Black Friday is almost upon us and for beer nerds that means Bourbon County Brand Stout time. We got a chance to try this year’s lineup and we’re excited to share our reviews. Spoiler Alert: These beers are awesome!
2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout, 14.1-14.7%
BCBS is back and once again it’s as incredible as ever. The same flavors you’ve come to expect are here: chocolaty, roasted malt, vanilla, caramel, toffee, tobacco, leather, and smokey charred oak. The base beer is aged in unrinsed, 5 to 7-year-old bourbon barrels, making the bourbon way up front on the nose and palate. Since the 2015 vintage, the heat on fresh BCBS has been really dialed down. We’re not sure why, but we don’t care, because it makes this big, bourbony beast super drinkable right away at release.
2017 Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, 12.9%
It’s always hard for us to pick our favorite BCBS variant, but each year we find it hard to say that any of them beats out the coffee version. As soon as you take whiff, you know there’s a ton of amazing coffee added to this beer. Intelligentsia’s Black Cat espresso beans from South America were used this year. You won’t get the dried fruit notes you might be used to from last year’s vintage, or nuttiness from the 2013 vintage. 2017 is closest to the 2014 version, which featured the first and only dark-roasted beans. This version says “Coffee!” right away, with a huge roasty aroma and taste that follows. It’s fantastic as usual, so drink fresh!
2017 Bourbon County Brand Barleywine, 14.4%
For the second year in a row, this English barleywine on steroids is aged in second-use barrels (as opposed to third-use barrels that once housed BCBS). Like BCBS, barleywine was aged in unrinsed, 5 to 7-year-old bourbon barrels.
The absence of roasted stout malt really allows the barrel to shine. You’ll get huge caramel and vanilla notes. There’s a bit more bourbon heat than the stout. It’s a sipper for sure and perfect for these coming cold wintery nights.
2017 Northwoods Stout, 12.6%
This year’s national variant isn’t aged in rye barrels as in the past, but in the same bourbon barrels as this year’s entire lineup (other than BCBS Reserve). This one is Brewmaster Jared Jankowski’s brainchild. He told us that he’s wanted to release a BCBS variant featuring blueberry and almond for years. If you’re a marzipan fan, you’ll love this beer. The almond extract is huge on the nose and palate. And the mild acidity and sugars of the blueberry helps round it out. The blueberry is integrated well into the base beer’s signature flavors. Don’t expect huge berry flavors like those in past fruit variants, like Backyard, Bramble, Cherry Rye, or Regal Rye.
BONUS REVIEWS: These two won’t be available in the NY market. We were so fortunate to get to try them.
2017 Proprietor’s Stout, 14%
Each yeah, Prop’s recipe comes from a competition between Goose Island brewers, who get to take home a four-pack of BCBS to concoct their version of the Chicago-only variant. (Boy, do we wish we could be there for those tastings!)
This year’s vintage is a play on Banana’s Foster, featuring banana puree, roasted almonds, and cassia bark. We got to speak with brewer Quinn Fuechsl about his inspiration behind the beer while we tasted it. He says that he’s been pitching banana BCBS variants for years because of his love of chocolate-covered bananas (which makes total sense when you think of the combo or banana and chocolaty BCBS), and he hopes everyone will “Get on the banana train!” and consider banana more often as an adjunct in stouts.
I’ll admit that I’ve never been more skeptical of a BCBS variant until reading this one’s description, but my expectations were totally proven wrong. The banana is not overpowering but certainly there and the cinnamon combines with it really well. You’ll immediately think of banana cream pie with meringue topping, banana-nut muffins, and, of course, chocolate-covered bananas and Banana’s Foster. It’s a dessert beer—that also says “breakfast”—but not super sweet. This year’s Prop is truly one of the most interesting BCBS variants I’ve ever had—big points to Fuechsl for pulling off such an original concept. We’re on the banana train for sure!
2017 Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout, 14.8%
This special edition was brewed to celebrate the original batch of BCBS to coincide with Knob Creek’s 25th Anniversary. Goose Island Brewmaster Greg Hall met master distiller Booker Noe more than 20 years ago, sparking a friendship that allowed for the first-ever batch of BCBS, using some of Noe’s bourbon barrels.
This variant, available only in Illinois and Kentucky, is aged in 11-year-old Knob Creek bourbon barrels. You’ll get the same notes of vanilla, caramel, toffee, and tobacco, but bigger. If you’re lucky enough to score a bottle of this extremely limited brew, make sure to enjoy it side-by-side with a regular bottle of BCBS so you can compare—the difference is very clear. We were also lucky enough to drink this fantastic beer with Booker’s son Fred Noe while sipping on Knob Creek bourbon, including a special 25th Anniversary single-barrel Knob Creek bourbon aged in barrels for 12 to 13 years. It was quite a special experience and we thank Goose Island for inviting us to this very special tasting.