For the past few years, CentralWaters has been releasing a barrel aged imperial stout as an anniversary brew. Distribution is usually fairly limited if you are not one of the few people to make it up to the annual bottle release party. Distribution throughout Wisconsin is often sparse and when Sixteen was released in 2014, my local liquor store only got one case, which of course sold out within an hour. Fortunately Central Waters kept a considerable stock of bottles for sale at the brewery, so when I stopped by a few months ago I was able to pick up a few with the hopes of aging the bottles in my cellar for a while. With the recent release of Seventeen it seemed like a good time to open the bottle and find out how it was after just over a year in the bottle.
As I touched upon in an earlier barrel aged beer post, both the type of barrel used, and the spirit that was in that barrel greatly impact the “barrel character” of a barrel aged beer. If you are a bourbon, scotch, or whiskey drinker you are probably well aware that even from barrel to barrel the same spirit tastes different, which is probably why blended spirits are so popular. They are more likely to taste the same from one bottle to the next, and from one year to the next. I wish there was more information readily available on the bourbon barrels used by Central Waters, and in hind sight, I probably should have asked.
While brewing is an art form, barrel aging is an art all its own. A brewery can make an educated guess about how a beer will turn out after being barrel aged, and quite a few release a remarkably consistent product from year to year. Other breweries are all over the place with each new vintage of the same beer having different characteristics, part of which is due to the barrels used for that release or subtle changes to the recipe based upon feedback for the previous vintage.. Another factor to consider is that all barrels will eventually go sour, they aren’t exactly hermetically sealed, and quite a few of the bugs that turn beer sour exist inside the wood already. It isn’t a question of whether a barrel will go sour, just a question of when. Many breweries only use a barrel one time before getting rid of it, although a few like to use it more than once, but each successive batch is more likely to turn sour than the previous. The character of the barrel also becomes stronger over time, although each brewery takes a different stance on barrel aging with some aging for only a couple months while others age for at least a couple years. The final beer is always a direct result of the above factors, and the only way to figure out if the beer is ready for release is to taste it, those lucky guys and gals! Then again, it probably isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it sounds. Enough about barrel aging though, let’s get on with this review!
If you are interested in a little background on Central Waters and how they got to where they are now, please check out my earlier post on their Oktoberfest.
To celebrate our Sweet Sixteen, we made this Anniversary beer that builds itself on the shoulders of its predecessors. Using a bigger, bolder imperial stout, we age this beer for 21 months in oak bourbon barrels. The result – rich, decadent bourbon, vanilla and toffee; complimented by the chocolate and roast of the stout. Enjoy this beer from our Gold Medal winning Anniversary Series, because Sixteen is a milestone, but our life is just beginning.
Serving temperature: 45-50°F.
Sixteen pours an opaque black with a thin, small bubbled latte colored head that holds low retention and leaves minimal lacing behind in the glass. I usually do a pretty aggressive pour, or at least start with one to try to rouse a head, but was unable to get a very thick one to form in the glass. Aromas of cocoa beans and vanilla from the toasted barrel come to the forefront in the aroma. They are amply supported by caramel, and bourbon, with a hint of oak on the back end. The moderately complex aroma is pretty solid, and serves as an enticing introduction to this beer.
Cocoa powder leads in the flavor, immediately followed by a strong dose of bourbon. The strong bourbon fades to notes of caramel, and a slight oaky character. Toasted marshmallows and vanilla are also in evidence. The finish brings notes of dark chocolate, and slightly sweet bourbon which linger into the aftertaste. The full malt body of Sixteen is supported with a moderate bitterness, some is undoubtedly from the hop addition, although the dark malts in the beer bring slight bitter notes along with them as well. There are no hop flavors though, at least none that I was able to detect, then again this is a 1 year old beer, so many of them would likely have faded by now whether they existed in the fresh beer or not. With a full body, and a moderate level of carbonation, Sixteen comes in right where a good barrel aged imperial stout should be.
Aging has certainly been kind to Sixteen, as it usually is with a good Imperial Stout. The strong bourbon aroma and flavor blend nicely with the chocolate and caramelized sugars from the base beer and the toasted oak of the barrel. This is an excellent beer, and I wish there was an easy way to get more of it. There is sure to be some out there in someone’s cellar, or who knows there might even be a few cases left at the brewery. One thing is for sure however, if you do happen to find a bottle of Central Waters Sixteen you should definitely pick it up! I have one more bottle, but I am hoping to save it for a three year vertical when Eighteen comes out next year.
That’s all for today, check back soon for another review!
Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!