- Oct 26 '16
Upon arriving in Amherst, Wisconsin, Michael headed straight for the one of the town’s brightest gems: Central Waters Brewing Company. Best known for their barrel-aged beers, the midwestern brewery has difficulty keeping up with the demand of their fiercely loyal clientele.
Jumping right into the craft, Michael assisted co-owner Anello Mollica as he brewed a fan favorite: the Bourbon Barrel Stout. The eight different kinds of specialty malt used in the beer—including roasted barley—gave it the classic stout bitterness and flavors of deep roasted coffee and chocolate.
Despite having already put 3000 pounds of grain in the system (which maxed it out), the beer still needed a stronger flavor to balance out the high alcohol content. The solution? Extract. Although Michael’s not a huge fan of using extract as a grain substitute, there are special cases (like when more grain cannot be added, but there’s still a need for more strength/flavor) where he’s all for it. And this was one of them.
After the extract, it was time for the hops. The Northern Brewer hops are ideal for bittering but don’t add much flavor, which is why the brewers at Central Waters also add Willamette hops, which give the beer a savory flavor and help to balance out the sweetness.
After the brew was complete, the batch was stashed away in bourbon barrels to be aged for an entire year before being bottled and enjoyed. However, there is one special ingredient used in some of the barrels: sour cherries.
This is the step where Paul Graham, the other owner of Central Waters, stepped in to help Michael and Anello. Armed with a scoop, a funnel, a poker, and mass quantities of cherries, the three worked to add the tart fruit to one of the bourbon barrels. In addition to delicious flavor added by the cherries, the sugar in the fruit also gives the beer a secondary fermentation inside the barrel.
After tasting a previously aged batch, Michael was sold: “It tasted like “a chocolate-covered cherry in a glass.” The tartness of the sour cherry worked to balance out the sweet, malty flavors of the stout while the characteristics from the aging process (oak, vanilla, and bourbon) made for a perfectly balanced beer.
Next on the agenda for Michael was a tour of the barrel room. Central Waters had more than 500 barrels aging during Michael’s visit, all filled with various beers. A lot of the barrels contained flagship beers and well-loved staples (including the Bourbon Barrel Stout, the Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout, and the Bourbon Barrel Barleywine), but they also had quite a few experimental brews as well. What happens when you age the Belgian Blonde (the summertime seasonal) with peaches in a French red barrel? As Michael found out, it develops a nice, clean wine barrel smell and a great color with a subtly sweet aroma and peach notes. A definite success.
As a last hoorah in the barrel room, Anello introduced Michael to the 1414: an imperial stout that won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Although typically aged for fourteen months in a 14-year-old bourbon barrel, Michael got to try a batch that had been aged for 26 months in a 20-year-old barrel. (When it comes to aging beer, it’s all about the barrels; the older a barrel is, the more flavor it brings to its contents.)
Bidding farewell to Central Waters and their epic barrel room, Michael took the 20-minute journey to T-Dubs Public House. The restaurant offers many Central Waters beers on tap and even goes so far as to use them in several of their dishes. Chef Lydia Walters welcomed Michael into her kitchen and, together, they prepared Lydia’s version of a British classic: bangers and mash.
After grinding lard into ground pork and adding tomato jam, various seasonings, and Central Waters’ Barleywine (which Lydia explained adds a barley flavor and slight bitterness to the dish), the two used hog casings to stuff the meat into. They then twisted the sausage into links and set them to bake before adding it to “the mash.”
Michael loved the dish, calling it “utterly fantastic.” The incredibly tender meat, the caramelized onions, the sweetness from the beer, the subtle bitterness, and the mashed potatoes worked together perfectly.
Finally, the duo sat down to join the Central Waters owners and one of the partners at T-Dubs in an end-of-visit feast.
First up was the Glacier Trail IPA (with its piney flavor, bright hop bitterness, and a complex maltiness), which was paired with the mouth-watering bangers and mash. The clean, light beer complemented the rich, complex dish well without overpowering it. Additionally, the hops from the ale cut into the sweetness of the caramelized onions.
Next, the gang feasted on short ribs that had been braised in Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout. Michael declared the ribs perhaps the most tender and tasty short ribs he’d ever had. When paired with the Bourbon Barrel Stout, the combination worked on every level.
The group finished the night off with chicken both brined in and served with rich Mudpuppy Porter. The chocolate, roast, and smoky flavors added real depth to what can be a bland entrée.
But there was nothing bland about this trip – from taproom to brew house to barrel room to table, this was another terrific Beer Geeks expedition.