Black Friday is release day for Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, an ‘event’ moment in the beer world that’s so anticipated it erases the often-antagonistic lines between the craft and macro brewing worlds. (Goose Island is an AB InBev holding, but even the biggest beer nerds tend to ignore that on BCBS release day.)
The story of BCBS goes back to 1992, when founder John Hall and brewmaster Greg Hall decided they wanted to do something special for batch 1,000 at the company’s brewpub.
Earlier that year, Greg had attended a beer/spirits dinner and found himself next to Jim Beam’s Booker Noe—the man who had revitalized the bourbon business. Greg mentioned an idea he had about aging beer in a bourbon barrel. Before the dinner was complete, a handshake deal had been reached.
Goose Island made an imperial stout, which was aged in the barrels for 100 days, then released it on an unsuspecting public. Goose Island began to package it in 2006 and it quickly became a phenomenon, often selling out in one day.
So what can you expect if you stand in line for a BCBS on Black Friday? We’ve had a chance to taste three of the six that will be released this year. (The brewers pulled Bourbon County Barleywine Reserve from distribution as they were unhappy with the quality of this year’s batch.) And we can vouch they’re absolutely worth braving the crowds and elements to obtain.
Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout – BCBS usually rests in Heaven Hill barrels, but this varietal used freshly emptied 11-year old Knob Creek barrels—and the results are amazing. It’s a boozier version than a typical BCBS and smokier, but there’s no burn. It’s going to be a hard beer to find, but if you see it, grab it. (ABV: 14.8%)
Bourbon County Brand Stout – The original is still an absolutely fantastic beer. Aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, this year’s version is noticeably sweeter than previous years, with a much stronger chocolate note. It’s less complex than the other BCBS offerings, but that doesn’t detract from it at all. And if you like to age beers, it’s a prime candidate. (ABV: 14.7%)
Bourbon County Brand Northwoods Stout – This may be the contentious release of the year. Some will love the almond and blueberry aromas and tastes that are blended into the stout. Others will say they don’t belong and don’t mesh well with the beer. It’s a sweet take on the beer that will largely come down to personal tastes. (ABV: 12.6%)