In the photo at the top left of this post, you see three glasses. The left-most glass contains the rum barrel aged St. Francis. The middle glass contains "regular" St. Francis. The right-hand glass contains the last of the maple version in the taproom's keg.
As you can see, all three versions are more or less the same beautiful dark mahogany color with thin beige head.
The regular St. Francis has a malty aroma, with some dark fruit and subtle hops. Rum barrel aged St. Francis layers oak and rum aromas on top of the normal St. Francis aroma, and is something like sniffing rum soaked prunes in a barrel. It's a beer you'd be happy to sit and just sniff if you couldn't drink it - though that would be torture. The maple version of St. Francis has a slightly sweeter aroma with just a hint of maple to it. In fact, if you didn't have the regular version handy to compare it with, you might not even catch the maple.
Flavor is where these three really differ.
Regular St. Francis is a well-balanced beer, with a slight tip toward hops bitterness. You'll get a definite malt presence, some dark fruit like prune or date, and a little spice. The hops stays at the back initially and then swells up as you drink it, and lingers a bit at the end. I love the beer. If I was making it, I might dial the hops back just a tiny, tiny bit.
Rum Barrel St. Francis has a complex and layered flavor. You'll get a strong oak and rum presence initially. This gives way to the hearty malt and dark fruit backbone. Then the malt dies down and leaves you with the dark fruit and hops. It's a really nice beer for those who like high-gravity, barrel-aged brews with a strong malt presence.
Maple infused St. Francis is, in a word, fantastic. The addition of maple syrup raises the sweetness of St. Francis a little, just the right amount to offset that tiny bit of extra hops bitterness. The very slight maple flavor is a great compliment to the malt and dark fruit already present in St. Francis. Sadly, the glass of St. Francis I loved the most was also the least-filled of the three.
When I met the Wolf's Ridge brewmaster behind St. Francis, I told him that it was a Columbus beer that I could not get enough of. That was completely true, but it was also before I encountered the other two versions. The maple infused St. Francis is one of my favorite beers ever. It is absolutely delicious and I'd be just fine with it being one of the "X" number of beers I was stranded on a desert island with. It's that good.
As is usually the case, I do have ratings to hand out here.
- St. Francis: 8 out of 10
- Rum Barrel Aged St. Francis: 9 out of 10
- Maple St. Francis: 10 out of 10
Congratulations, Wolf's Ridge, for getting the first 10 out of 10 I've ever given a Columbus-brewed beer. You should be very, very proud of this one. If it had come out of my fermenter, I'd be investing in kegging equipment to make sure I never ran out of it. I hope you'll consider keeping it as a permanent fixture in your taproom.