Bourbon County Stout 2021 Delivers Different "Woods"

Bourbon County Stout 2021 Delivers Different "Woods"
The Bourbon County Stout 2021 lineup

This Thursday (Oct. 21) was another Media Preview for Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout varietals. It’s the second year in which they’ve sent out packages of beer to a group of beer writers, joining together on Zoom. I count 12 in all.

Luckily, they have once again sent bottle stoppers with the eight bottles, ranging from Original BCS to the Prop. Luckily, they don’t expect us to go through the whole set of 14.5% beers in a few hours. Used to be they held the event at their Barrel House, with a Lyft code to help get home. Now they sent a DoorDash code to help us get a “base” down.


Writing again, after the event. Most of the bottles I barely emptied past the neck. The bottle stoppers they sent this year, though, have already popped off all of the bottles. Rather than wait for the beers to go flat, I found a 12-pack shipper with shaped paperboard seperators. I put the bottle in the box with a folding chair on top, to hold them until I can enjoy the rest one at a time.

So, the Zoom session included Todd Ahsmann, Goose Island President; Mike Siegel, Senior Innovation Manager; Mike Smith, Senior Brand Manager for the Bourbon County Stout Brand; and Daryl Hoedtke, Brewmaster. Daryl noted that he had been at Goose Island for 8-1/2 years, and was leading the blending of BCS variants for past 3 years.

Presentation box for Bourbon County Stout.
This year’s presentation box, including fancy bottle packaging, a sample of Blanton’s Bourbon, and piece of “honeycomb” cherry wood.

Original Bourbon County Brand Stout (14% and 14.4% ABV): “Our rich Imperial Stout is 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.”

There’s a sweet bourbon smell under the cap, but also a little sweaty. Familiar oak notes are a little stronger. Vanillin, too. Thick bourbon mouthfeel, some blueberries and almonds. The sample I got was the 14.0% abv, a slightly lower strength than in the past. Daryl explained that they ended up with two blends of slightly different abv’s. He noted how the weather can affect the vintage. Last winter in Chicago was generally warmer, except for a very cold snap. This may have caused more evaporation of the alcohol.

When asked about the “Easter Egg” in the 2020 Original BCS, where certain cases of the beer had been aged in single barrels of different brands, instead of blended. Daryl kept his lips sealed.

Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout (15.6% ABV): “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.”

This immediately offered a little more fruit to the nose than the Original, which I now can suggest had a bit more whiskey nose. None of these kicks up any foam in the tiny taster glass. Slightly extra alcohol is right in the taste. Still some nice oak in the nose. The taste has much more bourbon to it. Still pretty malty, and much smoother than many dark stouts. There’s almost a cherry taste, which Siegel says he thinks of as black currant, and he’s right, I wouldn’t know black currant. But the fruit is there.

Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout (15.4% ABV): “We partnered with our friends at Blanton’s and 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.”

While the four Reserve BCS bottles came in a specialty box, this was the fanciest. A box with a tear-around opening strip revealed a velvet bag. The bottle inside had a tiny bottle stopper around the neck, like the one around the 4 oz. sample of Blanton’s that came in the Preview package. The brewers noted that the other Blanton’s is one of the few Bourbons to packaged from single barrels instead of blended. And yes, there’s a full whiskey sniff on the nose. A touch of chocolate on the palate, making the taste “darker” than the 150. The chocolate brings this back to a “stout” taste. Sweet and strong, as with the other barreled beers.

The Goose Island people noted that the Blanton’s and 150 will retail for $39.95.

Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout (14.3% ABV): “This year,… we took fully-matured Bourbon County Stout and finished it with toasted fruitwood—specifically, honeycomb-shaped cherry wood chips.”

One of the two varietals to emphasize toasted barrels. The wood came from a cooperage in Minnesota that makes cherry wood barrels for some Italian wines. Our preview package included a sample of the “honeycomb” wood: several holes drilled through the wood to increase the surface area that comes into contact with the beer. This was aged in the regular Bourbon barrels at the barrel warehouse for a year, then set for just a few days on cherry wood in a single finishing tank at the Fulton Street brewhouse.

