The fleet of Bourbon County brand stouts nearly is upon us. This year, eight barrel-aged variants will be released the day after Thanksgiving.
This year, Binny’s Beverage Depot in Lincoln Park will begin selling these beers at 7 a.m. There is an information page on the Binny’s website with more details at binnys.com/blog/post/black-friday-2019:-goose-island-bcbs-release-information. Binny’s will release seven varieties, along with an option to buy rare bottles from Binny’s, such as 2018 Reserve (which is my favorite) and 2017 Proprietor’s Blend (which was a favorite as well).
Craft beer fanatics will put up tents, sleeping bags and lawn chairs to camp out to have the best possible spot for the rare opportunity to buy some of the more limited releases of the brand stout variants.
They rolled out the seven of the eight beers for us on a Tuesday night, and we sampled them with talks by Todd Ahsmann, president of Goose Island Beer Company; Mike Siegel, research and development manager at Goose Island; and a representative from Heaven Hill Bourbon Whiskey. The eighth double barrel is ultra rare and will not be released at Binny’s.
Here is the list ranked, but I need to stress this: This year might be the tightest grouping of Bourbon County Brand Stouts that I can remember. I don’t think there is a dud in the mix, though I would like to have been able to sample again.
There are three flavored stouts this year: Mon Cheri, Café de Olla and Proprietor’s Blend, which are fine stouts in their own right. This year, I think the unfettered stouts take the cake.
First place goes to Double Barrel Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout. This beer was aged for 12 months in an 11-year Elijah Craig Barrel and 12 months in a 12-year old Elijah Craig bourbon, which won the 2017 Whisky of the Year the year Goose Island stuffed this beer into it. This stout is incredible. This was the fifth beer we had sampled at this point in the night. If you are going to be at Festival of Barrel Aged Beers this weekend or Proprietor’s Day on Nov. 17, you must find this beer and drink it.
Second on the list for me is this year’s Reserve Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout. This beer was aged in Rittenhouse Rye bourbon barrels. It is delightful departure from the typical bourbon essence of BCS with the spicy fruit forward notes of the Rye whiskey barrels. From the first sip, this Reserve Rye really set itself apart from the rest of the crowd. I will be looking for this one personally.
Third for me this year is the OG, the original Bourbon County Brand Stout. Someone in the room noted this beer is even a little thicker than in previous years, which is one of trademark characteristics of Bourbon County Stouts that I love very much. It is a fantastic beer.
One interesting thing Goose Island is doing this year is releasing a commemorative Bourbon County Brand Stout Vertical box that includes this year’s 2019 along with 2018 and 2017 vintages of the namesake stout in one box with a tasting glass for about $50. This would make an excellent Christmas present for the beer lover in your life.
Fourth is the two-year Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout, which was aged in the same barrel of 11-year Knob Creek barrels for 24 consecutive months, which allows a beer to really get to know its surroundings. I haven’t had many 24-month-old barrel-aged beers, but they all have this hallmark of excessive smoothness and barrel character you must experience. They’re a beer-drinking treat I truly savor. I’m not sure how much of this beer there is in the world, as this is a high-concept beer, but you should try to get ahold of this beer.
Fifth is the real rubber-meets-the-road beer: the Wheatwine. This beer really stood out to me as a strong offering next to these very big stouts. In years past, the barleywine is the often-overlooked member of the collective, but I think this Wheatwine really shines in a way barleywine sometimes did not hold up.
Sixth is the Café de Olla, which is a take on a traditional Mexican coffee beverage. This stout is the exact same as the Original BCS with adjunct ingredients after the barrel-aging process, so it is as good as the original, but the additives offer something different and special. I’m old, and I like things the way they are so I prefer the original. That said, this beer is special. Coffee and stouts go together perfectly. Goose Island adds some citrus notes with some orange peel zest, cassia bark and panela sugar to combine into a delightful beverage.
Seventh, and by no means a lesser product than the others, is the Mon Cheri, which is Bourbon County Stout with an obscene amount of cherries and oats added to these barrels. I’m not a cherry person and almost never go for a cherry version of anything, but this beer really uses cherries in an excellent way. I’m on the look out for one of these bottles because I know my wife, Sam, will love this beer. It is a very good variant in keeping with other fruit variants in the history of Goose Island such as Cherry Rye. Mon Cheri is a must get.
Bringing up the rear is this year’s Proprietor’s Brand Bourbon County Stout. It is an excellent beer, and all deserve to be in this grouping. Prop this year is crammed full of toasted coconut, roasted pecans, cocoa nibs and vanilla beans to combine into a truly unique and interesting beverage. I think if those combined ingredients sound interesting to you, then you will love this beer. I am not a coconut or pecan person, but they are executed well and deserve the label Proprietor’s blend.
Happy hunting — I truly think they are all great.
Festival of Barrel Aged Beers is this weekend; head to the city by the lake for an amazing time of barrel-aged beers. Some of these Goose Island beers will be there. I will be retrying these beers as I’m there to make sure my rankings stay the same. I probably will retry Prop while I am at FoBAB and kick myself for putting it last.
If Festival of Barrel Aged Beers in not enough for you, Goose Island Beer Company is throwing their Prop Day on Nov. 17 outside their taproom at Fulton Street. This event is only available to attend through a lottery system.