Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Satin Solstice Imperial Stout

Central Waters Brewing Company
Amherst, WI

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 7.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Nigel’s “Tour O’ Dark Beers” is once again underway, as winter has held on long enough for me to sneak a couple more in before the eagerly anticipated arrival of warmer temps. Currently I’m planning one more tour stop, though there may be an unexpected encore … you never know, so stay tuned. Nigel is looking forward to returning to his beloved hops, and is definitely looking forward to wearing shorts and flip flops while once again drinking beer on the patio.

I’m excited for this review, which will be my second tour stop at Central Waters Brewing in remote central Wisconsin. Satin Solstice Imperial Stout is my third Central Waters review overall, the first two of which focused heavily on the distribution situation (or lack thereof) and found Nigel desperately trying to formulate an overall opinion of this brewer with a huge local following. For the sake of maintaining my readers’ sanity and to appease the gods, I will abstain from repeating those topics. Instead, I’ll briefly touch on why I believe the success of Central Waters is a perfect example of the overall viability of the craft beer industry, and why us loyal beer dorks should continue to be optimistic for the future.

In my first Central Waters review, I reminisced about growing up and attending college in central Wisconsin and how the beer I.Q. in the region was, uh … “unevolved.” I also mentioned that Central Waters was located in a remote area, not really near any metropolitan areas (Green Bay and the Fox Valley are the closest, but pretty small and an hour away). As Central Waters begins to expand their distribution and continues to gain success, I’m reminded of that old saying regarding New York City: “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

Breweries similar to Central Waters, located in remote small towns like Amherst are no longer an anomaly. While the beer I.Q. in many of these places may be low, the craft beer movement has gained enough momentum to overcome this and gain a foothold in these areas, typically with the assistance of a few local beer dorks that provide a nice, solid backbone. As craft beer grows and becomes more a part of the mainstream consciousness, a wider audience will become aware of the array of options available outside of the B-M-C trifecta, which will allow small brewers to continue expanding (assuming they have a decent product, of course). The presence of tasty beer produced locally makes craft beer even more appealing to the novice drinker, further chipping away at the corporate influence of the traditional powers. The fact that Central Waters has developed such a loyal following over the course of their 10 years despite being virtually unknown to most outside of remote central Wisconsin speaks not only to the quality of their product, but also to the willingness of many people to experiment with and accept new, exciting, and lesser known things.

Central Waters has expanded using a sensible formula common among craft brewers: introduce lighter, standard offerings (in CW’s case, Happy Heron Pale Ale, Ouisconsing Red, and Mud Puppy Porter) to get people hooked (including novices), then introduce more “extreme” beers (Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, Bourbon Cherry Stout, and Satin Solstice). Bait the customers with basic but tasty offerings, and then set the hook by blowing them away with balls-to-the-wall brews. Simple, but quite effective, assuming the product is of good quality.

Quality doesn’t appear to be a problem for Central Waters. Satin Solstice (beautiful name, by the way) pours in standard stout form: an ultra-dark mahogany hue reveals an unfiltered brew with a mild tan head of about a quarter of an inch that quickly dissipates. A nice creamy lace is present throughout the drink, perhaps a tad more than you’d expect for the style. The aromas are nice, but not on the level of an imperial. Noticeable malty aromas of chocolate, coffee, and roasted nuts permeate, though they should come through more vociferously given the style. Secondary aromas of dark fruit and alcohol are present but hard to detect at times, although they increase as the beer warms.

The taste is excellent, but Satin Solstice tastes more like a powerful sweet, or “milk” stout rather than the über-roasted imperial. Irregardless, it’s very tasty, very smooth on the palate and loaded with a variety of flavors. Given the slightly lower ABV when compared to other examples of the style and typical lack of hops, virtually all the flavor comes in malt form. Initial milk chocolate flavors come through along with a hint of darker chocolate, giving it a smooth, rich profile right off the bat. A roasted coffee flavor comes through next, with a hint of nuttiness. Dark fruit, mainly plum, raisin, and black cherry are present in the background, as is a mysterious bitterness that I can’t really attribute to anything specifically (normally I’d say its hops, but I don’t really detect that same type of bitterness here). As the beer warms, the malt increases in sweetness, revealing a dark brown sugar and molasses complexity that is quite pleasant and eases the initial smoky profile. I’d suggest letting this warm to about 50 degrees before indulging, as the flavor increases drastically at that point and any lover of sweet, roasted malt will surely be impressed. Full bodied and smooth on the palate, Satin Solstice leaves a noticeable aftertaste.

There you have it, another successful stop on the Tour O’ Dark Beers. Satin Solstice is an excellent imperial stout, though perhaps a minor disappointment for anyone expecting a ballsy imperial. Central Waters has thus far impressed me, and I look forward to reviewing plenty more from them in the future.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 17, 2008.
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