A bit of a very subtle creme brulee at the nose. I do suspect a bit of cherry on the tongue, which may have come from the original barrel aging. Each of these first 4 beers we’ve sampled has been from the same base BCS beer. More tannin in this one, helping to keep the aftertaste brief. Came back to this tiny snifter to find there is indeed more cherry here, just a light nose of tartness.

Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout (16% ABV): “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. This is only the second time we have packaged a ‘Double Barrel’ Bourbon County Stout”

The longest name, they’ve claimed, and maybe the highest alcohol BCS they’ve had. In summary: They were doing the usual year of aging the base BCS in Elijah Craig barrels, then Heaven Hill, owners of Elijah Craig, told the Goose Island brewers they had a new project involving toasted barrels.

Here’s that leather upholstery nose that sometimes comes up with barrel aging. This was the first one that kicked up any noticeable head, a ring of brown foam, but it was gone in an instant. They note the toasted barrels are toasted for just a few minutes to bring out more fruit from the wood, then charred. It seems to be slightly oxidized, but in a nice way. More alcohol in the nose and a very complex taste. Seems to be drier compared to the Original. After letting the taster sit for a while, I come back to more of a chocolate note than before.

Zoom meeting for beer tasting
Some of the Goose Island representatives and beer bloggers can be seen here.

Kind of them to group the different barrel varietals together, then save the adjuncted beers for last.

Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout (14.1% ABV): “…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.

I’m noticing the neck label is red like a cola can. This is one I’m most on the fence about. Cola nose is there, but mild. I’ve had some cola-flavored radlers that did nothing for me, so this one’s kind of welcome. Actually getting mostly cinnamon or the other spices mentioned, in the nose. The cola recipe spices are pretty big in the palate as well. Perhaps the citrus or some vanilla needed to be brought up a little higher, or it needs a bit more of the whiskey flavor. Spice runs almost like a pumpkin pie spice beer. I’ll probably save the stoppered bottle for last to see what happens to it. Then again, maybe a cola with less sugar might come across more like this. Yet here I go, swigging a little here, a little again.

Daryl said one of the ingredients that made it work was the borwn sugar, which gave it more of an old-fashioned molasses character. They were going for a more 19th century type of recipe.

Bourbon County Fourteen Stout (13.2% ABV): “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. … 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.”

Mike Smith says it reflects back to his first year at Goose Island, when this was originally released as a BCS Proprietor’s. The original 2014 still pours occasionally in the taproom. This time it’s a bigger batch meant to go out to all the markets that will get this year’s BCS.

There’s plenty of coconut in the nose, and then another note of cinnamon (or cassia). Any cocoa has little chance against coconut water. This is much more sticky, leaving a stubborn stickiness on my lips that just won’t be licked away. Panela sugar gives this the air of a Belgian dubbel.

Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout (12.8% ABV): “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. A flavor house specialist, Emily has the knowledge and skill to bring her dessert treats to life. 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. 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.”

Yes, they’ll admit it, but not officially. The recipe intends to taste like the Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bar.

More coconut? Maybe so. But the strawberry shortcake, a favorite ice cream bar for me, practically assaults my nose right in the bottle. The coconut fades away after the pour has sat for just a minute. This is the only BCS for 2021 that had fruit added, and I’ve kind of missed fruit this year. Strawberry gives it a much brighter taste, and the comparison to the ice cream bar is completely apt. Vanilla works itself in, and there’s that coconut again. I would never had picked out coconut in the original ice cream bar, and maybe I only get it here because it’s being talked about.

Bourbon County Stout array
The full array of Bourbon County bottles and packaging, before we tore them open.

When they first announced the 2021 BCS lineup, I posted about it, under the title “More Wood, Less Fruit.” And they delivered five varietals where the main difference was the wood used. That actually helped me enjoy the adjunct stouts a little more.

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