Often, you kind of know what to expect from a beer. You’ve heard that brewery A makes awesome brews, or the ales coming from brewery B are sub-par. Perhaps because of this, it’s always great when a beer comes out of nowhere and completely blows you away. I’d never heard of Central Waters or their Bourbon Barrel Stout, but damned if I wasn’t completely blown away; this is one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
Central Waters is a relatively young craft brewery, founded just over a decade ago. Based in Amherst, Wisconsin, the brewery offers eighteen styles of beer, and enjoys distribution throughout the state. In an admirable move, Central Waters also renovated this year to become the first “Green” brewery in Wisconsin, adding solar panels, making brewery operations more energy-efficient, and recycling spent grain with the help of local farmers.
Looking through Central Waters’ stable of beers, it’s obvious they aren’t strangers to bourbon-aged ales. Along with the stout, they also barrel-age a barleywine, a cherry stout, and a coffee stout with locally roasted coffee. I only mention this because so many breweries seem scared to barrel anything other than imperial stouts and porters. Some of the best beers I’ve ever had are aged IPAs and Belgians, and I commend these guys for taking the oak-aged concept and running with it.
As I mentioned, the experience that Paul Graham and Anello Mollica bring to brewing in this style pays out with one of the best beers that has ever graced my pint glass. Smooth, rich and bursting with flavor, the Brewer’s Reserve is up there with Kate the Great and Black Ops in the world of stouts.
I had my bottle of Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout poured in my Surly pint glass. The pour is somewhere between ruby and black – almost opaque, but with hints of red around the edge of the glass. The two-finger head is a truly rich brown, and reminds me of the color of brown sugar.
Bourbon is curiously slight in nose, with the oak and vanilla of the barrel coming through much stronger. Chocolate malt and coffee are also there. Not quite the nose you’d expect from a bourbon beer, but pleasant nonetheless.
Absent from the flavor is the booziness you’d expect from the style. Instead, you get a mouth-wateringly delicious dulce de leche milk-and-caramel flavor. After a moment on the tongue, it transitions to vanilla and oak, then finishes like a mocha latte, full of coffee and chocolate. Falling somewhere between a cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, and caramel candy, this beer is probably the best dessert stout I’ve ever had. There’s a touch of hoppy bitterness and enough dark malt and oak to mellow and balance everything out. The mouthfeel is silky-smooth and lighter than the viscous feel of a lot of high-alcohol stouts. While the body is light enough to make this an easy drinker, it is really worth drinking slowly and savoring ever bit of complex flavor.
Find this beer. It’s only a limited seasonal release and you might have to make some new friends in Wisconsin to get it, but find this beer. You won’t be disappointed. A+.