CENTRAL WATER’S Bourbon Barrel Stout is called by some the budget version of BCBS. To some extent it’s a fair analogy: both are strong American stouts, robustly full-bodied, with pronounced bourbon overtones from generous barrel-aging and thick malt profiles neither too roasted nor too fruity. But to place this beer beneath Goose Island’s shadow is to do it an injustice. It strives for greater balance, and one could actually fathom enjoying it over the course of an entire glass instead of the wee drams apropos of the spirituous Bourbon County. It’s also markedly less expensive and more readily available, which are qualities not soon forgotten when one’s reaching for that second bottle.
Another of Central Waters’ virtues is the (relative) moderation of its grain bill. It leans heavily upon the darkest malts like chocolate and black patent, of course, but also fits in some moderately kilned intermediaries for sweeter depth and a dose of grain in the mouthfeel. Thus molasses plays alongside caramel, with plenty of vanilla on the nose (though less on the palate) and enough space for dark bread, chocolate, and bits of licorice to sprawl throughout its lengthy midsection.
The mouthfeel is also quite satisfying, bookending the full but not sappy body with a thick foam head at one end and substantial alcohol warmth at the other. The finish rolls through oak and grain and suggests a bit of crispness before the aftertaste slips in sweeter notes of molasses and vanilla. These come after the carbonation has brushed all the liquid away and seem more the beer’s shadow than a limb of its body. Surrounded by burlier barrel-aged monsters at FoBAB, this beer was poised amidst a sea of decadence and took home gold in the classic porter/stout category.
Served: On tap (Skyline Loft, FoBAB 2013, Chicago)