Bourbon Barrel Barleywine (2014) | Central Waters
It really doesn’t hit you how long 25 years is until you sit back and think about it. I’ve been going to Central Waters’ anniversary parties since the release of Fifteen in 2013 (with the exception of 2021 due to the pandemic). I honestly think naming their beers after their anniversary takes some oomph away from the number. But when I realized how long 25 years was, I started thinking about some of Central Waters earlier barrel-aged offerings and wondering how well they held up. And, staring at me right in the face, was a bottle of 2014 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine.
After a little poking around, I found out that we had this beer on the show while fresh on our 8th episode focusing on Central Waters’ barrel-aged offerings. (A fresh bottle of 16 also appeared on the show.) I liked it back then, putting it second in rankings behind Peruvian Morning, and now am wondering how much it has changed after 9 years in the bottle. It’s also crazy to me that I still have a bottle of some beer from 9 years ago. Unfortunately, I have a lot more from that time period. Let’s see how it held up!
The (Old) Beer
2014 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine pours with absolutely no head. I mean not even some head forms while pouring and then quickly disappears;no, like a still beer. I did hear a pop when I opened it so it definitely has carbonation. Opaque in the glass, BB Barleywine looks brown with a tinge of orange on it. I usually associate the dirty dish water color with gray, but this one looks like brown dirty dish water.
I’ll get this out of the way first – yes 2014 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine has some oxidation to it. Cardboard joins with some sherry notes in the aroma but it doesn’t overpower everything; it just shows up first and prominently. Beyond that, some brown sugar, caramel, and a hint of vanilla combine to form a crème brûlée nose flavor. Dark fruits – specifically raisins and fig – also figure into the mix. Honestly, not as horrible as I was expecting. I’ve had worse smelling beer on the podcast before!
2014 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine must’ve peaked a few years ago – thinking around 5 – as the oxidation really takes over in the finish of the beer. Much like the aroma, it doesn’t overwhelm the beer but does put a not-so-nice finish to the sip. Along with that oxidation comes some unintended bitterness but that honestly makes sense here. Alcohol burn is prominent as well surprisingly. That caramel or crème brûlée note really shines across the tongue (at least until the oxidation hits). The supporting raisin nose flavors really come into their own, playing second fiddle only to the caramel in the good flavor department. Thankfully, 2014 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine doesn’t come off as sweet at all.
That bitterness in the finish actually helps this 9-year-old beer’s drinkability. Combine that with a medium mouthfeel and a not-too-sweet beer and you’ve got something drinkable. Due to the oxidation the finish of the beer just cuts off instead of riding out, but I’ll take that over some other things that could be going on with a beer this old. I’m not ashamed to admit that I managed to finish the entire 12 ounce bottle without issue.
2014 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine has held up surprisingly well lo these 9 years. Some oxidation and bitterness do impact the beer a bit but the crème brûlée and raisins notes really things through. As I kept drinking it those old beer flavors and aromas seemed to die down or became easier to get past. Is it past its prime? Most definitely, by about 4-5 years. Would I drink another one? Yes. Don’t hesitate to try a vertical of Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywines. I think I have a 2012 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine around here somewhere I could contribute. Congrats on 25 years Central Waters!