By Brian Skaggs
Price Range : $10 - 14
Region: Chicago, Illinois ABV: 14.4% Availability: released the day after American Thanksgiving; widespread distribution
Here’s the ninth and last barrel-aged imperial stout review for 2018.
Similar to the actual malt beverage, the story behind GOOSE ISLAND Bourbon County (Brand) Stout is complex, convoluted, and kinda crazy. Therefore, this review will be presented in three separate parts, which you, Dear Reader, will most likely find listed in most to least relevant order¹.
– Another gift from Marc and Jon, the Beer Twins of Wrightwood
– Consumed over 140 minutes the night of Monday, 11 June 2018
– My regular drinking partner contributed moderate drinking assistance, tasting notes, and reminiscing
– Rebelliously consumed in the Goose Island Twentieth Anniversary 500 ml stange glass pictured above
– Bourbon County (Brand) Stout will be referred to by its original initials, BCS, herein
Color: It’s so black, it’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.
Initial pour: Seems like pouring differential fluid instead of transmission fluid; high viscosity could be imagined but seems reasonable. Light brown head disappears quickly but carbonation stays strong throughout.
Aroma: As soon as the top is popped, POW! A veritable Kraken of oak barrel smells is released, like wood, vanilla, being inside one of those three-thousand liter barrels just emptied of bourbon after five or so years. Wafts of chocolate crème brûlée turn to roasted pecans, grade B Canadian maple syrup on pancakes made from ancient grains, and vanilla cream soda as it warms. Yet BCS never quite loses that slightly boozy, slightly inebriated, always happy smell of your favorite aunt’s breath at childhood Thanksgivings.
Taste: Dense. Rich. Bourbon, caramel, wood, real vanilla extract, Tootsie roll, and (obviously more) bourbon as you’d expect, but it’s just so much more complicated, so much more engaging, satisfying, exhilarating than the brown liquor. All of the aromas, like the nonsense about the ancient grain syrup and the chocolate and nuts, they’re all there. It’s seamless, too—no harshness from the ethyl alcohol, no picking out percentages of black patent or chocolate or crystal malts or whichever hops were added to the brew, just an emotive gustatory experience. Mellow. Calming. Bitter. Amazing.
Goose Island (GI), for years since its founding in 1988, was essentially Chicago’s only micro/craft brewery, run by John Hall and his brewer son Greg. In 2006, they entered into a partnership with Anheuser-Busch for what appeared to be distribution advantages. Then, in 2011, GI was the first “craft brewery” purchased outright by (now) Anheuser-Busch InBev, yet John Hall still owned the original brewery/pub at 1800 N. Clybourn. Last year, AB InBev bought the brewpub outright too.
That’s the very small nutshell story. Every beer drinker even mildly interested in how their favorite malt beverage gets from a brewery somewhere into their grubby hand should stop reading this review right now and buy Josh Noel’s fantastic Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business. That proverbial “every beer drinker” has an opinion and a blog and even an extremely fascinating book written about this David and Goliath story, and I can’t add much of anything to the debate (until the boring opinion section, below), so there are three halfway relevant points from Noel’s book that stuck out:
- 312 Wheat—a light American-style wheat beer named after central Chicago’s area code²—totally saved Goose Island in 2003.
- Miguel Miguitama, the overnight brewer who started working at GI almost at the start of the brewery, essentially worked for the Halls and was incredibly loyal. Although Greg tried to convince Miguitama that things changed every year and that the AB InBev purchase wouldn’t change anything, Miguitama left GI in 2013.
- Initial BCS batches were solely aged in used Jim Beam barrels. By 2015—the year of a catastrophic Lactobacillus acetotolerans BCS infection that cost GI/AB InBev many American dollars—GI was utilizing barrels from (at least) seven different distilleries.
Oh, “Moose Slyhand,” oh, “Moose Slyhand.” The brewery of my youth, and others in the greater Chicagoland area who turned legal drinking age within the first couple years of Goose Island opening. How could you do this to us? Don’t you remember the free seasoned potato chips? Those original IPA batches that changed our opinions about how hoppy was too hoppy? The hours spent sobering up walking around Sam’s across the street after two too many 296 ml pours of BCS in the later 90s?
You’ve changed, man!
Hey. I intended to hate this 2016 BCS. Hate it with a passion reserved for macro lager. Hate it with a passion reserved for the Saint Louis Baseball Cardinals.
Instead, it blew me away. What a lovely sixty minutes I spent inside my head while unabashedly enjoying 2016 BCS, internally reminiscing about the good old days.
Where do we go from here, Dear Reader³? —B.S.
¹ …or, if you’re my long-lost BCS drinking partner MSF, you’ll still find the three sections listed as most to least relevant but you might crack a smile and a beer in remembrance of those great times two decades past.
² Goose Island is barely in area code 312—like a literal block away from the significantly uncooler 773. At least it ain’t 708, eh, Greg Hall?
³ Well, technically, I didn’t pay for it, I guess… but I just might be one of those grown-ass adults that would freeze my butt off to wait in line for BCS and its variants… maybe?