Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Friday means Bourbon County

Image credit:  Anheuser Busch

There's almost no way to write an article about Goose Island without acknowledging the omnipresent elephant in the room.  In March of 2011, the Chicago-based brewing operation was bought out by Anheuser-Busch (AB).  Reasons behind the move had a lot to do with finding a way to keep up with demand for beers like Honker's Ale and Goose Island India Pale Ale. Naturally, fans of the brewery worry that something gets lost when those beers are brewed in an AB facility outside of Chicago, but as former head brewer John Hall stated in a Crain's Chicago Business article earlier this year (registration required to read full text), doing so allows them to brew "five times more Bourbon County beer."

That statement, conveniently enough, brings us to today.  For the first time in Texas, Black Friday means Bourbon County beer (details on that in a moment).  Not just one Bourbon County mind you, but five of them (well, he did say "five times more Bourbon County beer").  In addition to the original Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) and Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, this year there are three new varieties:

  • Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (aged in spent BCBS barrels).
  • Backyard Rye Bourbon County Stout (aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels with mulberries, marionberries and boysenberries).
  • Proprietor's Bourbon County Brand Stout (aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels with toasted coconut). This beer is a Chicago exclusive, and won't be distributed outside the city.

Advance samples of BCBS and the barleywine varietal arrived last week from Weber Shandwick (AB's public relations firm) ahead of their nationwide release.  If I were to sum up my impressions in a single thought it would probably go something like this:  BCBS may be the legend, but the barleywine is the beer I'd stand in line for.

To me, BCBS seems tamer than before. It's still bourbon forward with a boozy bite, but in years past a fresh bottle seemed more akin to a shot of straight whiskey.  In this sample, the barrel character wasn't as intense, allowing hints of charred oak and dark chocolate to sneak out in the flavor. Some reviewers are calling it more balanced, but I'd only be comfortable using that term if I were getting more malt depth.  I'd cellar this one in hopes of bringing out some additional complexity over time.

As for the barleywine, right now it's just a more interesting brew.  There's a little more vanilla and a little less barrel char compared to BCBS, with a rich caramel malt base, dark fruit and the ever-present bourbon. The huge malt backbone helps to lessen the alcohol note in the finish, but there's plenty of warmth to remind you of this beer's inner potency. Clearly, this is a beer that would also benefit from aging, but it's worth drinking now if you don't want to wait.

Launch parties are scheduled for Black Friday in Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.  Dallas isn't on the list, but if you happen to find yourself in Austin on Friday, lines are expected to form as early as 5 a.m. in anticipation of a 7 a.m. opening at the Whole Foods Market located at 525 N. Lamar Boulevard.

As for the Metroplex, I'm assured we'll be getting the four Bourbon County beers, minus the Chicago exclusive. It's just a matter of where and when.  My advice is to keep your eyes and ears open and to keep the engine running. When these beers do appear at retail, it's doubtful they'll last long.

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