Jack D’Or Must Die (again)

We’re celebrating our forth incarnation of Jack D’Or at his new home here at SMOD. The latest batch is Jack at his most simple and close to his original roots. Pale malt, oats, wheat, a blend of simple yeast strains, hard water and lots of European hops like Whitbread Golding Variety, Tettnang and Strisselspalt – totalling over 50 units of bitterness and drinkability! While the SMOD Jack D’ors are always a different take on the original, they always harken back to a simple, hoppy-bitter golden beer that we began brewing in 2008.

There’s a bit of backstory with this beer and I wrote it up a couple years ago. But to refresh your memory…

Here it is:

Prior to this new fantastic adventure here in Attercliffe, Martha and I were just simple tenant brewers near the city of Boston in the U.S.A.  Though our dream was to build a mad little brewery like we have now, back then we had no money to do this.  What we did have was $8,000 in savings, my 15 years of professional brewing experience and the seed of an idea.

So one day we drew a grain of barley, called him “Jack D’Or” (which means Jack of Gold) and brewed the best beer that we could devise at that time in his name.  We spent all of our money on this one batch of beer – a beer inspired by the saisons of Wallonia in Belgium.  It was a beer that we hoped would bring every drinker together: connoisseur, newbie, young, old, hop lovers, Euro beer lovers – everyone.

Bottle of Jack D’Or from about 5 years ago.

The first batches turned out pretty good and we improved him every time we brewed.  Looking back at it now, Jack D’Or was probably the first saison playing the leading role for his brewery in the United States.  Typically in craft beer “saison” was a special-release or seasonally brewed spiced beer.  Jack D’Or really was our leading light too.  He led us around the country and then the world.  He was a pleasure to brew and to drink.  He’s been in hundreds of publications, TV shows, movies and most importantly – he was loved by so many beer drinkers. Jack D’Or became as familiar to us as our cat.  We loved him.  One night I even dreamt I saw him in a forest and he spoke Latin to me.  When I woke I quickly wrote down what he had told me (as best I could, not knowing any Latin) and a friend translated it for me as “the truth is unto itself”.  That saying is now painted above our koelship.

This saison was a simple blend of two yeast strains, pale malt, wheat and two American late hops.  The hard water we had at the brewery in MA really brought him to life and no matter what changes we were forced to do to the recipe over the years, Jack D’Or always tasted like Jack D’Or.

As brilliant as Jack was, our original dream of building a small brewery never went away.  Far from his small beginnings, typical batches of Jack D’Or grew to goliath 115 barrel brew days (Martha and I once brewed 180 bbls in one session).  New local breweries, perhaps inspired by Jack – took aim at him as well.  A diverse range of high quality “saisons” were hitting US bars and shelves.  It was an insane time and the work began to take its toll.  Our new rallying cry became “JACK D’OR MUST DIE”, inspired by the old folk tune “John Barleycorn Must Die”.  But in this case we eventually meant it – even making t-shirts and bumper stickers to shout it to the world. “Die, Die, Die!”

One of our many Jack D’Or Must Die T shirt designs

In November, 2015 we made it official: we were moving on, closing down, going into the sunset.  Jack D’Or was dead.  We had open casket wakes for him at our farewell parties in Boston.  Beer lovers actually came and saw him lying in his casket.  It sounds insane now; it actually was!

Jack D’Or plush visiting the Koelship at De Dolle Brouwers in Esen, Belgium
Jack D’Or lying in state at The Independent in Somerville, MA

Fast forward a few years and here we are in Sheffield, having built our dream little brewery and tap room. Something happened in the weeks after we brewed our very first beer, Cito, in our mad little brewery.  What happened was that we missed our old friend, mascot, inspiration, and good-luck charm.  He was the spirit of our last project and quite frankly he bank-rolled this one.  How could we leave him behind, dead in his casket while we live the dream that all three of us had?

So he’s found his way back to us and his spirit is in our brand new beer.  This is not a replica of his former beer, but a modernization, a riff or maybe even the beginning of a grander series.  We’re happy to say that Jack D’Or yet lives.

At some stage in the previous project I realized that I had not plucked the name “Jack D’Or” from thin air.  I had been thinking that it was a mixture of Jack-o-lantern, Jack Daniels and my fascination with the Bras D’Or lakes in Nova Scotia.  Instead, I found it was an instrumental b-side by the Episode Six called simply “Jack D’Or”, from 1969.  I didn’t knowingly nick it but my apologies to the brilliant Episode Six anyway.  Now that’s finally off my chest.

Anyway, we hope our friends, old and new, will be happy to see that Jack has followed us around the world and also settled with us here in Sheffield. No doubt he has his own thoughts about this beautiful, richly cultured and friendly city. He’ll be expressing them to each of you who invite him into your beer glass, we hope you enjoy the experience.