Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Whale A Week: Central Waters Fifteen

Last week we covered Olde Hickory's The Event Horizon as a tasty barrel aged Imperial stout.  This week we move back to the Midwest for a special release from Central Waters Brewing Company.

Central Waters is a fixture in the Wisconsin brew scene since the late 1990's, growing steadily and building a strong reputation for good craft beers.  I'll be honest, when they first started distributing in Minnesota a few years ago I was not impressed with their basic beer line-up.  People kept telling me how amazing the beers were, but all the ones I had tried were merely OK.  What I didn't realize until much later was that most of my beer-freak friends were really talking about Central Waters' barrel aged series.  Once I got a taste of their Peruvian Breakfast Stout I was sold on them.  My wife and I were able to get to a Central Waters beer dinner at The Happy Gnome earlier this year and were blown away by the fact that all but one beer they served us was a special release.  Oh and the food was awesome as always!

On to today's brew!  I managed to get a bottle of Fifteen in a large cellar buy-out about 2 years ago.  Brewed for their 15th anniversary in 2013, this beer is a big Imperial stout aged for 26 months in 14 year old bourbon barrels (I believe Heaven Hill).  ABV is about 11%.  Beer Advocate places this at 94, and RateBeer at 99.  I was excited to get to try this beast after loving the 17 we got to try at that beer dinner.

For this whale tasting I had a few friends over.  The bomber bottle was 2013 vintage and served into snifters.  This week's panel was:

1) Me--BJCP judge, beer geek, actual geek, fan of bourbon.

2) David Grilli--Award winning homebrewer, member of the Primary Fermenter's brewclub, also a geek involved in the D&D podcast 20-Sided Death: check it on iTunes HERE.

3) Mike Lebben--A Whale A Week alumni back for more!  Winner of a blue ribbon at MN State fair, part-owner of BeerDust.


Aroma: (In which we smell booze...)

Eric: Mild bourbon and vanilla.  Light roast coffee.  Some sweetness and a burn of alcohol on deep inhalation.  Not a ton going on in the aroma.
David: Boozy, whisky aroma.  Not pungent.  Slightly malty.  A tad bit of smoke or char?
Mike: Booze, hot liquor.

Appearance: (In which we all wish for more head...)

Eric: Dark brown--not as dark as most RIS.  Not opaque, but slightly cloudy.  Very little mid-tan head that fades quickly (whisky will do that to you...)  No legs on glass.
David: No head retention.  Brown in color and opaque.  No lacing.
Mike: No head.

Flavor: (In which we burn out our taste buds on hot hooch.)

Eric: Strong boozy bourbon hits you in the mouth violently.  This eventually fades to a sweet marshmallow and vanilla flavor.  Powerful alcohol warming that is almost as strong as actually sipping a fine bourbon neat.  Burns going down and clears the sinuses.  Not a lot of roast and coffee.  Body seems thinner that expected, possibly from the high alcohol.  Carbonation is actually a bit high, but no head retention.  Some tannins add complexity but also a bit of astringency.  Unbalanced.
David: Thick, woody char, vanilla, bourbon up front.  Alcohol hotness.  Sharp toffee.
Mike: GASP--HOT BOOZE.  Vanilla, dried plum.  Highly carbonated with small bubbles.

Overall: (In which we are all a bit disappointed.)

Eric: Just not a complex beer--one note of hot booze.  This seems almost like a flavored bourbon rather than a bourbon flavored beer.  The elements that make a Russian Imperial stout are overwhelmed (roast, chocolate, coffee.)  Booze.  Booze.  More Booze!  Just too hot.  I think this spent too much time in the barrels.  3
David: Needs more time to age.  Solventy, alcohol warmth and strong bourbon, vanilla flavor--not balanced with the roast malt. 3
Mike: Boozy. 3

Overall Score: 3

So we really didn't love this one.  Too bad, but glad I shared it and wasn't the only one who thought it was not stellar.  I do have a 16 in the cellar for a later A Whale A Week and hopefully it fares better!  David was kind enough to serve us a bottle of his MN State Fair ribbon winning Aberrant Russian Imperial Stout on this visit--It was one of the best things we tried all night!

Next up:  Chocolate Rain!

Photo Details: This week I was a little stumped on what to do that would be fun for the fairly plain-brown-wrapper appearance of the bottle label for 15.  I ended up superimposing a shot of a calm river in Belgium and then inverting the image for a funky and more interesting effect.

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