Skeleton Key
Bellwoods Brewery

Skeleton KeySkeleton Key
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Stout - American Imperial
Ranked #352
Ranked #1,939
4.3 | pDev: 7.21%
Bellwoods Brewery
Ontario, Canada
Skeleton KeySkeleton Key
Notes: A Bellwoods take on spiced rum, this imperial stout was aged for a year in rum barrels with a melange of ginger, all spice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, and juniper berries. What has emerged is a refined, smooth, warming, and lethally delicious spiced stout that’ll induce sharp pangs of nostalgia long after your final bottle is empty. And though it’s our highest alcohol beer to date, you’ll find the beauty is in the balance.
Reviews: 33 | Ratings: 96 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of octortus
octortus from Canada

4.21/5  rDev -2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

500 mL Bottle. ABV 11.5%.
Appearance: Black, Half a finger of dark tan creamy head, Fairly good retention, Slight lacing.
Aroma: Dark chocolate, Lots of spices (ginger, cinnamon, slight cardamom, slight vanilla), Rum, Licorice, Dried dark fruit (raisin), Well balanced and complex.
Mouthfeel: Just slightly under full body, Quite creamy, Slightly chewy, Slightly boozy.
Flavour: Dried dark fruit (raisin), Spices (Vanilla, Cinnamon, Slight ginger, Slight cardamom), Dark chocolate, Rum, Licorice, Slight juniper berries (though I wouldn't have been able to place it blind), Well balanced and complex.
Overall: I really enjoyed the addition of all the spices in here. The appearance could be a bit more inviting but it is still a very enjoyable stout.

Review: 149

Mar 08, 2020
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Beersnake1 from California

4.54/5  rDev +5.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2018 poured from fridge temp into large snifter. Pours jet black with gorgeous light brown head. The nose is rum and spice, and it's very nice! A touch of vanilla and some nice chocolate, but definitely secondary. The taste is insane. Rum is there, but not as dominant as on the nose. A wonderful sweetness is there - along with some nice caramel, vanilla, spice, lactose, raisin, and cherry. The mouthfeel is very creamy and robust. I absolutely love this beer.

Apr 14, 2019
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StonedTrippin from Colorado

4.36/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

a beautiful stout, cool to try the original after having a couple of the variants while i was in toronto earlier this year. this was one of my brothers favorite beers of a week long bender, and i really dug it too. the use of spices here is incredible, fresh ginger rising above all others in nose and taste, the beers is elegantly smooth for its enormity, and its about as complex as they get, with aromas and flavors of freshly lit cigar, sweet dark rum, wet decaying oak, light salt and minerals, ground anise and clove spices, good black coffee, and a swirl of cardamom above all the dark malts giving it an almost indian complexion for a second. the ginger is spicy and fresh, odd and unique with the coffee, but it grows on me as i let the aftertaste linger on my tongue. the juniper is a neat touch too, it blends in well in the aroma, but later on in the taste i can pick it out easily with the ginger, not gin like, not yet concentrated and distilled like that, less clean and breathy, its piney and intense, picks up cool chocolate notes in the malt base too, i love how much this opens up, how much is happening, and how all of these interesting ingredients and flavors come together. its almost creamy feeling, hugely full bodied, lively feeling too. i dont get much of the booze, even at temperature. a standout in the style, what an adjunct stout in a barrel should be, this really is some special liquid here, bellwoods is really making a name for themselves with this kind of thing...

Dec 27, 2018
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LampertLand from Canada

4.29/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Bellwoods Brewery 'Skeleton Key' @ 12.0% , served from a 500 ml bottle
A-pour is a dark cola brown from the bottle to a black in the glass with a small tan head leaving a spotty lace along the snifter
S-ripe fruits & rum barrels
T-creamy smooth vanilla , bit boozy , nice finish
MF-mild carbonation , feels full bodied , warming
Ov-has the wow factor , excellent beer
prost LampertLand

Dec 21, 2018
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csmrx7 from Canada

4.38/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Not overly thick considering, but enough body to hold up to the spice and rum. Definately has a nice rum nose and flavor without being overly hot or intrusive.

Dec 19, 2018
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CAMRAhardliner from Canada

3.84/5  rDev -10.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Pours black with the slightest amber glints on the edges of the glass. The head is dark brown and compact. Prunes, raisin, cocoa, vanilla in the nose. Christmas pudding, rum, fruit compote, oak, dark chocolate in the taste. Full bodied with a light carbonation. Dark sugar and boozy warmth in the finish. Hops are awol throughout.

