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Your Guide To All The Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stouts

By Ben Kramer in Food on Nov 24, 2015 4:20PM


Black Friday's creeping up on us, which means the return of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stouts is imminent. It's available at Binny's in Lincoln Park (1720 N. Marcey St.) come the 27th, and this year there are many varieties of BCBS. The Original, a beer conceived in 1992 as “Batch 1000” for the Clybourn brewpub, which 23 years later is sold nationwide and ranked “World Class” by BeerAdvocate, is joined by five others. Here's the rundown on them all.

1. Original Bourbon County Brand Stout

Process-wise, Original BCBS remains the same. The beer is brewed at Fulton but now tankered over to the new barrel house, or Staviary, for aging. This marks the first year all BCBS and it variants were aged at the facility. As always, the beer sits for 8 to 12 months in various bourbon barrels, from Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Knob Creek (among others) in a non-climate controlled setting. As far as flavor, expect the same roasty, chocolate, vanilla and wood flavors associated with the beer. Just don't expect the packaging to be the same. This year, BCBS is bottled in 16.9 oz bottles (500 ml), an in-between of the 12 oz and 22 oz bottles used in the past. This is not unique to just the Original, but for all variants as well.

2. Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

For Coffee, as in years past, Goose Island teamed with Intelligentsia Coffee to find the right bean. Brewers head to Intelligentsia to sample various grounds during a cupping session. Here, the brewers smell dry grounds, then the grounds when they're wet, and finally the grounds as coffee. Given a score sheet, they sample blindly, scoring things such as flavor, aroma and acidity. After a few sessions, they rank what they think is best, and then find out what the beans are. This year, the winner is Los Delirios coffee from Nicaragua. The coffee is cold brewed and the brew is added to the beer towards the back end, when it's already out of the barrel. Based on their belief that last year's Coffee Stout was the boldest in its history, Innovations Manager Mike Siegel, and his team, felt the need to scale back, “retreat a little bit,” as he put it. Dialing back on the boldness, the team came up with a beer that tastes “fudgy”. The coffee flavor and aroma will still be there but Siegel thinks this years version, “brings out a lot of those coco, chocolate characters, but in a rich way.”

3. Bourbon County Brand Barleywine

This one is on its third year, and no real changes were made to the process or recipe for the Barleywine. Aged in third-use barrels, the first use comes from filling the barrel with bourbon, the second time BCBS Original, and finally the Barleywine. With strong dried fruit character, toffee, and some vanilla, Barleywine is unique in that it's not actually derived straight from the base stout. Its connection comes through the barrels, which gives it enough BCBS character to have it be part of the family.

4. Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout

This is a variant you'll never see again. Aged in 33 to 35 year old Heaven Hill barrels, Siegel says Goose came upon them by windfall and believes they are something of which, “we won't see again.” Aged in the barrel for two years, Rare has a few differences over Original BCBS in terms of flavor. For instance, being aged in the barrel a year longer allows the beer to be exposed to more oxygen. It's not being bombarded by it, but some slips through the wood and oxidizes the beer slightly. This brings out a nutty character, and because Rare is aged longer, that nutty character pops more. For Siegel, Rare compared to Original has, “a lot more deep fruit character.” The vanilla isn't as pronounced as the Original, mainly due to the age and dryness of the barrels, but it owns a richer wood character. While there has been a Rare in the past, aged in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels, that was 5 years ago. There's no telling if Rare will come back, but if it does, it certainly won't be the same as 2015.

5. Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye

This is the only rye variant, as well as the only fruited one, to come out this year. The beer includes a mixture of blackberry juice from the Yakima Valley, luxardo candied cherries, Michigan sour cherries and a pinch of sea salt. Cherries have been used in variants such as Backyard Rye and Cherry Rye, and blackberries have been used in Bramble Rye, but never before had the fruits been put together.

There are some personal connections behind the ingredients, with the candied cherries being a nod to Siegel's wife, who likes a cherry in her Old Fashioned, and the sea salt coming from Siegel, who likes to cook. Each ingredient provides a different service, with tart elements coming from the blackberry juice, sour cherries, and sweetness by the luxardo cherries. The sea salt ties it altogether, acting as a flavor enhancer. When it came to brainstorming Regal Rye, the process was pretty easy says Siegel, unlike Proprietor's where his team spent, “a lot of time pulling out our hair over what to do.”

6. Proprietor's Bourbon County Brand Stout

The only variant that's Chicago only, it's also the first Proprietor's (in its three-year history) not aged in a rye barrel. There's no commitment to do Proprietor's in rye, but there's a commitment to excellence when crafting this beer. Bourbon County always holds a high standard, but for Siegel, Proprietor's is his, and Goose's, small way of thanking Chicago for making Goose what it is today. That's why it's Chicago only and why it causes so much hair pulling.

This year, the team went through 75 to 100 different ideas until brewer Di Rodriguez presented her recipe, which according to Siegel became, “the instant favorite” and clear decider on what Proprietor's would be in 2015. Devised in Rodriguez's kitchen, her recipe incorporates bourbon barrel aged maple syrup from Sugar Chalet, guajillo peppers and toasted pecans. The crew used over 100 pounds of dried guajillos, and toasted 1000 pounds of pecans at Kendall College.

Of all the variants, this one has the sweetest aroma, with the maple hitting you on the nose. The sweetness can be found on the tongue too, and the natural nuttiness found in BCBS heightened by the pecans. The guajillo peppers add a subtle spiciness that doesn't burn but is enough to let its presence be known. An adventurous beer, it becomes evident, after tasting, why Rodriguez's version won out over the many, many ideas submitted for Proprietor's.