Well. One of the things that we here at MBR wanted to do in the new year was to post more, you know, reviews of beer. I think we've accomplished that. Hopefully these posts have inspired you to go out and try some of the new seasonal beers that are on the shelves. While we've focused on the limited run beers, also remember that each of these breweries make yearly seasonals like Capital's MaiBock, Tyranena has a dopplebock (they were going to do a maibock again this year, but the Dirty Old Man used up available fermenter space), New Glarus has their Road Slush Oatmeal Stout coming out, Viking has its JS Bock - there is a veritable cornucopia of seasonal beers on the shelves these days.
We'll explore next week what makes Bocks so late-winter-early-spring appropriate. But today and Friday we'll take one last look at stouts and barleywines - the ultimate winter beers. They are styles that keep us warm and satiated and are perfect for those long winter nights. Central Waters has two new special releases that are available in the Madison area ONLY in single bottles (although I've seen retailers stash sixes behind the scenes, presumably for people if they ask or are reserved for those who get their names on "the list") - and expensive twelve ounce bottles at that - upwards of $3.49 in most places. And, in keeping with a popular trend, both are aged in bourbon barrels.
Fermenting is typically done in very large steel tanks. But fermentation is often a two-step, and sometimes three-step process whereby during the last stage of fermentation, the "spent" yeast is removed and the beer is left to age - this is technically considered fermentation because the beer is not filtered at this point and there is some residual active yeast remaining to further ferment the beer. Ales in particular have a long tradition of being aged in, and frequently served from, oak casks. Well, some American brewer somewhere along the line got the genius idea of aging beer in barrels that had been used to age bourbon. By aging in bourbon barrels the beer comes in contact with the sides of the barrel that had previously been in contact with bourbon. Thus, you get beer that tastes of bourbon.
However, the bourbon-y taste can be overwhelming. So, most brewers reserve some of the beer to be aged in regular steel tanks. Before bottling, the two beers (the bourbon-aged and the non-bourbon-aged) are blended back together (and sometimes left to age again for another week or two). For example, Tyranena's Dirty Old Man Rye Porter Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels, is a 40/60 blend (I think; I'm sure someone will correct these numbers if they are wrong) of 40% aged in rye whiskey barrels, and the remaining 60% aged in the regular manner. Notably, The Grumpy Troll's Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale was unblended; after it warmed up, it tasted exactly like drinking whiskey/bourbon/scotch - a pretty neat trick for beer.
The first of the Central Waters Brewers' Reserve special releases is the Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout. It is unknown if this is a blended beer, though presumably it is. Although the label is helpful enough to tell us that the beer is aged with eighty pounds of Door County cherries, and that it is aged for six months.
Appearance: served at 52 degrees, it is a gorgeous crystal deep ruby red, with a nice small tan head that quickly dissipates
Aroma: while the very first aroma is sweet, sweet cherries, the bourbon raises its head quickly with subtle earthy roasted malt underneath and a grassy brightness on the very end
Flavor: exactly like eating a cherry cordial; the cherry flavors burst in the mouth, while the bourbon notes follow soon behind supported by deeply roasted malts; despite the big, sweet flavors it remains nicely complex
Body: not as heavy as you might think, while the bourbon and hops hang around to keep the flavors fresh in your mouth, the finish is nonetheless clean
Drinkability: like most stouts, one is enough, but I would drink this any day and could probably drink two if I "needed" to
Summary: Central Waters hits another homerun and shows yet again why it is one of the best breweries in our state, and probably one of the best breweries in the country; while Wisconsin breweries tend to stay out of the National obsession with "big" beers, its a shame that this one isn't distributed further and can get the recognition it fully deserves.