For beer geeks, the day after Thanksgiving is a lot more than Black Friday; it’s the day when Chicago based Goose Island releases its Bourbon County Stout, one of the most prized brews produced by any American brewery. This year, the company released six varieties of its stout, a thing of cultish devotion for its legions of fans (a seventh, reserve barleywine, was produced but not released). And after trying a few of those expressions, we strongly advise you to seek as many of these out if you can, because supplies are starting to wear thin.
If you’re a BCS newbie, we suggest you start with the original barrel-aged stout. Available nationwide, this rich, dark, and dense beer has plenty of charred oak flavor from its time in an unrinsed bourbon barrel, along with lots of chocolate, vanilla, and caramel.[related]
“You don’t need a whole lot of frills in order to make a standout stout, and the 2017 Original Bourbon County Brand Stout proves just that,” The Daily Meal’s resident beer aficionado (and Entertain Editor) Carolyn Menyes wrote after sampling it. “It pours a midnight oil black, leaving only a small trace of a light brown head. The flavors are just as smooth as the pour, with rich notes of dark chocolate and raisin, but don’t think it’s sweet; it finishes with just a hint of smoke to help balance out the richness. At over 14 percent, this is a sipping beer, but it’s a fine beer to savor as the nights get longer and colder.”
Three other varieties are available nationwide as well: coffee brand barrel aged stout, barleywine, and blueberry almond Northwoods stout. The coffee stout is brewed with a heavy dose of Black Cat Espresso from their friends at Intelligentsia Coffee, and it has a slightly lower alcohol content but plenty of flavor from the coffee. The barleywine is aged in second-use Kentucky bourbon barrels, contains 14.4 percent alcohol, and has notes of tobacco, vanilla, and some heat from the bourbon. The Northwoods stout is brewed with almond extract and blueberries, lending it a subtle blueberry flavor as well as hints of marzipan and chocolate.
We had the opportunity to sample two other Bourbon County Stouts: the Reserve Brand stout, available only in Chicago and Kentucky; and the bananas Foster-inspired Proprietor’s, only available in Chicago. The Reserve is aged in 11 year-old Knob Creek bourbon barrels, and it has many of the same flavor elements of the original stout, but with an added depth and complexity from the 11 year-old barrels (the other varieties are aged in 5 to 7 year-old barrels). There’s lot of deep, rich chocolate, vanilla, and caramel, and it’s truly spectacular. The Proprietor’s is brewed with banana, cinnamon, and almonds with the flavors of bananas Foster as an inspiration, and all of those elements definitely come through on the palate, giving it a slightly sweet nuttiness that makes it a perfect dessert beer.
2017’s Bourbon County Stouts are everything you hope they’ll be: big, bold, deep, dark, rich, and full of flavor. Stock up while supplies last, and share them with friends during the holiday season.