Drinking Beer While Doing Stuff: Hell on Wood

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, it’s time for another pseudo-beer review. This week for “Drinking Beer and Doing Stuff”, we have an activity that definitely requires sobriety and a beer that makes that impossible.

The Beer: DuClaws Hell on Wood; A barley wine aged in bourbon barrels

DuClaws Brewery is in Bel Air, MD, about 30 miles north of Baltimore. I’ve actually been out to their brewery before and had a pretty good time. My first ever experience with them was a Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter called Sweet Baby Jesus!. Beer that advertises itself to be sweet and savory and not overpowering usually turns me off, but I found that one to be very well-balanced and tasty. DuClaws specializes in unconventional brews like that and Hell on Wood is no different.

The Stuff: An Escape Room

This is my wife’s fault. She loves escape rooms (as do I) and she gave me this idea. Escape rooms require focus, clarity and good communication skills to be good at. Fortunately, these are all things I excel at when I’m drinking.

By “excel”? I mean “Suck”.

The Pour: The beer looks downright sexy. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying that about a beer. Can a brewery sue for that? Never mind. Anyway, the head is between ¾ inch to 1 inch thick. The aroma is fantastic. I’m a big fan of bourbon and this smells like less-sharp Woodford Reserve or maybe even a Four Roses. This beer looks and smells mature and tempting. It makes me feel like a grown-up!

The Taste: Now here’s where it gets complicated. This thing is full-bodied. I mean FULL. BODIED. Seriously, it drinks like a stout. It’s thick and heavy. Besides that, I notice that there are a lot of different flavors coming at me. First, the caramel hits. Then a hint of vanilla. Then…smoke? Cedar? Applewood? It’s complex…and I struggle with saying that because I like a complex beer. But this isn’t “girl at the library brushing her hair back while reading Aldous Huxley and wearing an obscure anime shirt” complex. This is “balance the national budget in Arabic while whistling all the songs from “Pet Sounds” and “Abbey Road” intermittently.” It’s a lot. All at once.

The aftertaste is pretty serious too. It tastes like bitter maple syrup made by a spiteful Canadian (I know there’s no such thing, but still). Like, if you could take the number of hops from a 60-minute IPA, then infuse them into a Milky Way, then eat said Milky Way, that’s what the aftertaste of the beer is. Also, when’s the last time you had a Milky Way? I always see it, but when I have to pick a candy in the checkout aisle, I go Snickers. Every time. Is it because their marketing is better? Man, who knows? But back to the beer. This thing drinks and lingers like a wine. Some people may be really into that, but it’s not really my thing. I feel like it’s becoming thicker as I drink it.

I know some of you may read this and say I’m off-base because this is what a barley wine is supposed to be. I get that, but I’m trying to explain this best I can so that beer lovers, whether they’re into heavy beers like this or not, will know what to expect. This thing is heavy, flavorful and packs a punch. Drink it sitting down. Sip it. If you’re not into dark liquor, skip it. If you’re not into hop-forward ales and IPAs, skip it. Honestly, if I wasn’t a huge fan of bourbon, I would not finish this beer. It reminds me of a carbonated, overly-sweet Elijah Craig. Like, if you took Knob Creek and poured it over a sugary breakfast cereal or vanilla ice cream. That’s not just a metaphor, my brother-in-law does that on a regular basis. He absolutely LOVES it. But that’s a story for another time.

The Stuff: The Escape Room

OK, so because escape rooms need to keep their stuff secret to stay in business, I do not have any pictures of the building or the room itself. What I will tell you was that it was jail themed. We were locked in a room with two sections. One was a jail cell, the other was the jail…lobby? I don’t know what they expected that place to be. I’m not entirely sure the people who designed it had ever seen an actual prison, but I’ve also done escape rooms with fallout shelter and spaceship themes, so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt and suspending disbelief.

I drank two Hell on Woods before we went…each was 13% ABV. Part of my job is to drink beer, so I’m used to needing to “cowboy up” to complete a task after drinking, but the beer definitely affected me. First off, no, I did not drive drunk and I never would. My wife drove while I asked her, repeatedly, why we never eat Milky Ways any more. We went with my brother and her brother, who had to help me into the building, not because I was too drunk to stand but because if I said anything stupid that gave away my inebriated state, they wouldn’t let me into the room.

When we get into the room, I’m handcuffed to my wife and pushed into a jail cell. Oh man, I need to sit down. Why is it so hot in here? Wifey is really mad because she wants to start looking for clues. All my burps taste like caramel siracha. Someone should invent caramel siracha! When I finally get up, I start shaking the bars and one of them is hollow! A clue! A key! I helped! Yep, I’m great and smart and escape rooms ain’t got nothin on me! I need to sit down.

My brother gets me back up and we search around the room for the keys to our handcuffs. I try to help, but the barleywine is literally refusing to digest. I’m not drunk, but definitely should not be in a locked, poorly ventilated room while handcuffed. I see a phrase written on the wall that looks weird and I yell out “palindrome!” Mostly because I recognized it as a palindrome, partly because that’s a cool word. I was right. It’s a clue! No lock can hold me and I am the world’s greatest lover.

The rest of our hour went on like this. I did not have fun, unfortunately. Those two beers seriously affected my ability to communicate. The beer did not make the activity more fun as I had hoped. Besides that, there was actually a glitch in the room that forced the people to come in and have to reset it in front of us. That took me out of the moment…as much as you can be “in the moment” in a fake jail cell that smells like hand sanitizer.


The Beer: The flavor is good, but that aftertaste is killer. Not for the faint of tastebuds. This beer tastes like a charred, fermented caramel apple. I mean that in the most congratulatory way possible.

The Escape Room: Beer did not make this more fun. I don’t suggest drinking while escaping, but I do suggest finding a good escape room near you. If you have a “Breakout Games” or “Escape Plan” franchise near you, check it out. I don’t work for them, I’m just an enthusiast. A beer loving, room escaping enthusiast.

That’s not a good tagline, I’m not sticking with it.

Alex Watts

Alex is a lifelong sports fan and writer that has (against the better judgement of several producers and program directors) appeared on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio. He lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, 1 child, 1 cat and an unhealthy amount of video game consoles.

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