The weather is finally starting to turn cold, which means it’s almost stout season. Here in Chicago, we’re going on 20 years of Goose Island’s annual release of Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS). Expect an in-depth review as we get closer to the Black Friday release. For now, however, here’s a sneak peek from last week’s media tasting at the Clybourn Brewhouse.
Variety is the Spice Hops of Life
This year’s BCBS lineup features eight different varieties. They range in both flavor and intensity, from the surprisingly subtle (for a BCBS) Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine to the full bourbon flavor of the Reserve BCBS. Given that they’re all aged in bourbon barrels, claiming there’s something for everyone may be a bit of a stretch. That being said, there’s certainly enough variety to keep BCBS fans talking and drinking throughout the winter.
Several of the beers contain raw ingredients that are added on the cold side after the beer comes out of the barrel, and all are intended to bring out flavors in the standard BCBS. Many of these flavors will be familiar to anyone who’s had barrel-aged stouts in the past: coffee (Coffee Barley Wine), chocolate (Proprietor’s BCBS), and vanilla (Vanilla Stout). Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout is certain to surprise, with an orange flavor that’s more common to wheat ales than barrel-aged stouts. According to Goose’s brewers, though, there are subtle citrus hints in bourbon. Inspired by this flavor and childhood memories of orange and chocolate holiday candies, they brewed up a variety that combines orange zest and cocoa nibs to create something entirely new to the BCBS family.
Putting the Bourbon in Bourbon County Brand Stout
Goose Island’s brewers put a lot of work into sourcing their bourbon barrels. They have focused on building relationships with some of Kentucky’s best distilleries in order to procure barrels that previously held high quality bourbon. Transportation of the barrels is key as well. Goose takes advantage of the relatively short drive to Kentucky to ensure that they get the barrels when they are still wet with bourbon. Nowhere does this hard work pay off more than this year’s Reserve BCBS, which was aged in the 12 year old Elijah Craig barrels that held 2017’s Whiskey Advocate Whiskey of the Year. The kicker? Goose didn’t know that when they got the barrels. They knew that Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig brand consistently produced great bourbon, and they wound up with the year’s best barrels. I suggest trying this alongside the Original BCBS to fully appreciate the difference between standard, 4+ year-old bourbon barrels and the 12-year.
Keep your eyes here for more in November, when we’ll review where to get your hands on BCBS and which to try before you buy!