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A Second Chance for Goose Island?

bcbs2016Beginning tomorrow all across the country, Goose Island will once again release its annual, highly sought-after, OG barrel-aged imperial stout along with its variants (hitting the store shelves on Black Friday). Bourbon County Stout will return with four variants in this year’s lineup: Bourbon County Stout Original, Bourbon County Stout Barleywine, Bourbon County Stout Coffee, and Bourbon County Stout Proprietor’s as a Chicago-only release.

This is without doubt a defining year for the Bourbon County Stout brand, as the brewery is hoping to bounce back from a rough 2015, wherein bottles in multiple batches suffered from bacterial infection and resulting, unintended lactic sourness. The brewery offered refunds on certain 2015 batches as a result in what amounted to a PR black eye. The infection issues gave some ammunition to those craft beer hardliners who have been critical of the brand since the company’s 2011 acquisition by Anheuser-Busch.

Goose Island Brewmaster Jared Jankoski indicated,“This year has been an incredible learning process and one that has made us a better brewery with a better barrel-aging program … I’m immensely proud of all of our efforts and, most importantly, the final product.”, posted a letter out on their website addressing as follows:

Greetings from Goose Island!

I wanted to write a note to let everyone know how this year’s Bourbon County Stout is coming along and provide some information related to this year’s batch. This year has been an incredible learning process and one that has made us a better brewery with a better barrel-aging program.

As a result, we have done a number of things that are in the best interests of quality. There are two primary items that have a big impact:

  1. On the front end we have set very strict limits on where our barrels come from and how long we will allow from the time of whiskey extraction to when they arrive here for filling. By doing this, we are guaranteeing that the barrels used for Bourbon County Stout are freshly emptied and of the highest quality available. Also, we are able to maintain, and even strengthen, our critically important relationship with distillers. We share quality as a pillar of our core values and found them incredibly understanding of our requests. This is the sort of thing that really makes my day.
  2. On the back end of the process we decided to join the ranks of many of our peers and purchase a flash pasteurizer. Flash pasteurization is a well-known, proven and accepted technology that employs a gentle heating and subsequent cooling of the beer within a short period of time. The key benefit is microbiological stabilization, which is helpful for wood aged beers where the barrels we use can be inconsistent. Most importantly, there is no discernible flavor impact. Thus far, many teams of trained sensory panelists have participated in blind triangle tastings and been unable to determine which beer had been flash pasteurized and which had not. As one extremely experienced taster noted, “it’s the only test you want to fail.” And, due to the natural oxidization process that occurs once the beer is bottled, your bottle of BCS will continue to age and evolve just as it has in years past.

I couldn’t be more pleased with our progress and where we have come to as we approach the 2016 BCS releases. Ok, let’s get on to the fun part of this post and talk a little about this year’s variants!

Bourbon County Stout Original:

Of course, we will once again have our flagship and the standard bearer for the line-up. This year’s edition should take you right back to where you started with BCS. Rich and deep with plenty to ponder, it features toffee and molasses, fresh tobacco and a bit of leather to go with the roast and barrel notes you are used to.

Bourbon County Stout Barleywine:

Barleywine will be more barrel forward this year as we have gone to first use barrels with a similar aging time. This should lend to a rich beer with lots of malt body and depth playing with notes of vanilla and whiskey.

Bourbon County Stout Coffee:

This year’s coffee holds a special place in my heart. We were fortunate enough to take our coffee sourcing relationship to the next level by visiting Santa Maria de Dota in Costa Rica. It is home to an amazing local cooperative, Coopedota, that receives coffee cherries from around 850 farms throughout the valley. It was truly an amazing sight to behold and our host Roberto Mata has been involved with the co-op for decades. We were able travel throughout the valley and see several farms, meeting farmers and coffee harvesters along the way. The terrain is beautiful and rugged, covered in sustainably grown and managed coffee farms.

Learning about the history, culture and community that is woven into the fabric of everyone’s lives in the area had me feeling connected to the process in a new and deeper way. That is putting it lightly. Of all the amazing “micro lot” coffees (very high standard, individual lots) we were able to taste and assess, we chose to source our coffee from the El Cidral lot, a farm way up at 1900 meters of elevation that produced trees heavy with very consistently ripe, deeply colored cherries. In theory the stress of higher elevation yields a coffee with higher sugar content, sweet and balanced once processed. In the end we chose it blindly through tastings and found it to lend a wonderful balance of fruit and cherry, chocolate and nuttiness and a sublime aroma. It will be labeled under Intelligentsia’s mark Flecha Roja, which hearkens back to a tradition of coffee mills at origin creating different marks, or brands for the different coffees produced and groups of farmers they work with.

Bourbon County Stout Proprietor’s:

We have continued a now standard tradition of inviting brewers and others to share their ideas for BCS variant additions, and we once again found our answer among Goose Island’s brewers. Emily Kosmal has been at Goose for close to two years and came to us with a solid background in food science. She paired some ingredients she loves together that she felt would be a home run in BCS – dark chocolate and chipotle peppers. This one, simply put, is awesome! The earthy, smoky notes of the chipotle peppers in both the aroma and flavor are perfectly balanced by the rich chocolate aroma and flavor of the selected cocoa nibs. The BCS base aged in maple barrels adds the balancing sweetness and the expected depth and complexity to complement and fill out the final blend.

So there you have it, what we’ve done as a brewery to continually improve the quality of our beers and barrel-aging program and what we have to share with you this year from the BCS lineup. I’m immensely proud of all of our efforts and, most importantly, the final product. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.


TheBeerAuthority Note: Bourbon County Maple Rye Stout will not be a part of the brewery’s Bourbon County Series this year. The brewery will be leaving it to age in barrels longer. This edition features the base imperial stout, aged in both bourbon and rye whiskey barrels with maple syrup, cacao nibs, and chipotle peppers. When and if it will ever be released remains to be seen.

Second Note: TheBeerAuthority will give Goose Island the second chance it deserves, but will NOT wait in line for more than an hour nor hunt down bottles as in years past.

Third Note: 2015 Goose Island Rare is being served in bottles everywhere across the country. What does “Rare” really mean these days? Was Rare Day a total waste? Yet another major overblown overhype IMO…

Leaving that up to you to ponder a bit before you wait in line or shell our major bucks on Goose Island again this year. My advice to you, let the beers come to you and then you can make that judgement yourself.

Cheers and be safe this Thanksgiving holiday week!


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This entry was posted on November 22, 2016 by in Beer.

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