Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yet Another Brewery That Couldn't Start Today

I know. It's beating a dead horse. Well. It's more like beating the skeletal remains of a horse that was beaten to death. But, I feel obliged to point these things out, because I think it bears explicit demonstration of exactly the havoc that the legislature has wrought by hastily passing the Great Dane Bill (SB224). So, humor me.

Central Waters Brewing Company first started brewing in 1998. By 2000, the owners Mike and Jerome, were winning awards for their barleywine. After a number of ownership changes that, surprisingly left the beer quality high, Central Waters is now one the hottest breweries in Wisconsin. The regular beers in their lineup, Lac Du Bay, Mud Puppy Porter, Ouisconsing Red Ale, Happy Heron Pale, Junc Town Brown, and Satin Solstice are all great beers for their styles. Infinitely drinkable, and supremely balanced any one of these would make a fine choice at the beer store.

But they also have a few tricks up their sleeves. Kosmyc Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale (BA.RB.) is one of the best barleywines in the country, if not the world. While I'm sure we'll get around to a more formal review of it in the future, rest assured that you cannot go wrong with the Y2K barleywine.

But Central Waters' real juggernaut-inducing beers are its barrel aged beers. Central Waters offers three beers aged in bourbon barrels. The aforementioned barelywine is also available occasionally aged in bourbon barrels. Also produced is an aged stout and an aged cherry stout. Last week, the Bourbon Barrel Stout was released. Its availability is scattered, so if you see it around, make sure you grab it - it may not be last long; even at $16.99 for a 6-pack. In fact, I was told that for the second straight year retailers are getting less than anticipated. Brennan's had ordered 25 cases and was assured that they would be getting them; only 5 cases were actually delivered. While Central Waters' expansion into the Milwaukee area might account for some of this, it is hard to fathom what the full reason could be. Last year's excuse was an evaporation issue: that seems like a lot of beer to evaporate.

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel StoutIn any event, the Bourbon Barrel Stout is considered one of the better stouts (BA.RB.) - the one-year aged version is in Beer Advocate's Top 10 for the style.

Appearance: As it pours into an over-sized snifter, it is dark and thick, but not oily like the Russian Imperials; its coloring is more of a dark ruby brown, not the jet black colors of other stouts; it is accompanied by a thin, wispy brownish-tan head that clings as if its life depended on it to the sides of the glass.
Aroma: roasted and bourbon, with some coffee-ish notes; there's some faint chocolaty smells lurking in the background, but it could be hops mixing with the roasted notes. As it warms up the bourbon notes really come out and the chocolate asserts itself more.
Flavor: Ideally served at 55 degrees, this beer has some kick; the coffee and roasted notes hit first, followed by the bourbon, and a smooth finish of chocolate and a light bitterness; some of the oakiness from the barrel comes through, though surprisingly little hop; this beer is all about the malts and the specialty malt complexity is pretty amazing; a light touch with the sweetly caramelized malts adds a soupcon of brightness.
Body:the bourbon aging rounds this beer out and is it is supremely smooth; for a stout it maintains a soft but not heavy body.
Drinkability: An excellent before bed night-cap to watch the timbers in the fireplace dwindle down while listening to the final strains of Mingus' Epitaph.
Summary: If stouts are your thing - and really, who doesn't like a stout every now and then - go out and grab a six while you can; it is doubtful that retailers will be splitting these for singles, so you will probably be stuck paying the $16 for a six-pack; but drink a couple now, and drink a couple next year, and then two more the year after that - you will find it was the best $16 you ever spent on beer. Between the Leinie's Big Eddy Russian Imperial and Central Waters, Wisconsin is making a strong claim for the top of the stout pile.

So, what does the Great Dane have to do with this beer? Well, to belabor the point, as I promised I would earlier, SB 224 would make it illegal to start a brewery that operates like Central Waters does. How? Well, the new law requires that if a brewing company own a brewpub license that all of its facilities must be brewpubs. Thus, brewing operations cannot be separate from retail operations. It is this same rule that would have prevented Granite City from opening here. In this case, Central Waters has a 7,500 square foot brewing facility in Amherst, WI; its restaurant is 60 miles away in Marshfield. Although the restaurant facility does brew some beer (namely, 6 beers that are available only at that location), the brewing facility does not have a restaurant - though it would be required to have one under the new law. Moreover, if and when Central Waters surpasses 10,000 barrels it would have to close down its popular brewpub. Of course, Central Waters will be covered by the grandfather clause; but any new brewers hoping to mimic Central Waters differentiated brewing system will be out of luck.

ps. the word of the day is "soupcon" - use it in a sentence today and people will think you are twenty times smarter. Everybody can thank Sean for today's word of the day.


  1. Ouch! I fell and hurt my soupcon! Hmm...I don't feel any smarter. For those of you with less than two hours to spare before toddling off to bed, replacing Mingus with a little Morphine (the band, not the drug)also works well.

  2. Hi, Sorry to have to correct you but...SB244 allows brewers with a active licence to own BOTH a brewery and a pub. When they hit 10,000 bbls they must make a choice witch way to go.
    If you were to open today you would have to make the choice now.
    That's the jist of the law. You can thank your Miller and Bud guys for forcing that down on us.

  3. I think you are conflating some points. This post isn't really about the 10,000 barrel limit (since Central Waters isn't at the limit anyway). Rather, a brewery could not operate like Central Waters today because SB 224 requires that a brewery have EITHER a brewery license, OR, if they want to serve food, to have a brewpub license. If they have the brewpub license, they must comply with all requirements of the brewpub license. Two of those requirements is that the entire manufacturing process occur on the premises and that the brewpub must operate a restaurant on the brewpub premises. Moreover, a brewing entity cannot be BOTH a brewery AND a brewpub, it can only be one OR the other; so it cannot hold brewing license for one facility and a brewpub license for a different facility. Thus, a Central Waters-like startup could not brew at one location without a restaurant and ship to another location that IS a restaurant.

    Does this directly impact Central Waters itself? Kind of but not really. Any "grandfather" clause would allow Central Waters to continue operating as it does (and even open a second brewpub if it desired). BUT, the extent of this grandfather clause is under considerable debate and given the volatility in the ownership of Central Waters in its past, it is questionable whether a significant change in ownership would change the nature of the facility such that it would lose its "grandfather" status.

  4. Sorry for the multiple posts, but some follow-up just to be explicit:

    "An applicant is eligible to obtain a brewpub permit if all of the following apply: ... 6. The [brewpub] applicant does not hold or have an interest in a Class "A" license, a beer wholesaler's license, a brewer's permit, or an alcohol beverage warehouse permit and does not hold or have an interest in a Class 'B' or Class 'C' license other than one for brewpub premises.

    And, at least "officially" Miller and A-B were "neutral" in terms of their lobbying push for this bill. While they've definitely made public comments in support of the distributors, this bill is almost entirely the work of the distributors and The Great Dane.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.