Beer Review 0365: Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Cherry 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 Cherry Stout is an Imperial Stout aged in oak bourbon barrels for one year, with each barrel containing 75 pounds of Door County cherries. It’s not exactly clear if this is the same base recipe as used for the regular Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Coming in at 10% ABV (again, alcohol content not listed on the bottle), this Cherry Stout is exceptionally hard to find due to a soft Wisconsin cherry crop. Many thanks to Dave (Untappd user OnWisconsin) for sending me this beer in a recent trade.

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The pour brought forth a disappointing and nearly non-existent sparse head, light tan in color. Just like the regular Bourbon Barrel Stout, this was dark brown in color, but did have some ruby red mixed in thanks to the cherries. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing just didn’t happen. That’s to be expected with a high ABV beer, but still disappointing.

The nose on this beer is a delight, but I implore you to savor it before you take a taste, because after I sipped, I couldn’t pull all of these flavors out again. There’s lots of bourbon and vanilla, and it’s especially smooth. Then, you have the cherries, which mix delightfully with chocolate and a mild hint of coffee. Add all of these scents together and you get a detectable hit of banana. I really dug the aroma.

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On the taste, if you’re expecting a sweet cherry, you’re going to be half disappointed. There’s an immediate tartness along with bourbon and vanilla. Yes, tart bourbon. That’s a head scratcher — it’s not bad, but it certainly is unusual. Once your tongue adapts, it is actually pretty good — but after the initial burst of flavor, there really isn’t much to be found here until the finish. That’s when the tart cherries turn sweet and bring in a ton of vanilla; then on the ultimate conclusion, the cherries turn tart again and you get a nice bourbon hit when clicking your tongue to the roof of your mouth. And just like the regular Bourbon Barrel Stout, I found this medium-bodied with an especially thin mouthfeel…and cloying because of the sweetness. Thin and cloying, who would have thought?

This isn’t the cherry I was expecting, yet strangely I was drawn to this beer and finished it with ease. It does seem to be a little better on the cold side; while it was warming, I noticed the cherries took on a medicinal, cough syrup flavor. But the big letdown on these Central Water stouts continues to be the texture; they’re more like a Porter, but retain the sweetness of an Imperial Stout, which makes for an odd combination.

Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout, 83 points. Price: $3.59 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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