From The Cellar: Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine 5 Year Vertical

In Cellared Beer Reviews by Ryan

Central Waters says:

“A barleywine ale aged for a full year on used bourbon barrels, this beer have flavors of dark fruit and wood, winner of the Gold Medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.”

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
American Barleywine, 11.5%

You know you’ve been cellaring a beer for a while when the commercial description changes somewhat drastically from the first bottle in the series to the last. When we first encountered this bourbon barrel aged hop-demon of an American barleywine, Central Waters was trumpeting the aging of “Charlie” in bourbon barrels. Charlie was a nod to Kosmyk Charlies Y2K Catastrophe Ale, also a barleywine, and the base for the barrel aged version. Seeing as how we’re now over a decade removed from Y2K, Central Waters changed up the marketing some to tout the hardware this beer brought home from the ’08 GABF as opposed to a laughable fear of all the things that would happen once the calendar turned over to 2000. Yes, we’re old enough to remember that.

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Photos of the descriptions are below.

When we first encountered this beer, fresh, in 2010 I wrote of a challenging sipper of an American barleywine that seemed to fade in and out between aggressive hoppiness to cloying sweetness. Years in the cellar has done this beer well. Very well, in fact.

Working from oldest to freshest:

  • ’09: Highlighted by plums, dates, cherries and raisins this five-year old version was sweet, mellow and soothing. The hops have faded away leaving a pleasant, dry English-like barleywine. The bourbon is still present, but lingers in the periphery.
  • ’10: There’s a bit of an edge still to this one, but overall it’s relatively smooth. Grapefruit rind steals the show, accentuated by a still effervescent carbonation. The bourbon is present and pleasant and there’s a nice dash of orange peel in the finish.
  • ’11: This middle offering may be the most well-adjusted of the bunch. The hops are bright and citrusy, but not too abrasive. Dark fruits provide a nice balance and the flavors of oak and vanilla from the bourbon are just right. Perfection.
  • ’12: Bourbon beats hops in this round. Sure, there are splashes of citrusy hops here and there but the bourbon is far more pronounced than previous sips. In fact, the bourbon seems to bury just about everything under its warming blanket of booze.
  • ’13: If you like your American barleywines American-y, read explosively hoppy, then a fresh pour is for you. Orange peel, lemon rind and grapefruit lead the charge, warming brown sugar and pecans bring up the rear – all of the above are accentuated by deep flavors of bourbon and vanilla.
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This was probably one of our best barleywine vertical tastings to date. We sometimes find ourselves disliking those middle years, when the hops haven’t completely faded away and the malts haven’t taken over, but each pour of Central Waters’ Bourbon Barrel Barleywine was stellar in its own right.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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