A nice Imperial Stout with strong rum flavors and very little roasty, chocolatey flavors. On the sweeter side with lots of alcohol kick. Worth a try if you're a rum fan.

Oct 11, 2018
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Treyliff from West Virginia

4.57/5  rDev +6.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

500ml bottle poured into a tulip
2017 Vintage

A- pours jet black in color with a two-finger creamy khaki colored head that has good retention and leaves some lacing behind

S- an array of spices on the nose, with ginger, cardamon & nutmeg leading the way. Undertones of anise, cinnamon & pepper are noticeable as well. Woody rum barrel seems to enhance all of the spices. Charred/chocolaty malt closes it out

T- an onslaught of spices up front; cardamon, cinnamon, ginger and allspice lead the way, similar to pumpkin-style spicing. Mid-palate continues the spices with notes of black pepper, anise & an herbal note, perhaps from the juniper berries. The finish brings our some barrel notes with oak and rum that adds notes of caramel & molasses. Th linger leaves more spices, more specifically cinnamon & ginger

M- heavy body with moderate carbonation leads to a creamy mouthfeel that continues into a chewy velvety, slightly warming finish

O- one of the better spices stouts that I've had, every addition plays a role and is complimented nicely by the rum barrel, simply outstanding

May 28, 2018
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BeerGlassesCollector from Cyprus

4.4/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2017 version.

Full bodied with lots spices and vanilla. I liked the fact that bourbon is not very heavy on the nose or taste. Complex and very enjoyable

Apr 22, 2018
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darktronica from Indiana

4.23/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

My favorite of the evening from a tasting that featured a handful of Bellwoods beers--but then again, I'm a sucker for ageing in rum barrels. I did not realize at the time that the beer itself had so many spices included in it, but this makes sense given its complexity. I would not have picked out all of the various flavors individually, but it did still come together in a pleasant and coherent whole. I was mostly excited about the inclusion of raisins, which were evident but not particularly prominent.

Mar 30, 2018
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Ciocanelu from Romania

4.7/5  rDev +9.3%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

Black color with creamy mocha head. Aroma has apple brandy, spicy rum, cinnamon and dark chocolate. Taste has cinnamon, spicy rum, booze soaked dried fruits like figs and raisins, dark chocolate fudge, bittersweet finish. Full bodied, smooth on the palate. Really tasty, well balanced, smooth, a bit warming but overall excellent.

Jan 16, 2018
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GreesyFizeek from New York

4.44/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Bottle purchased from the Bellwoods reserve list in Toronto, ON.

This one pours a pretty dark black, with a very small head, and no lacing.

This smells like cinnamon, spiced rum, licorice, oak, chocolate, coffee, tobacco, black pepper, and ginger. I don't get all the spices on the nose, but I get most of them.

This is a really unique stout- the spices here work exceptionally well. The cinnamon, licorice, and pepper are the strongest flavors. The rum works well, too- providing a sweet spice and some vanilla flavors, and a hint of oak. The base stout is also very nice, with a little bit of fruit, and lots of fudgy chocolate. This is delicious.

This is medium bodied, with a creamy mouthfeel, and a good level of carbonation.

It's cool to see a new unique spin on the barrel aged stout thing- this is very tasty.

Apr 12, 2017
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Cramshawbar from Canada

3.75/5  rDev -12.8%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Had it during the 2017 Peche Day.
I am not a fan of the bourbon infused stouts, so I was somewhat apprehensive about rum. The nose was boozy as expected but the first taste was surprisingly pleasant, with a non-obtrusive sweetness. It was also spicy. But inevitably, and surprisingly quickly, the rum took over and I had a hard time finishing just 6 ounces of this. With it, I will most likely stop sampling barrel aged beer altogether. It makes me nauseous.

Mar 13, 2017
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bylerteck from Canada

4.35/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 3.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

A - Head went really fast. Black as night body with a ring of dark, dark brown foam. Carbonation coming up fairly well through the abyss. No lace, no retention. Expected for ABV. Blackness is lovely, but other traits don't do us any favours.

S - Dark and sweet. Wood and heat. Black coffee and baking chocolate with a big spiritous note. Very inviting and sweet, but not with the expectation of cloy.

T - More sweetness pushes its way through. Plums and dates maybe. Lot's of sweetness which I assume is rum barrel descendent. I get just about no spice that I can detect aside from Juniper. No wood like the aroma. Alcohol is definitely present. Roast, chocolate, spirit sweetness

M - Carbonation is fairly strong, body is full and sweet leaving a drying plum flavour that lasts quite long and a sticky layer in the mouth and on the lips.

