Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Central Waters Brewing Company
Amherst, WI

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)

Pair With:
I don’t mean to throw Central Waters Brewing under the bus, but they happen to be the subject of this review so they get to feel the wrath of Nigel. I hate, H-A-T-E it when breweries label their traditional German-style Oktoberfest/Märzen brews as “Octoberfest.” By no means is Central Waters the only brewer to do this; I’d estimate that nearly half of the brewers that brew a Märzen mislabel it as “Octoberfest.” I, however, am a stickler for authenticity and grammar, and I don’t understand why we can’t get something so simple correct. It’s Oktoberfest, comrades … get it right.

With that out of the way, I can now focus on what I do best, which is drink craft beer and attempt to make sense out of it while battling a serious buzz. This being mid-October and with the latest edition of Germany’s Oktoberfest already in the books, it seemed like a good time to review a fine Märzen. I’ve been enjoying a few different versions this year, having sampled mostly local selections (local for Nigel, that is) from Lakefront, Capital, New Glarus, and Sprecher. I was hoping to find a new Oktoberfest brew this year that could receive the proper review treatment, and Central Waters properly obliged. Although Märzens aren’t typically my first choice, there’s that certain flavor associated with them that reminds Nigel of being bundled up on a crisp autumn evening, watching the Tampa Bay Rays battle their way to the World Series.

Central Waters has had quite a year thus far in 2008. The new brewery in Amherst has been churning out plenty of product, as evidenced by the fact that you can now find at least a couple of Central Waters selections at most Wisconsin retailers with even a nominal selection. On top of that, Central Waters received a huge accolade last weekend, winning a Gold Medal with their Bourbon Barrel Barleywine at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver under the category of Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beer. Nigel approves of that selection, as I enjoyed BBB when I reviewed it last spring, although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to give it a gold. Central Waters’ previous seasonal release, the summer wheat Whitewater Weizen, was a huge disappointment, so I’m hoping for a bit of redemption with their latest offering.

Octoberfest pours with a nominal head of just under half an inch that settles to a mild creamy lace that lingers at first but disappears towards the end of the session. A cloudy coppery hue, there’s a slight bit of sedimentation and very little carbonation; it looks like a Märzen should. The aroma is, well … awful. Perhaps it’s just me, but I was completely put off by a stale, synthetic, nasty tinge on the nostrils. While it appears Central Waters was going for a sweet caramel malty aroma with a touch of roasted barley, there’s an inexplicable sourness to the scent, and I found it very disappointing. While there is a touch of roasted grain and sugary sweetness that comes through on occasion, overall the aroma isn’t up to par, and puts a damper on the brew.

The taste is far better than the aroma, though it remains weaker than what I was hoping for. It’s drinkable, but seems like a mutated version of a traditional Märzen. Again, there is an odd sour, stale flavor that just doesn’t work for me. I’m guessing that part of the problem is that the overall malt profile is too heavy on the sweet sugars and not heavy enough on the roasted characteristics that typically mark Oktoberfest brews, a flavor that is perfect for chilly autumn nights. Central Waters Octoberfest has the unfortunate sensation of eating five day old sweet roll found in a dumpster behind a bakery, and I can’t imagine anyone finding that appealing. Granted, there are some redeeming qualities. The sweet caramel malt can be pleasant at times, providing a sugary sweetness that reminds me of candy corn. When not overpowered by the sour notes, there’s a good amount of earthiness to it, though not nearly enough roasted qualities. Ultimately, I can’t say I enjoyed it. Smooth on the palate, Octoberfest goes down relatively easy with a mild aftertaste, and could be considered a session brew if so inclined. I, however, consider this a one-time try and don’t plan a repeat performance.

Once again, Central Waters has let me down in the seasonal department. While others may have a different interpretation to the unique flavors in Octoberfest, I was totally unimpressed. There are too many characteristics that are very un-Märzenlike and hard to describe, and with so many quality Märzen’s to choose from this time of year, I’d stay away from this unusual attempt at the style. Perhaps it’s worth a shot as it has the potential to provide a number of different impressions from different drinkers, but if you’re looking for quality from Central Waters, stick with their award-winning Bourbon Barrel Barleywine … or an Oktoberfest that’s actually spelled correctly.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on October 23, 2008.
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