Beer Review 0367: Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Barleywine

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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 Barleywine is aged for one year in oak bourbon barrels, and is 11.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). Again, the ABV isn’t listed on the bottle, but the label has a notch for the bottling date; this bottle is from the latest batch, released in early 2013.

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The pour kicked up a small, creamy head that had a lasting quality. The beer itself looked like dingy and murky standing water; for a Barleywine, this can typically fit the style. The color was orange-brown, and there were visible pieces of sediment floating in suspension. You can’t see through this brew. Lacing is pretty good, leaving behind thin but solid film on the glass.

The aroma is stellar. Wow! Big note of bourbon up front, followed by vanilla and a ton of sweet, chewy caramel. Underlying scents are cinnamon, coconut, and a subtle smokey oak. There are dark fruits present — some raisin, fig, and prune, and there is a just a touch of pine hops. The big alcohol is there, but serves to compliment the bourbon. I could sniff this all day and not get tired of it — and I could probably keep finding new things.

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On the palate, there’s some oak up front, but it’s not like licking a hardwood floor as some beers can be. The oaky note combines with sweet caramel, stiff bourbon and cinnamon. Coconut comes out next, leading to a middle of the mouth vanilla hit, and a finish that showcases some hops and lots of alcohol. The lingering flavor is of oak, caramel, bourbon, and hot alcohol. This is a full-bodied beer, not to be toyed with, and the mouthfeel was thick and creamy.

This is a very nice barrel aged Barleywine, which gains complexity as it warms, issuing forth more of a dark fruit taste; rum-soaked raisins and figs. But the alcohol here is a bit much, and this warms the body fully. While it wasn’t too much for me, I think you’ll want to have a few Barleywines under your belt before you go after this one. That said, if you dig bourbon and Barleywine, you’ll love this. More importantly, this will get better with time, so hoard a few of these and wait a year. I wish I could.

Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, 91 points. Price: $3.59 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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