Brew Dude: Nov. 17, 2018

November 19, 2018

Following on the heels of my Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers column, I want to introduce you to the new flock of Goose Island Bourbon County Brand series of beers coming out later this month. Goose Island Beer Company, founded in Chicago in 1988 by beer legend John Hall, who later sold Goose Island to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011, is credited with having created the concept of aging beer in bourbon barrels.

If you want more on the story of how Goose Island changed beer forever, read Josh Noel’s, Chicago Tribune travel-beer writer, recently published book that details how this story and Bourbon County Brand beers originally came to be.

Noel’s book is Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, you can purchase a copy at amazon.com/Barrel-Aged-Stout-Selling-Out-Anheuser-Busch/dp/1613737211.

I have not read it yet because I am finishing my master’s thesis, but it is one of the first books I plan to read in December when I am finished with grad school.

Goose Island Beer Company releases their Bourbon County Brand series of beers every year on Black Friday. The main location to get your chance to buy all eight, or a number of them, will be at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Lincoln Park. The line is long, and the vibes are friendly but usually pretty chilly. Liquor World in Kankakee, Berkot’s in Manteno and Binny’s Beverage Depot in Orland Park or Mokena get some of these beers as well.

I usually make the rounds on Black Friday to collect as many of the Original Stout as I can. Every year, Goose Island invites some of the beer writers of Chicago to come to one of their locations in Chicago to try all of them.

Since my articles have to be timely in nature, I keep my recommendations until the beers are almost out. This year, Goose Island is releasing the most variants they ever have made for BCS, and I think most are fantastic beers, so read this list with that in mind.

The only variant I wasn’t completely in love with was this year’s updated version of Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout. There is nothing wrong with this beer. The vanilla is complex, rich and balanced in the stout.

Goose Island said because of conditions in Madagascar, vanilla beans by the pound are more expensive than silver. With that said, here is my list ranked in order of what I thought of these beers.

1. Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout is my favorite out of the eight of this year’s beers. Goose Island doubled down on chocolate with an overload of cocoa nibs and milk chocolate to make this beer a chocolate lover’s dream.

This is the first year I feel as though I need to get a hold of one of these bottles because my wife will love this beer. This beer captures the wide spectrum of chocolate flavors from rich, powdery, darkest of dark chocolate as well as the sweetness and mellow, slight bitter flavor of milk chocolate.

2. Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout is my second favorite this year. Last year, I didn’t think Reserve was that distinguishable from the Original stout because there is no difference other than the barrels they age in. The same is true of the barrels this year, but Goose Island put this year’s Reserve in 12-year old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof barrels that won bourbon of the year just after Goose Island bought the barrels. There is a distinct difference in barrel presence between the Reserve and the Original, and I’m a big fan.

3. The original Bourbon County Brand Stout is my third favorite this year. I love this beer, what can I say, I am a sucker for the first love. I am completely happy to horde some of these beers in my cellar all year and drink them in the run up to the Black Friday release.

I would put this beer first every year if it wouldn’t seem strange. The original is a great beer, and we are lucky to have so much of it in Chicagoland for us to enjoy.

4. Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine is my fourth favorite this year. Goose Island combined two of my favorite variants into one beer this year, which seemed like a bold move to me, but it works in this beer. One of my favorites every year is the BCS coffee, so I was sad to see that missing this year, but Barleywine gets a massive punch up here with the addition of coffee and a new way the coffee was added.

Coffee Barleywine is a huge achievement for Goose Island to give drinkers a new look at an old favorite.

5. Bourbon County Bramble Rye Stout comes in fifth on my list, but as I said before, this is a list of stellar picks. Bramble Rye has the full compliment of bramble notes present in this beer. As you can tell, there were two fruit-forward notes in the series, and both fruit-added beers are below fourth because I am a bitter-chocolate-coffee fan more than a fruit fan when it comes to beer.

Bramble Rye is a fantastic beer with complex notes of raspberry and blackberry. They served this to use with some excellent gelato covered in blackberries and raspberries, and it was a delicious treat. I recommend you do the same if you are able to get your hands on this one.

6. Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale comes in sixth place for me this year. I have always loved the Barleywine as the lesser of the variants they release every year, so along with the coffee, I missed just regular Barleywine.

Goose Island replaced Barleywine with Wheatwine, which is just as it sounds — a wheat beer that features so much wheat and is so high in ABV it is comparable to wine at this point. I have not had a huge amount of wheatwines, and I have not liked them. Goose Island’s wheatwine might be the best wheatwine I have had, but that is a small list.

7. Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout came in seventh for me. I enjoyed this beer. This features chocolate again alongside Proprietor’s blend and adds a very complex, authentic orange rind flavor to it that is a pleasant twist on a beloved beer and beloved childhood Christmas tradition.

Many writers in the room said they loved this particular beer because it reminded them of their childhoods. The orange flavor was rich and well balanced, and the chocolate was present as well. I enjoyed it, but I won’t seek this one out in my hunt.

8. Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout comes in at eighth place this year. This is a panel of experts, a contest among equals, but I did not enjoy the vanilla. I would like to retry this one by itself, instead of after a number of samples of very complex beers; then, this one might come out a winner. But vanilla was pretty easily my least favorite beer this year.

That’s it; that’s the list. You might find one, two or all of these available to you. You might find you disagree with my assessment here. I will be out and about on Black Friday buying some of these beers so if you see me out, come say hello.

Bourbon County Brand Stout from Goose Island Beer Company

ABV: 14.9 percent


Style: Barrel-aged Imperial Stout

Notes: Bourbon, chocolate, boozy, dark and rich roasted malts

Where to Buy: Binny’s Beverage Depot, Liquor World, Jewel in Bourbonnais and Berkot’s in Manteno in 16.9-ounce bottles for about $10.

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