Beer Review 0577: Central Waters Space Ghost Imperial Stout

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I have to admit that I’m a sucker when it comes to a beer brewed with chile peppers, but nearly all of them are, for the most part, disappointing. But I hold out hope that one day, a beer brewed with hot peppers will come along and be great…so when I knew that Dave, one of my beer trading friends, would have access to this spicy offering, I just had to try it. Thanks, Dave!

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.

Released in late 2013 in limited quantities, Space Ghost is an Imperial Stout brewed with Anaheim chiles and Ghost peppers. The Scoville Scale is used to rate how hot peppers are; Anaheim chiles are fairly mild, only registering 500-2,500 units, but Bhut Jolokia, a/k/a the Ghost Pepper, is one of the hottest peppers in the world, rating an exceptionally hot 330,000-1,532,310 units! And don’t just think you’re getting a bunch of peppers; the backing beer is a serious Imperial Stout, coming in at 12% ABV (alcohol by volume). Unfortunately, you’ll have to look up the ABV online, as it is not printed on the bottle, nor is a bottling or best by date.

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Space Ghost pours an average size, creamy and dense head that quickly fades. The color is spot-on for an Imperial Stout; pitch black and opaque, with just a hint of a lighter brown translucent edge. As I poured, the body appeared clear and free of particles and sediment. Once the head diminished, that was it — there was no lacing, and this might be thanks to the pepper oils. Or the fact that this beast is 12% ABV.

On the nose, you’d never really guess this is a beer made with peppers, although they do appear with notes of garden fresh bell peppers. This is dominated by heavy, sweet malts, most notably milk and dark chocolate, some caramel, and sweetened coffee. There’s also a pleasant whiff of smoke, and as it warms, a lovely dash of dark fruits (grape and prune) interplay with the earthy pepper nicely.

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The taste takes a few sips to come in, so swirl it around a bit and get the spicy heat fully started. Pepper heat builds initially, drying out the mouth, but excellent malty flavors take over in the middle. We’ve got loads of dark chocolate, coffee, and burnt bread crust. Dark fruits are abound, and they play off of the tolerable yet growing peppery heat very well — dry grape and prune hit the heat and a gentle puff of natural smoke hits the palate. No liquid smoke here! The finish unwinds with layers of thick chocolate but bitterness builds with a growing presence of toasted (burnt) bread. Then you’re left with a nice heat that readies your mouth for another sip.

This is a really nice beer, but let me make a couple of points here: I’m not sure Imperial Stout lends itself well to a beer built with very spicy peppers — you almost need something thirst quenching instead of drying, and the big toasted note with smoke on the end almost makes this one too much. For 12% ABV, you’d never guess it, and the spice is very well done. Central Waters need to revisit this beer and play with it a bit. I’d heartily recommend Space Ghost, but I suggest you have a friend on hand to help you with the bottle or at least have a nice food pairing to go with it.

Central Waters Space Ghost Imperial Stout, 88 points.

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