This year’s Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout release is the biggest ever with eight (!!!) different variants. Other notable differences include a hiatus for the hugely popular coffee stout and barleywine. Subbing in are a new coffee barleywine and wheatwine. This is also the second time that there’s a “Reserve” variant—this year’s version is aged in Elijah Craig bourbon barrels.
We had the chance to sit down with the brewers to taste all of this year’s offerings at The Cannibal. Some exciting news we learned—sure to make BCBS fans happy—is that the brewery allocated much more BCBS to produce the limited variants in hope of better meeting the voracious demand. Hopefully that means it will be easier for fans to hunt down this year’s lineup.
We’ve got a lot to get through so here are the reviews!
Bourbon County Brand Stout (ABV: 14.7% & 15.2%)
It’s as good as it’s ever been—dangerously smooth for the ABV, huge cocoa, vanilla, toffee, and tobacco. About 25 percent of Bourbon County was aged in 4-year-old (or older) Buffalo Trace barrels and the rest was aged in 4-year-old (or older) Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels.
Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout (ABV: 15.2%)
The same base recipe as Bourbon County Original, but this beer is aged in 12-year-old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof barrels. The bourbon from these barrels was named Whiskey Advocate’s 2017 Whisky of the Year. The barrel flavors on Reserve are big and all of the bourbon notes of vanilla, toffee, and tobacco are even more pronounced than regular BCBS. It’s another winner and we hope they keep on releasing reserve variants each year—we love being able to taste what a single source bourbon barrel does to BCBS. And this will make our local readers very happy: This year’s Reserve will be available in New York (woo-hoo!), Illinois, and Kentucky.
Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine (ABV: 15.4%)
Wheatwine is the first new non-stout debut since Barleywine was released in 2013. It’s made from two-row and malted wheat. It drinks shockingly and dangerously light compared with the barleywine, allowing the bourbon barrels to shine big time. This big, boozy beer will age phenomenally and we’re excited to stock our cellars to see how it evolves.
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine (ABV: 15.1%)
The idea for this recipe was born out of a mistake at a beer festival years ago when the Goose Island crew was using a Randall to blend coffee with regular BCBS on the spot. But, instead, a Barleywine keg was mistakenly used instead of BCBS—and coffee barleywine was born. Only about 150 people at the festival had the chance to try the delicious mistake and it’s been talked about—and requested—ever since.
Like every BCBS coffee stout before, Goose Island partnered with neighbors Intelligentsia to source the beans from La Soledad, Guatemala. The beans were roasted and then the beer was aged directly on the whole beans before bottling. This is a departure from how the brewery makes their coffee stout, which is usually blended with cold-brewed coffee. We were HUGE fans of this beer. The coffee is big and shines even more than in the stout. Don’t sleep on this one just because it’s a coffee barleywine and not a coffee stout. Drink fresh!
Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout (ABV: 14.9%)
It’s baa-aaaack! Goose Island has released their famed vanilla stout aged in bourbon (not rye) barrels for the first time since 2010 and we couldn’t be happier. This beer tastes like a vanilla sundae covered in marshmallow fluff and chocolate fudge in a glass. We’re so happy that the brewery went with bourbon instead of rye this time around, because we think that the bourbon barrel just enhances the vanilla notes even more.
Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout (ABV: 12.7%)
Another old favorite (first released in 2011) is back. And this one is aged again in rye whiskey barrels, and then on raspberry and blackberry juice and puree from Michigan and Washington. The spicy rye barrel compliments and cuts through the sweet, jammy, berry flavors. This one is so berry-forward that it will certainly age nicely for many years to come.
Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout (ABV: 15.2%)
If you’ve ever had one of those chocolate oranges you smash on a table to break into segments, then you’ll be very familiar with the taste profile of this beer. We were wary about citrus fruit in a stout (like how were about banana being used in last year’s Prop), but this was pulled off beautifully. Zest from Spanish navel oranges and two different types of cocoa nibs from West Africa were used to make this delicious, chocolaty dessert beer.
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (Chicago Only)
Speaking of chocolate … this year’s Prop is an explosion of chocolate. A combination of dark chocolate from Theo Chocolate and two types of West African cocoa nibs, create a silky, rich beer with both bitterness and milky smoothness from the different profiles of nibs and chocolate used. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate—there’s not much more to say!