Jessica Sullivan's picture

84 Rating: Brewer's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Barleywine by Central Waters Brewing Co.

December, 2017
Judges Rating: 
23 / 24
4 / 6
34 / 40
6 / 10
Overall Impression: 
17 / 20

I am judging this beer as an American Barleywine (BJCP category 22C) that has been Wood Aged (category 68). 

The aroma on this beer was very compelling, and immediately revealed the beer to be a barleywine. There was a rich caramel aroma with low and pleasant butteriness that combined with very low roast malt notes and a low herbacious and resinous hops. There was evidence of bourbon in the aroma, along with a low oak scent. Together, this beer smelled like a warm winter night in a tavern.

The beer itself is butterscotch in color, with no visible head, substantial legs, and very small visible bubbles. I wish that the head had been more visible, and the color could be richers / more robustly highlighted.

The flavor included both notes of American Barleywine and of bourbon barrels; I will address both. On the barleywine front, there was a rich malt backbone, and an almost leather-like under taste that was pleasing. There were substantial earthy hops, and the beer was balanced towards the bitter and the sweet. I do wish that the malt, while rich, had revealed more of its complexity in the taste. Part of the reason it may not have been able to was the dominance of the bourbon barrel characteristics, and the substantial alcohol heat. There was substantial oak flavor, with a strong taste of wood and of bourbon. I wish that the beer had a lower level of barrel-character here, as the bourbon and oak ended up being the dominant forces.

The dominance of the barrel characteristics continued even in the mouthfeel, where the oak tannins left a puckering astringency. The small bubbles lingered on my tongue, combining with the hot alcohol to give a generally prickly mouthfeel; this was not a clean finish. 

Overall, the base beer is outstanding, and the pairing of Barleywine and bourbon barrels is a winning combination. That said, in this particular instantiation, the barrel characteristics were so dominant that it was challenging to find balance in the beer.