O/D - This is a really complex beer that is easy to drink. Maybe too easy for its strength. Flavours work well together but all the spicing definitely flies under the radar, which is good for me, but for someone looking for all those flavours, might leave some disappointment.

May 26, 2016
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BuckyBeerBeaver from Canada

4.54/5  rDev +5.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Joining the first day of issue lineup (about a dozen people at opening time), Bucky procured himself 4 bottles of Bellwoods’ Skeleton Key Spiced Imperial Stout from the brewery’s retail store. Selling for a not inconsiderable $12 per 500 ml bottle, this beer is aged for 12 months in rum barrels. No visible ‘best before’ or production date on the bottle, but at 12.0% abv I imagine this stuff would last quite a while.

Skeleton Key poured an opaque black colour with dark cola edges when backlit. It seemed to have the viscosity of a decent motor oil, producing a thin crema coloured head that quickly faded to a thin collar and blob of foam, leaving some intermittent spotting down the glass. Its aroma was a tempting mix of cocoa, rum and vanilla. The taste added some additional elements, with sweetened rum, vanilla, cocoa and milk chocolate detectable. No bitterness to speak of, and the alcohol content is pleasantly warming but otherwise well camouflaged. Skeleton Key was full bodied with a soft carbonation and sticky, substantial mouthfeel. Enjoyed this beer very much and glad that I went with the maximum allotment of 4.

Feb 15, 2016
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DaveBar from Canada

3.59/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Purchased at the brewery for a mighty steep $12.00 for a 500ml bottle. Not a good thing as at this price point and what the competition offers this should be a 650ml bottle for this price. Value low...This batch was released on Feb.12/16.

A- Opens well and pours a tiny 1/4" brown head that films out within a minute. Dark brown colour

S- Heat. You can tell it's rum barrel aged... barely.

T- You tell that rum is there.... barely. Has a light hint of a pile of different spices that detract from the imperial stout style. If they left them out the brew would be better by far. In an attempt to add complexity they missed the ball on this one. If you want a winter stout make a winter stout. If you want a quality barrel aged brew then keep it to that. Total confusion.

M- Their base imperial stout so it's fairly good if a touch bitter on the tongue.

O- Ok at best. No where near worth $12.00 for a 500ml bottle. Nothing anywhere near the league of a bring out your dead which, comparatively speaking is a much better brew but again..... value low. Much better brews out there to partake. Save your money.

Food Pairing

This brew took a bit to pair. Had to try with it...... Chiff choff in my home made tomato sauce. The contrast of the tomato to malt was not bad.


Feb 14, 2016
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Jeffo from Netherlands

4.51/5  rDev +4.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Got this one from pino I think. Cheers man!

From a 500ml bottle into a snifter
Spiced imperial stout aged for 12 months on rum barrels

APPEARANCE: A black pour yields a two finger, medium looking, fizzy, dark tan head with lousy retention. Head fizzes down to a ring only. Pitch black body with slightly higher levels of carbonation for the style. Head recedes and looks basically flat by the half way point. Great color here but lousy head.

SMELL: Rum, molasses and brown sugar, toffee, cream notes, milk chocolate and a light spiced quality of perhaps nutmeg and cinnamon. Very nice stuff.

TASTE: Just fantastic. Rum and oak up front with toffee sweetness, spicy cinnamon, brown sugar and molasses up front. Very flavorful from the get go. Big finish of spicy rum, oak, sweet cream, toffee, milk chocolate, vanilla, cacao powder and bitter roasted coffee flavors. Lots of barrel and alcohol up front, with nutmeg and cinnamon, then lots of stout in droves after the swallow. Just awesome.

PALATE: Medium body and medium levels of carbonation. A little more carbonation than hoped, but it's creamy on the palate, goes down smooth with a light burn at the swallow and finishes slightly sticky.

OVERALL: This was outstanding. Usually I expect the feel to be a little heftier before a beer can get a perfect score for taste, as the feel helps carry the flavors somewhat, but it didn't matter in this case. The flavor here is just so decadent and well balanced between bold forthcoming barrel and spices, and hefty, sturdy base stout that a perfect 10 for flavor was the only option really. Again, Bellwoods rocks it out with an adjunct filled, barrel aged black beer. Love this stuff and would bathe in it if I could. Thanks again pino. This was a beauty!

