Leo vs. Ursus: Wookus
When Firestone Walker Brewing Co. announced it was discontinuing Wookie Jack in October 2016, fans of the brewery’s black rye IPA were understandably upset. The beer, along with Firestone Walker staples Opal and Double Jack, was retired from the main lineup to make room for new, more innovative beers. At the time, it was hinted those three beers wouldn’t be dead forever, but it took little more than a year for a Wookie descendent to make its way back into the rotation.
In December, Firestone Walker released Wookus, the most recent edition of the brewery’s Leo v. Ursus series of beers. Wookus is the fourth release in the Leo v. Ursus “Chronology,” a series of one-off beers released each quarter. Matt Brynildson, Firestone Walker’s brewmaster, said the same base recipe—including 5% rye in the malt bill—as Wookie Jack was used to brew Wookus, with a few upgrades. The rye provides the imperial IPA with a punch of spiciness with a load of hoppiness.
“Wookus is a chip off the old block, but it also has a punchy quality that is all its own,” Brynildson said. “We were pumped to take another crack at Wookey Jack and bring it back with a few new twists.”
The Leo v. Ursus Chronology not only allows us to explore new brewing directions, but also to temporarily revisit and reimagine old favorites.”
When Wookie Jack was first brewed in 2012, the brewers used the “gnarliest hops” they could find, including Amarillo and Citra. Upon its release, Wookie Jack was a genre-defining example of a black IPA and helped change many drinkers perceptions of what an IPA could be. The new recipe added a big helping of Mosaic hops to help crank up the fruity hoppiness.
“Mosaic is fun by itself, but once you blend it in with the other hops, it has this way of intensifying all of their characteristics,” Brynildson said. He added that while Wookus is part of the one-off series, the inclusion in the Leo v. Ursus series doesn’t necessarily preclude the beer from being brewed again. Should reception of the beer be great enough, Wookus could make a return in the future, but for now, it will only be available for less than three months.
While the absence of Wookie Jack and other fan favorites from the past can be frustrating at times, Brynildson said it’s for the better when old recipes can be played with and, often times, improved upon. Plus, the added capacity to the brewery from space previously taken up by the three Proprietor’s Reserve brands can be used to help bolster Firestone Walker brands such as 805 and Pivo Pils, as well as new small batch beers that could spawn the next hit beer.
“The Leo v. Ursus Chronology not only allows us to explore new brewing directions, but also to temporarily revisit and reimagine old favorites,” Brynildson said.