Beer Review 0582: Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale

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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, but 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 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 Scotch Ale was first released in 2013 — and, unfortunately, not much else is known about the beer. Description on the bottle and Internet is limited; in fact, there’s not even an ABV (alcohol by volume) printed on the label. The best information I can obtain is that this is 8% ABV. Central Waters tend to be shortsighted when it comes to providing information on its labels (and its website).

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Pouring made a small, creamy, light tan head that quickly diminished. The beer was brown out of light, but under bright light was actually ruby red. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing sort of came and went, very sporadic.

The aroma is flat-out amazing. Waves of thick caramel and milk chocolate collide with mellowed bourbon and burnt brown sugar. The bourbon contains plenty of vanilla, toasted coconut, marshmallow, cinnamon, and a touch of oak. As the beer warms, it develops a heady dark fruit component, filled with prunes, raisins, and plum. There’s no alcohol to be found. Lovely!

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On the palate, this beer starts out completely opposite as to how I figured it would — the bourbon shines up front, with deep notes of dark fruit (again, raisin, prune, plum). You’d figure this to be a sweet beer, and it does finally turn that way in the middle of the mouth, bringing on layers of caramel, toffee, and powdery (dry) milk chocolate. I was surprised by the dryness; the finish changes the beer yet again, issuing up toasted marshmallow, burnt sugar, and oak. Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

This is certainly a very nice beer with a great array of flavors; I do feel it lacks a little depth and it’s a touch dry. The body is a touch thin, as seems to be the case with most beers in the Brewer’s Reserve series. But it’s perfectly drinkable and enjoyable, and I had no problem polishing off the glass. I’m not sure it would age well — perhaps this is a brew best enjoyed fresh.

Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale, 91 points. Price: $3.59 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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