EDIT: The 2017 version is a different animal. It is labeled as a spiced imperial stout with raisins and vanilla. The raisins are quite prevalent in the newer batch and it is not as spicy as the original. The 2017 batch weighs in at 10.5% ABV,

Dec 10, 2015
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imonhiatus from New Jersey

4.5/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

on tap at the brewery on 11/30. billed as a rum barrel aged impy stout at 13%. wow, that's great. huge chewy body. rum soaked chocolate. cake. spice. delish! grand slam.

Dec 01, 2015
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wordemupg from Canada

4.3/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

500ml bottle poured into tulip 9/11/15, big thanks towards liamt07 for the massive want

A black liquid with a thin cola edge, large dark foam looks promising but is gone in seconds leaving no lace, to be expected at this strength I suppose

S heaps of chocolate syrup, plenty of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, licorice notes of all sorts, root, anise, fennel, rum barrels working well with the spices, a hint of vanilla, some root beer, smells massive

T root beer, cola and heavy on the licorice, some char, more licorice, spices are heavy for sure, some booze but I'd never guess 13%

M thick and creamy, very thick, has some heat but well managed all things considered, a little tannin like grit, licorice just keeps going on the finish

O great barrel choice with all the spice but perhaps there's too much spice for it to work with, don't get me wrong I'm loving this beer but its a little overwhelming at times

Not the best beer I've had from Bellwoods but shes a solid monster, perhaps over spiced but what they used works well with the choice of barrel.

Nov 10, 2015
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TheSevenDuffs from Canada

4.53/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

A - deep black with a thin layer of medium brown head.

S - roast, bakers chocolate, licorice/anise, spices, oak and rum.

T - heavy barrel notes up front - charred oak, rum and spice. Roast, chocolate and licorice notes mix very well with the barrel

M - full body; thick and viscous. Light carbonation.

Aug 19, 2015
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Bugs318 from Canada

4.29/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Nose of cocoa, some coffee, caramel malt, a touch of barrel, and booze. Taste is similar, sweet, but balanced mix of spices. Pretty creamy and full body that is a bit sticky. A touch hot.

Aug 16, 2015
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Rutager from Canada

4.4/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours thick and black with a half finger of creamy smooth brown head. Fresh anise and some blackstrap molasses on the nose. Taste has some of that anise from the nose but much more subdued, some smokey dark malts, nutmeg-like spices, some dried dark fruits. 13% abv very well hidden. Would sure love to ty this one a couple years down the road.

Cheers to Liam or Sammy or whichever great trader it was that hooked me up with this, I don't have my list with me.

Jul 04, 2015
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polloenfuego from Canada

3.78/5  rDev -12.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

This beer looked good, deep deep brown, with thin head that broke quickly. Sporadic lacing. Smell was spices, almost like the holidays, heavy on the cardamom and cinnamon to my nose, also picked up the barrel on the nose rather easily. Taste was where this one let me down...the spices were overpowering the other flavors. I got too much cardamom and cinnamon for my liking and not enough of the barrel. The power of the spices also seemed to mask the other flavors one would normally get with stout. Feel was harsh to me, and the alcohol had a burn to it.

It was not bad, but I had hoped for a more subdued spice to complement the stout roasts and other flavors, not overpower them.

Jun 28, 2015
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papat444 from Canada

4.15/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Pours pitch black with a very dark brown head that's tight. Aroma is rich of rum and macadamia nuts. Flavor has that spiced rum overriding the base stout. It's good but wished there was more roastededness and flavor from the stout.

Jun 06, 2015
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zac16125 from South Carolina

4.35/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

500mL bottle into a wine glass
At the source in Toronto
Bottle #: 368/2100

A: Pitch black, small dark tan head, dissipates quickly, almost zero lacing 4.25

S: dark fruits, roasty, rum, booze, cinnamon/nutmeg 4.25

T: big rum barrel notes and roasted malts, some dark fruits, spice with pepper and nutmeg, black coffee bitterness, delicious 4.5

M/D: full body, moderate carbonation, ABV very well masked, drinkability is very good 4.25

O: excellent beer, very enjoyable. 4.25

May 22, 2015
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mtomlins from Canada

4.15/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Poured deep black in color with 2-3 mocha head with good retention and lacing. On the nose was lots of heavy roasted grain, chocolate, espresso, hints of rum and some some spice (cinnamon, nutmeg?). The taste followed suit, dark chocolate, roasted malt with some spice and rum notes. Body is full with good carbonation. Really nice!

May 11, 2015
Skeleton Key from Bellwoods Brewery
Beer rating: 94 out of 100 with 96 ratings