I Previewed the 2017 Goose Island Bourbon County Stouts

The Goose Island Beer Company hosted local beer writers on Thursday for a preview sampling of the Bourbon County Brand Stout releases for 2017. The sampling of BCS and its variants was held at Goose Island’s Barrel House on North Sacramento Blvd.

I last saw the warehouse for a BCS event in 2014, when it first opened for events. This time, they had a large bar, available for private parties and events, of course, where we scriveners of cerveza checked in. From there to a smaller tasting room done up like a wine cellar, perhaps, with the walls lined with barrels on stacking racks, and many vintage Goose Island bottles on display.

Let’s go to the meat of the story by describing the BCS beers set out in large snifters, bolstered by charcuterie from Girl and the Goat.

Original Bourbon County Stout

This year’s BCS line reposed in 5 to 7 year-old Heaven Hill barrels supplied “fresh” and unwashed, rather than the usual dried out barrels. This is apparent from the first sample; the main Bourbon County Stout. It has a heady vanilla extract smell that stays up front through the first few sips. The mouthfeel is thick and chewy, with vanilla joined by heady bourbon on oak. There’s a trace of cocoa in the followup; the only contribution from the dark roasted malt. 14.1-14.5% abv

Bourbon County Stout – Coffee

This year’s coffee stout is a throwback to their first release in 2010, using, once again, Intelligentsia Coffee’s Black Cat Espresso. The batch used 1,800 lb. of beans to make 40 barrels of cold brew before blending with the beer. The coffee gave it a definite edge, and my description of strong coffee beers usually falls back to Kahlúa. However, this is less creamy and has more coffee bitterness to offset the sweetnes of the bourbon and malt. 12.9% abv

Bourbon County Barleywine

Previous vintages of the BCS Barleywine were aged in third-use barrels that had another BCS variant in them. This year’s releases uses the same fresh Heaven Hill barrels as most of the Stouts. The beer is a vert dark brown compared to the black stouts. The smell is strong with wood and earthy spice, partly thanks to the use of Pilgrim hops, a recently introduced English cultivar (the Stouts in this years release all feature Millennium hops). The hop comes through more cleanly than the bourbon character, but it’s still heady with vanilla and a bit of tannin. 14.4% abv.

Bourbon County Northwoods Stout

Brewmaster Jared Jankoski told us he had wanted to try almonds for some time, balancing it with a fruit like blueberry. After experimenting with slivered almonds, they went with an extract in a beer for the first time. Everyone at my table agreed the nose was like a Chinese almond cookie, or like Voortman Almond Windmills. If any of the BCS variants gets a split reaction from the people drinking it, it might be this one, just for its strong almond component. Blueberry is a delicate flavor in beer, and its only sensed as an extra dry finish. 12.6% abv

Bourbon County Stout – Proprietor’s

While the other BCS variants will be available nationally, this is the limited release that will only be available in Chicago, most of it on Proprietor’s Day, November 19.  This year’s edition went for a Bananas Foster taste, with the addition of banana puree and banana essence, plus whole roasted almonds and slivered almonds, and 25 pounds of cinnamon “to open up the sweetness.” The banana is certainly there, but not like some Halloween banana candy. Unlike the Northwoods, I do not get knocked over by almond, either. In fact, the nose has more cinnamon than anything else to it, easing in the banana mouthfeel. I am at least glad the cinnamon is not at the pumpkin pie spice level.

Bourbon County Stout Reserve

This special release is a throwback to the original BCS, using the same base recipe, just aged in 100 11-year-old unrinsed Knob Creek casks. It’s like the base BCS, but definitely much more heady, with more bourbon notes overpowering the oak and char. This beer will be released only in Chicago and Kentucky. Because 2017 is Knob Creek’s 25th anniversay, they had some of their distillers present to pour samples and talk about their bourbon.

There were to be seven variants of the Goose’s Bourbon County Stout for 2017, but it was announced previously in the week that the Reserve Barleywine would not make the release because “it doesn’t taste like what we wanted it to.” This was a barleywine aged in third-use barrels that were previously used for the 2015 Rare Bourbon County Stout. While brewmaster Tim Faith admitted to us that these were the some of the same barrels holding BCS that had a problem with bacterial infection in 2015, it was more a matter of third-use barrels not being consistent in their taste profile. Ironically, perhaps, Tim had previously brewed at New Holland, where they reuse barrels that aged Dragon’s Milk stout to age a Beer Barrel Aged Bourbon, and so on, until some barrel get filled up to six times.

The Bourbon County Brand variants will begin bottle sales on “Black Friday,” November 24, at Goose Island and at select retail outlets. There will also be a “Black Wednesday” tapping of the BCS beers on draught at a number of bars.

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