Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine | Central Waters
Ah yes, Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine (BBB). Back when they were teenagers, Central Waters would release BBB during their anniversary party in late January along with their anniversary beer. Apparently that hasn’t been the case in the recent past, as it seems to come out around April. In February 2021 (apparently, the pandemic has ruined my sense of time as I thought this happened in 2020), Central Waters went barleywine crazy, releasing six different barrel-aged barleywines, including a pecan pie and iced version. Given how tasty the regular Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Barleywine is, I had to get my hands on some of the extended aged ones.
Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine pours a lovely caramel color. A strong half finger of head forms that vanishes from the center out (I honestly don’t think I’ve seen that before). When held to the light correctly some crimson highlights show, but the beer overall is difficult to see through. Some alcohol stains the glass as it moves around, but at 14.5% ABV I’d be surprised if it didn’t. No color staining whatsoever.
The aroma on the Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine doesn’t hold back. Big notes of butterscotch hit first. Some nice brown sugar and slight chocolate notes follow. Even some raisins and a slight sweet cherry note pop up. Three years in a bourbon barrel definitely shows, as some vanilla, wood, and oak creep in on the finish. I’m more impressed that only a slight alcohol burn tickled my nose. A very deep, complex and satisfying aroma.
And then the party stops. Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine has a pronounced woody or oaky flavor that really takes over the beer. I immediately remembered my multiple experiences with Goose Island’s Rare Bourbon County 2015 and just how oak-dominant that beer was. While not close to the licking-a-barrel level of oak of the Rare, it still dominates the palate and leaves little room for much else.
Some of the nose flavors do show up on the palate, but in relatively muted ways. Brown sugar and dark fruits come out and play a bit. A hint of butterscotch and vanilla appear as Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine warms up a bit. (I chilled my can, left it out for 1-2 hours, then drank it over the course of an hour. Near the end of that hour the butterscotch started showing up.) It doesn’t help that the flavors don’t really ride out the sip; hints at the beginning and end, but it’s mostly oak and wood.
While the medium mouthfeel of Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine definitely helps with hiding the 14.5% ABV, it does no flavor favors. Not much lingers after the sip except for some throat alcohol burn. This is by no means a thin beer, but a lower carbonation level would’ve helped with the mouthfeel and definitely the flavor.
Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine is not a bad beer by any stretch. It’s just not what it could be based on that aroma. I had visions in my head of Straight Jacket and even V.S.O.J. when smelling it, but it turned out like Rare 2015. If the oak didn’t dominate the beer as much as it did and a bit more of the butterscotch, brown sugar and vanilla showed up on the palate and stayed put, this would be an absolutely amazing beer. But that’s not what was in my glass.
One thought kept creeping into my head – would I like this beer more had Straight Jacket never existed? Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine hides the alcohol exceedingly well. I easily finished the can, but I was left wanting more and consistent flavor – akin to Straight Jacket. It’s not fair to do that, but when I can go to my local bottle shop and pick up a 4-pack of it (whereas the Three Year Bourbon Barrel Barleywine was brewery-only), it does come into play. Get the flavors in-line with that insane aroma and this would be a winner.