Goose Island’s 2021 Bourbon County Stouts: More Wood, Less Fruit

Goose Island’s 2021 Bourbon County Stouts: More Wood, Less Fruit
Goose Island's 2021 Bourbon County Stout Lineup

Goose Island Beer Co. has announced the lineup for its 2021 Bourbon County Stout release. This year, there are 8 BCS variants, one more than the seven released in 2020.

The list of releases shows five variants aged only in different woods, with only three, including the Chicago-only Proprietor’s release, using adjuncts. One of those three will be made with a cola addition for the first time.

The first Bourbon County Stout was released either in 1993 or 1995. Goose Island founder Greg Hall wanted to a special project for his brewpub’s 1,000th batch. A chance encounter between Greg and Jim Beam’s Booker Noe led to Goose Island acquiring the barrels for what was to become the first commercial bourbon barrel-aged beer. 

The 2021 lineup:

Bourbon County Stout (14% and 14.4% ABV): Imperial Stout blended from a mix of bourbon barrels from distilleries such as Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace, each aged in freshly emptied bourbon barrels for 8-14 months. “Expect flavors of chocolate and vanilla, oak, whiskey, and molasses, followed by caramel, berry fruit, and almond.” Last year’s “original” BCS became subject of a run in retail outlets when it was learned that besides the blended release, several cases featured bottles that had been aged in single barrels, identifiable by two-letter codes on the bottles. Will there be a similar “Easter Egg” for this year? No one is saying.

Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout (14.3% ABV): “This year, we took wood complexities to another level by doing something we’ve never done before: we took fully-matured Bourbon County Stout and finished it with toasted fruitwood—specifically, honeycomb-shaped cherry wood chips. The versatility of the cherry wood and honeycomb shape allowed for maximum flavor extraction, revealing complex characteristics like red fruit, ripe cherry, and light toffee, which are not found in the original oak barrel itself.”

Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout (15.6% ABV): “Our Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout is aged for one year in Old Forester’s 150th Anniversary Bourbon Barrels. To celebrate the anniversary, Old Forester’s hand-picked 150 barrels from resting places within the Old Forester barrelhouse, to create three unique batches honoring founder George Garvin Brown and his process of batching from three original distilleries.… Expect barrel-forward flavor with notes of chocolate, vanilla, and coconut, followed with molasses, almond, berry, and oak.”

Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout (16% ABV): “Our Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout was aged for one year in Elijah Craig’s Small Batch Bourbon Barrels, then another year in Elijah Craig Toasted Bourbon Barrels. These toasted barrels are built to the same specifications as normal bourbon barrels, but are more heavily toasted and very lightly charred. Not only does this stout embody distinctive elements from Elijah Craig’s award-winning Small Batch Bourbon Barrels—like warm spice & vanilla—it also deepened in intensity during its second year of aging. The result? A Bourbon County Stout unlike any before. In addition to the familiar chocolate, caramel, and vanilla comes flavors of toasted marshmallow and a very pronounced fruit and oak finish.… This is only the second time we have packaged a ‘Double Barrel’ Bourbon County Stout.”

Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout (15.4% ABV): “We aged our Imperial Stout for 18 months in barrels from one of the world’s most sought-after bourbons—Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon. Taken from the center-cut or middle sections of the famous Warehouse H, Blanton’s Original Single Barrel was once only available for ambassadors, dignitaries, and friends of the Blanton family, but now is available for everyone to enjoy. … Through our partnership we created a truly unique reserve filled with rich dark chocolate and oak notes, finished with warm aromatics of baking spices such as clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.”

Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout (14.1% ABV): “Pushing the boundaries of barrel-aged stouts is in our DNA, and with that we brought to life our first-ever cola-inspired variant. Brewers Paul Cade and Jason Krasowski bonded over their love for a classic cola while creating the Classic Cola Stout. Combining the refreshing nature of classic cola and picking up the flavor profile from a whisky cola, we added lime and orange juice and zest, plus coriander, cassia bark, nutmeg, brown sugar, and vanilla to bring out the complex characters of the classic drink.”

Bourbon County Fourteen Stout (TBD ABV; awaiting final bottling details): “For the first time ever, we’re digging into the Proprietor’s (Chicago-only release) vault and bringing back a fan favorite with Bourbon County Fourteen Stout. But this time, it’s with a twist. We’re paying homage to the popular Proprietor’s 2014 recipe, but upping the rye ante by adding rye to the mash bill. Layering cassia bark, cocoa nibs, panela sugar, and coconut water, this stout has an intricate, sweet and spicy flavor profile that will have fans going back sip after sip.”

Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout (TBD ABV; awaiting final bottling details): “For the second year in a row, Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout is inspired by a classic frozen treat and brewed again by the mastermind, Emily Kosmal. Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout is aged in bourbon barrels and blended with luscious strawberries, vanilla and coconut, reminiscent of a classic strawberry ice cream bar. These elements come together to create the indelible flavors of decadent shortcake, layered with vanilla and topped off with the slight fruitiness of strawberries, similar to the ice cream bar’s strawberry core. Emily—who also created the concept for 2016 Proprietor’s and 2020 Proprietor’s—is our first brewer to have three Proprietor’s concepts picked for release.” Sounds like they want to bring in the taste of a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bar, without implying any cooperation.

The situation with the pandemic is still evolving, so details of the traditional Black Friday retail release should be forthcoming later. Whether there may be a Black Wednesday at participating draft houses nay also be learned later.

And it has happened that a planned variant might get pulled from the release schedule if the Goose Island brewers feel it doesn’t reach the profile they expected. It’s happened once, maybe twice, so this lineup should be pretty solid. There has, at times, also been an occasional draft-only release of a variant that didn’t make the cut for commercial production. Of course this is just me speaking from what I remember, and Goose Island has no reason to confirm or deny any of my ideas.

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