Beer Review 0403: Central Waters Illumination Imperial IPA

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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, most notably, an award winning Barleywine (91 points).

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 brewing experience. Another move took place in 2007, which saw Central Waters locate to Amherst.

Illumination, an Imperial IPA, resides in the Brewer’s Reserve series, a group of beers that are limited release. Brewed with Centennial, Chinook, and Simcoe hops, Illumination hits 9% ABV (alcohol by volume). Another plus: out of all the Brewer’s Reserve beers I’ve reviewed, this is the only one that carries the bottling date and the ABV. Thumbs up for that!

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The pour kicked up a small, soapy head that had a lasting quality. The color was golden-amber, just a touch darker than your typical Imperial IPA, and the body was clear with no particles or sediment. Lacing was fair, producing wispy soapy suds on the upper portion of my glass.

As expected, the nose delivered heavy hops — the grapefruit here is awesome, giving you both the fruit and the rind, and mixing with sweet tropical fruits. Mango and pineapple seem to bring out the grapefruit astringency, and a touch of lemon serves to round things out. I noticed a floral note, and even some hot garlic as the beer warmed from fridge temperature to room temperature, and the malts are here, very lightly with some bready caramel. Overall, the aroma is inviting and a dream for a hop lover.

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The taste issues up expert use of grapefruit, which is juicy and bitter right from the initial sip. The astringency mellows with sweet mango and a tart pineapple, and the malt backing balances out the tart tropical fruits with some bready sweetness. Illumination finishes moderately bitter, riding the grapefruit rind but the beer has a sweet side too, presenting orange peel and white sugar. There’s just a touch of garlic in there, and the bitterness dries out the palate with an almost medicinal quality. I found the beer to be medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Central Waters deliver an extremely solid and highly drinkable IPA that I think would please even the most timid of Imperial drinker. The hop flavors strike me as delicate but forceful — there’s a solid side of sweet here, but in the end, the bitterness creeps up and makes you smile. I’d recommend this in a heartbeat.

Central Waters Illumination Imperial IPA, 91 points. Price: $3.89 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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