Since 2012, Central Waters Brewing has released a Barrel Aged Stout as an anniversary release. Beginning with 1414, the annual releases, Fifteen, 16, and 17 had represented the epitome of barrel aged stouts, and each has sold out quickly at the brewery release party. This year Eighteen sold out in three minutes to those lucky enough to make it to the anniversary party. I was unable to make it to Amherst myself, but I fortunately had a friend who was heading up and didn’t want to purchase his whole 8 bottle allotment, so I was able to get a couple of his bottles, one to enjoy now and one to age. I love it when everything works out.
As with all barrel aged releases, it is both the type of barrel used and the spirit that is aged in it that impact what we think of as the barrel character in a barrel aged beer. One of the great trends in the craft spirits community is the move to aging alcohol in wood that would have otherwise not touched the inside of a barrel. Barrel aged gin and barrel aged vodka releases are capitalizing on the note of oak, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, coffee, notes that come from barrel aging. The spirit, of course, contributes notes to the barrel from the herbal notes of gin, to the grape notes of port, or from the peaty notes of scotch to the notes of leather and tobacco from bourbon. The combination of the two with a solid, well brewed craft beer can become a masterpiece if done right. Sure, there are stories of barrel aged beers gone bad, even here in Wisconsin where, at least in my opinion, some of the best barrel aged beers are brewed and released. I’m sure if you are reading this you have had a barrel aged beer at both ends of the spectrum, but fortunately for us all a vast majority capitalize on the greatness of the base beer style as well as the best aspects of the barrel and the spirit that was aged within it.
With bigger releases like Central Waters Eighteen, multiple barrels are blended to obtain the final commercially released product. The blending in itself can have a huge impact on the finished product because even the beer aged in two barrels that are sitting side by side can taste different. The devil as they say is in the details, or in this case in the artistry of blending barrels together to be able to release a spectacular product. Central Waters has never let me down, so I was definitely looking forward to my first taste of Eighteen, but I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.
With each passing year, we refine our art and showcase our efforts in our anniversary release. Eighteen is a blend of stouts that gain more depth and complexity from the bourbon barrels they call home for years. Cheers!
Eighteen pours an opaque black with slight walnut highlights when held to the light. It is capped with a creamy, light brown head with a light rocky break up. The head holds excellent retention before fading to a thick collar around the edges of the glass and leaving a moderate amount of complex lacing behind. Strong, boozy vanilla and bourbon notes lead in the aroma amply backed up by coffee and chocolate. The chocolate character in the aroma becomes richer and more complex as Eighteen warms taking on notes of cocoa powder, bakers chocolate, and even a hint of milk chocolate courtesy of the vanilla notes. The finish has subtle notes of light caramel, and bourbon-y sweet alcohol.
With the rich bourbon in the complex aroma, the flavor did not disappoint. Bourbon, toffee, and an underlying note of roasted barley lead in the first sip. The boozy bourbon flavor picks up additional complexity with vanilla, cocoa powder, and subtle caramel notes with an underlying oakiness. Semi-sweet bourbon, vanilla, and toffee linger into the drying, smooth finish and aftertaste. Full bodied and silky smooth with a moderate level of carbonation, Central Waters Eighteen has a full, almost viscous maltiness with just enough hops added to offset the malty sweetness that can tend to dominate other big Imperial Stouts.
Central Waters Eighteen is a remarkable barrel aged imperial stout with its notes of bourbon, complex chocolate, toffee, and vanilla. With Eighteen, Central Waters has once again shown that they are one of, if not the best brewery in the country for barrel aged releases. This is definitely a beer worth tracking down, but be sure to get your hands on at least two - one for now, and one to savor in a year or three, preferably as part of a vertical tasting.
That’s all for tonight, be sure to check back soon for another review!
Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!