The Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) varietals, put out annually by Goose Island and rabidly anticipated every year, bring all sorts of deliciousness to one of the original barrel-aged innovations. Goose Island has damn near perfected the art of barrel aging, and is now clearly just swinging for the fences with these. I was excited to get the opportunity to taste and share my thoughts from a beer appreciators perspective while avoiding the “fanboy storing his vintage bombers in the dank, smelly basement of a relative” approach. My fear, really, was of fueling the angst towards beer snobbery that ends up with people buying more shitty, adjunct lagers just to spite us. Bud Light Strawberry Pomegranite Lime-a-rita, anyone?
It’s a vicious cycle that I cannot and will not help perpetuate.
Now the BCBS varieties are traditionally released on the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday, to retailers and fans of marketing buzzwords. And owing to the general Black Friday insanity, these beers have very limited production run. You have to be smart and stealthy, chances are you’re going to have to battle and wait in line with bunch of other beer fans to get your hands on any of these bottles. But fear not, because there will be several tapping events – mostly around Chicago but also in Austin, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
ManBQue was lucky enough to get our hands on the entire 2013 lineup. It may seem that I’m bragging about being given this chance. And that’s because yes, I’m sort of bragging. But since these were given to me in good faith by our awesome friends at Goose Island, we had to drink them now, robbing us of the opportunity of tasting them follwing the 5 years of aging that they recommend. Rough life, people. The next step was to form the ManBQue BCBS tasting team. I needed a team that knew beer and could talk about it enough for it to make beer sense, but not enough to creep out, say, your wife’s single friend at a holiday party. I obviously also needed food people. And luckily, ManBQue is crawling with these types.
The brave men of the ManBQue BCBS tasting team:
Andy Konkol: Home brewing, meat smoking, craft making dude.
Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau: Pizza genius/owner of Dimo’s pizza, beer fan.
Jon Meske: Beer slinger at the Green Lady Tavern, podcasting cowboy.
John Scholl: Home brewer, social media & marketing master of ManBQue.
Jesse Valenciana: Beer brewer, creator of many foods, the Godfather of ManBQue. Also me.
Bourbon County Brand Stout 2013 (14.2 percent alcohol) First up was the original Bourbon Country Brand Stout. Basic by no means, the BCBS is an award-winning beer, taking bronze at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010, gold in 2006 at the World Beer Cup and taking home bronze this year at Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer. And apart from all that, it’s very existence is largely responsible for the barrel aging boom that you’re presently enjoying so much.
Upon pouring, the BCBS coated the glass with a thin brown lace. At first taste, everybody agreed that this girl was running hot. The nose was boozy and it warmed us all up. It had a good, spirity mouthfeel. The flavors weren’t too all over the place, we got raisin, almost prune notes. There was also some slight vanilla, mild chocolate and cracked pepper finish notes.
Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (12.1 percent alcohol) Before we cracked open this bottle, we all seemed to agree that barleywine wasn’t necessarily the beer of choice for any of us. Though it’s not our first choice of beer varities, John and I did once have the rare chance to taste the King Henry which was Goose Island’s barleywine aged in Pappy Van Winkle 23 year barrels. The results were pretty amazing, even for a non-barleywine drinker. But that’s generally the exception to the rule. So how did we do with this one?
This barleywine had boozy kick and a roasted taste initially. There were pruney notes to it as well. Interestingly enough, the barleywine tasted dry, like a cider and even had a subtle, somewhat apple-core finish. Not bad at all, even for a bunch of non-barleywine drinkers.
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (13.4 percent alcohol) 2013 is the year of firsts for the coffee stout; the first year John Laffler, now of Off Color Brewing, isn’t brewing the coffee for this stout and this is also the first year the coffee stout will be sold in a 4 pack of 12oz bottles.
The coffee stout is always a great hit. Goose Island now contracts their industrial corridor neighbor, Intelligentsia. This year they used a coffee bean blend from El Slavador call Los Imortales. This is the one stout that I was glad to have fresh because coffee stouts tend to lose the coffee flavor over time, so a fresh one really captures the coffee flavor that the brewer meant for you to taste.
If you ever wanted to have a beer for breakfast – you know, because that’s a crazy thing we NEVER do – this would be the absolute perfect breakfast beer. Coffee jumps out at you as soon as that bottle is open. It had an excellent, syrupy mouthfeel without being overly thick. It was heavy on the chocolate and roasted malts that didn’t take away from the coffee flavor. The finish was like a dark, semi-sweet chocolate with a tasty molasses kiss. (Yeah, I just said molasses kiss.)
Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout (12.7 percent alcohol) This deliciousness is one of the two Chicago-exclusive variants. At the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers (FOBAB) in 2013, the Backyard Rye took home a gold in the fruit beer category and silver in the best in show category, not too shabby. And as we can now tell you, both of those awards were well deserved.
Opening the bottle gave off a chocolate covered raspberry scent. The beer covered the inside of the glass more so than the coffee stout but the mouthfeel wasn’t too heavy. The Backyard Rye came across almost like a dessert beer or a port. The berry flavors are the first to introduce themselves but the there was a slight tart not far behind while finishing off with just a touch of saltiness.
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (14.1 percent alcohol) This was the all around favorite BCBS varient of the tasting. The Proprietors is the Chicago-only release that Goose Island says was “meant to show our immense gratitude to our neighbors here in Chicago—the loyal and adventurous fans whose support helped bring Bourbon County Brand Stout to towering new heights.” Goose Island only ended up making 88 barrels of the Proprietor’s variant.
The Proprietor’s was a thick, molassesy beauty. It was like drinking a liquid Samoa – delicious Girl Scout cookies in a glass. There were flecks of coconut that floated to the top of the beer. Although it didn’t have much of a head, the mouthfeel was a bit thicker than the other variants. Some of the guys got a bisuity flavor, I personally got emotional at how much I liked this beer. Goose Island says “thank you” to Chicago with this beer and Chicago thanks you back, Goose Island, for a job well done.
Beer this good draws countless fans and some great reviews. Go over to Good Beer Hunting to read what they had to say and to look at their great pictures. Don’t stop there, Phil Montoro from the Chicago Reader also had a fantastic break down of the 2013 Goose Island variants.