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Beer Here: Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale from Central Waters Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

Twelve years ago, Y2K signaled an impending catastrophe. Forecasts of computer chaos prompted stockpiling of food, water, batteries and generators as the fearful prepared for an electronic Armageddon caused by the "Millennium bug." For some, it was reason enough to think about what beer might get them through an apocalypse. Central Waters Brewing was happy to oblige with a special barley wine named Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale, an ideal addition to anyone's millennial survival kit.

Now there's another round of end-of-the-world hype with the Mayan calendar that identifies the winter solstice on December 21, 2012, as a day of reckoning. So, just in case, I'm again stocking up on Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale. Besides, if we're still around, it will be a great beer to celebrate New Year's Eve.

What is it? Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale from Central Waters Brewing Company of Amherst, Wisconsin.

Style: Barley wines are rich, dark brown to bold bronze in color, and full-bodied. English versions features malty sweetness, while American versions are hoppier with strong spicy bitterness. The barley wine offers a complex blend of malt and hops, and even port and sherry-like flavors (especially the malty English version). Barley wines have wine-like strength, and can be quite high in alcohol, exceeding 10% ABV.

Background: Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale was first brewed in 1998, and aged for about a year before being released in the fall of 1999, just in time for the turn of the millennium. The brewery continues that annual tradition of brewing and allowing the beer to age in kegs for at least a year before it's released in 12-ounce bottles.

Central Waters' co-owner and brewmaster Paul Graham says he hasn't tinkered with the recipe too much since he made that first version, except for minimal changes in the malt bill when the brewery moved to a new location in Amherst and changed its brew kettle from gas to steam heat. He describes the recipe for this American barley wine as "a very simple beer with just massive amounts of malt." Actually, that malt gives the beer lots of alcoholic strength at approximately 12% ABV. Kosmyk Charlie's won a silver medal at the 2000 World Beer Cup for the initial version of the beer made in 1998. It sells in four-packs for around $12.

If you are curious about the Kosmyk Charlie's portion of the beer's name, Graham explains that early in his brewmaster career he was fan of the Grateful Dead, who released the song "Cosmic Charlie" on their Aoxomoxoa album in 1969. Graham notes that he's lost his ponytail and prefers county music now.

Central Waters also makes a bourbon-barrel-aged version of this barley wine. That beer won a gold medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Malty, a nice firm caramel aroma.
  • Appearance: Deep reddish amber with a slight haziness. A soft, tan head.
  • Texture: Full bodied, bubbly, with a soft mouthfeel.
  • Taste: Firm malty tones of caramel and chocolate, with hints of dark fruits like grape and plum.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The maltiness, hops and alcoholic warmth combine for an assertive, spicy-astringent ending.

Glassware: Barley wines are best served in a glass that encourages sipping, such as a snifter or wine chalice. Kosmyk Charlie's should be enjoyed slowly to appreciate its spicy complexity and respect its strength. Just as importantly, a good barley wine like this is best served at a warmer temperature than most beers (high 40s, or even near room temperature) to bring out more of the malty tones.

Pairs well with: Barley wines can be tricky with foods because of their intense flavors and their alcoholic strength. This is a strong beer that is just fine on its own, or as an after-dinner dessert or nightcap.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Kosmyk Charlie's online ratings are not vintage specific. Based on previous releases, the beer is rated 92 (exceptional) at Beer Advocate and 98/90 (overall/style) at Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale is a nice beer for toasting the New Year. Its strong malty and spicy character and alcoholic warmth will be a memorable way to cap off your 2012 brews and set a standard for flavor in 2013. It is a very nice example of the American barley wine; however, because of its huge malty base, Kosmyk Charlie really will get better with age. And that's acknowledging the 2012 version already has been aged for 12 months before its release.

I sampled this year's vintage of Kosmyk Charlie's next to ones that were two and three years older. The additional aging made me appreciate how well cellaring will round out and mellow its flavors. It didn't eliminate them, but it did reduce some of the more harsh spicy and astringent-alcoholic tones. I suggest a New Year's resolution to hold back a few 2012 bottles to share at future celebrations.

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