Beer Review 0364: Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout

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All week, we’ll be looking at beers from Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve series.

Central Waters brew beer in Amherst, Wisconsin. In 1996, Mike McElwain and Jerome Ebel bought an old brick building and spent two years restoring it — when it was ready for beer production, the home brewers acquired some used dairy equipment and retrofitted it into a brewery. Using their own recipes, the pair produced many different styles of beer, but most notably, an award winning Barleywine.

The brewery continued to grow, even as ownership changed. In 2001, McElwain and Ebel sold the facility, and shortly after, the main brew kettle cracked beyond repair. So on its fifth anniversary, Central Waters purchased what amounted to a new brewhouse.

Today, Central Waters is owned by Paul Graham and Anello Mollica, who together have 24 years of brewing experience. Another move took place in 2007, which saw Central Waters locate to Amherst.

The Brewer’s Reserve series, as you might have guessed, is the place in the portfolio where the limited release brews reside. Bourbon Barrel Stout, which is Central Waters most highly sought after beer, is aged for one year in oak bourbon barrels. Released once per year, the bottle I have is notched 2012 on the label. This beer is 9.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) but don’t try to look for that information on the bottle; hey, Central Waters: it’s extremely nice that you date your bottles, but how about a damn ABV? That’s important information. It’s not on your website, either — I had to go to three different sources just to find out the alcohol content. Not cool!

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I attempted to stir up a head on the pour, but there wasn’t much of anything happening — think a thin cover, like a soda, which fast fizzled away. The beer was dark brown in color, and translucent when held to bright light; it was clear in body and had no particles or sediment. Lacing, as expected, was very sparse to non-existent.

Things turned around on the nose, which features lots of bourbon and all the other notes typically associated with it. Big coconut and vanilla, along with some milk chocolate, caramel, and a light smattering of black coffee. As it warmed, the chocolate turned more into the baker’s type, and a grape note came out, along with a hint of licorice. This is a very pleasant scent and it welcomes you to take a sip.

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And on the sip, there’s initial candy bar-like caramel and milk chocolate, followed by a hit of bourbon. I didn’t find the beer to be hot, but I can see how some might think that — personally, when I drink these barrel aged beers, I’m expecting a bit of an alcohol wallop. In the middle of the mouth, there’s a coconut note, but it’s nowhere near as strong as it is on the nose. The finish, when cold, is a crazy dose of vanilla, some coffee, and plenty of dark chocolate. As it warmed, a bit of a grape/raisin came to the forefront, but the excellent display of creamy vanilla versus soft, melted chocolate continued. I found this beer to be medium-bodied, with a thick mouthfeel thanks to the nearly overwhelming sweetness. Without the sweetness, I imagine the beer would be fairly thin for an Imperial Stout.

The appearance had me thinking this was going to be thin, but the sweetness really adds a syrupy feel. It’s near cloying but not quite; the alcohol is there but I found it to be a hero, cutting through some of the sweetness. The interplay between vanilla and chocolate are to die for, but I found myself struggling to finish this bottle by myself. Perhaps some age would be beneficial, but I’m of the opinion this is too thin a brew (taking away the sweetness aspect) for such a big ABV.

Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout, 87 points. Price: $3.59 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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