If Goose Island is #1 in the barrel-aged beer game, Central Waters might well be a close second. This is a common ranking in the Midwest.
In my book, however, Central Waters is #1. Granted, I’ve only had two vintages of the original Bourbon County Brand Stout. Reason: 1. Hard to get in Northern Wisconsin 2. Only released once a year 3. I’m not into shelling out extra cash or trading for beer 4. Goddamn InBev.
Alternatively, I can get better than a half-dozen of this Amherst (WI)-based brewery’s barrel-aged beers in a year’s time for less than $15 per 4-pack. This lineup is all affordable, consistent beers with big barrel character.
Granted, this has changed somewhat with tickets to the brewery’s anniversary releases selling out in minutes and the introduction of $40 per bottle Ardis Insignis.
So, is Ardis Insignis worth it?
Hell, I have no idea. I didn’t even bother to enter the raffle because I’m not paying $40 for 22 oz. of beer. Hey, I gotta draw the line somewhere.
No, rather I’ll be reviewing another recent release, Cassian Sunset.
Central Waters says: “A bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with local Emy J’s coffee, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon.”
First thought: “YAASSS! A new Central Waters beer!”
Second thought: “Oh no, they’ve taken a perfectly good BB stout and ruined it with spices and shit.”
You must understand, beers jam-packed with vanilla and/or coffee have almost always ended in disappointment for my taste buds.
Well, I bought some anyway. After all, I could attest to the fact that Emy Js has great coffee, having spent 4 years in college in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. And, Central Waters’ Brewhouse Coffee Stout is a rare exception to my “coffee beers suck” belief.
After my first glass, my suspicions seemed correct. I was ready to give away the other three bottles.
But, the first taste was from a shaker pint glass at a cold temperature. I felt I had done an injustice. So, a week later I had another from a tulip/snifterish glass at the proper temp. Big improvement.
Yes, the coffee, vanilla and cinnamon is there, but remain subtle enough. I still can’t say I’m a fan of these additives, but there is good balance in this beer. I certainly can’t fault Central Waters for trying something new with its tried-and-true barrel aging project.
This beer is, ultimately, another testament to the fact that Central Waters is one of the best in the business.
Too often beers are made extreme for extreme’s sake. Central Waters has certainly jumped in on the popular trends of incorporating barrel aging or huge amounts of sexy hops, fruit, peppers, spices, etc. But the brewery has also shown enough restraint and skill to produce flavorful beer that is also easy-drinking. I was surprised how quickly I finished my glasses of Cassian Sunset.
This supped-up bourbon barrel stout is decadent, like maybe spice cake, brownie and coffee ice cream mixed together. That sounds a little strange and excessive, but damn, I’d be a fool not to try it.
Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg