vogue, Bellwoods released Bounty Hunter, a 10.3% hopped-up affair with vanilla beans raw organic coconut thrown into the boil. When ‘session IPAs’ were coming in, Bellwoods shot past in the other direction coming out with the diminutive (2.8%) Stay Classy.

Now, amid the swarms of Autumnal spiced ales to hit the shelves we have Skeleton Key, a spiced ale in the most technical sense which, like many other Bellwoods products, seems to almost mock current brewing trends. The beer is seeing a limited release (2100 bottles) so I’d hurry out and grab a couple.


13% Alcohol / $13 per 500 mL bottle (1478/2100)


Pitch-black body with minimal red-brown bubbles (I hesitate to say head) which quickly dissipates. Noticeable ‘oil slick’ left on glass.


Dark, overripe plum. burnt sugar /molasses, coffee liqueur, slight medicinal note.


Dark chocolate gives way to preserved fruit and slight spice note (powdered cinnamon). Some heat when cold, does not grow substantially (think 7%+). Chocolate and black coffee finish when cold. As beer warms, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup appear.


Overall, Skeleton Key is a well crafted and tasty RIS. That said, it is incredibly hard to detect any level of spice. While a brewery is required to list any additives, the appellation “Spiced Imperial Stout” lead me to believe there would be a much stronger influence that there was. As well, the familiar molasses note one gets in most RIS-style beers seems disproportionate here, perhaps as a result of the rum aging. While Skeleton Key has not slipped into pseudo-liqueur territory like some other monster beers, it also doesn’t really display the same robustness of other big stouts. While still a great beer, this one doesn’t quite hit the mark as well as 3 Minutes to Midnight, Bring Out Your Dead or even the plain-Jane Hellwoods.

Score: 8.5/10


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