Review: Goose Island's Cooper Project Beers

Review: Goose Island's Cooper Project Beers
The three beers in Goose Island's bourbon barrel-aged Cooper Project. From left: Porter, Doppelbock, Scotch Ale.

Today, December 5 as of my starting this article, is Repeal Day, noting the 84th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. Of course, I thought to celebrate. The Standard Market near me was running a special at their CUBE bar, they were open earlier and I could hit it before work for a few tasters. While they had a $5 special on regular strength beers, what they had was some strong Goose Island beers that needed to kick before they could put some lighter beers on the taps. Beers like the 2017 and 2017 Bourbon County Barley Wine, three Cooper Project beers, the Grand Prestige Barley Wine, and some regular seasonal beers. Plus two vintages of Miskatonic Grendel Old Ale.

An intimidating lineup, considering I just thought I'd find some pre-Prohibition lagers. I decided I could best take on the Cooper Project line in the CUBE's smaller taster glasses.

Goose Island Beer Co.'s Cooper Project was launched earlier this year as "a rotating series that highlights Goose Island’s expertise in barrel-aging." It seems to have been intended to show more variety possible with beers that are strong, but not as high-octane as the Bourbon County Brand beers. There have been three of these releases so far, with perhaps more to come in 2018. Clearly this depends on the Goose's barrel supply.

#1: Scotch Ale. 8.7% abv, Bourbon barrel aged. This is a light brown color, with just a bit of haze, and a thin layer of foam collecting to the edges. At first, the smell has a bit more sugar than bourbon. But the taste delivers a nice impression of bourbon; not as strong as a barley wine, but that’s the territory it’s eyeing covetously. I usually look for notes of peat or smoke in a Scotch Ale, but this does not necessarily need it when there's some strong roasty barley. There’s enough of this small glass to let the beer resolve into a nice Scots Whiskey taste, just without the heady alcohol smell.

#2: Blonde Doppelbock, 9.2%, 3 months in Bourbon barrels. Light, almost amber color that doesn’t look like a Doppelbock (I know, it’s “blonde.”). Persistent thin layer of foam. Not getting very much nose out of this at first, but then there’s that slight impression of “bourbon and branch.” Taste is more slight than the Cooper #1, and it would be pretty easy to just slip the whole thing into my mouth if I’m not careful. I get some more of the bourbon barrel impression, and despite the strength of this beer, very little heady alcohol. Maybe I haven’t has many BBA lagers, and being cool fermented, perhaps they don’t pick up as much bourbon note? No, there is more bourbon as I dive deeper. And it does finish with that lighter whiskey and water taste. But just a bit more “chewy,” so the mouthfeel is still a proper doppelbock.

#3: Porter, 8.3%, 3 months in Bourbon barrels. The last of the three tasters still has the same layer of tan foam, over a brown beer that’s still letting some light through. Now this one has a smell that reminds me a bit of a Bourbon County Stout, likely because the malts are a bit roaster than the other two. The taste is velvety smooth, with just a hair of roasty astringency. I also start to pick up a coffee liqueur on the edge. This has more of a bourbon barrel note, which starts to predominate further into the glass. Again, smooth as porters go, and perhaps resting in a barrel has helped mellow it. I could call it a BCS junior. It fulfills the purpose of showing that barrel aging can bring diverse tastes.

I'm admitting, I wrote up this summary because my preview of the 2017 Bourbon County Stout releases was one of my most popular articles ever, racking up 15,500 views in just 45 days. Of course there won't be as many searches for the Cooper Project beers, but they are definitely worth seeking out, in bottles or on tap.

Notice: I purchased these beers for the purpose of reviewing them.

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    Mark McDermott

    Writer, trivia maven, fan of many things. I thought to learn all there is to know about beer as a way to stay interested in learning. It is my pleasure to bring Chicago's craft beer scene to you.

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