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Rankings for Goose Island’s 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout

Rankings for Goose Island’s 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout
Mike Zoller

As the calendar gets ready to turn to November there probably isn’t anyone happier than Goose Island as they get ready to release 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout. Following a tumultuous year that featured two separate refunds of four of the six variants of 2015 BCBS, the new lineup has been announced and craft beer fans around the country are getting ready for the Black Friday release.

Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Photo by Eric Dirksen.

A small group of media members assembled at the Fulton and Wood tap room to try the 2016 lineup. Also in attendance was Ken Stout, President & General Manager for Goose Island, Emily Kosmal, the brewer who created the recipe for this year’s Prop and a handful of other brewers and Goose Island employees.

The topic of the 2015 issues came up almost instantly and Goose explained what they knew and the changes they had implemented for 2016.

“Before we got barrels from brokers and they were coming from all over, “ Stout said. “We now get our barrels from one source and ideally they would be all from one distillery. We’re also not taking any re-coopered barrels.”

Ken Stout samples 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout. Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Ken Stout samples 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout. Photo by Eric Dirksen.

While Goose still doesn’t know the exact reason behind the lactobacillus issue in 2015, they spent the year looking at all factors that go into making BCBS and with the new precautions and procedures hope to never have another issue again.

One big change they noticed is that the barrels had been coming to Goose with little to no bourbon still in them. While before the barrels would be “sloshing” with bourbon, that is no longer the case Stout mentioned. Thanks to more distilleries focusing on getting out the Devil’s Cut, the share of bourbon trapped in the wood of the barrels that the distilleries now extract, the barrels came to Goose dryer which raises the possibility for lacto-related issues.

“Lacto can’t survive in anything about 9%,” Stout said. “If you take the bourbon out of the barrels the risk for an issue greatly increases. We’re not buying any barrels that have been used for Devil’s Cut.”

This year’s lineup of Bourbon County Brand Stout is a simple four. In 2015 there were six different variants but Goose wanted to keep it simple this year – in part because of the issues they had in 2015.

“Our main goal is to keep this beer consistent but unique every year,” Kosmal said. “We are sampling even more now and that includes every step of the process. The flash pasteurization is just one more step in that process.”

Here are my thoughts and rankings for this year’s 2016 Bourbon Country Brand Stout. The first thing to note is that all four beers this year are great. There’s not a weak link, but in an age where lists and rankings are all the rage I wanted to share mine. But to be clear I would drink all four of these beers anytime, anywhere.


Bourbon County Brand Stout: 13.8% ABV

Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Photo by Eric Dirksen.

The original returns to the top of my list. It’s your classic BCBS full of chocolate, vanilla and notes of leather. For me this year’s BCBS is very chocolate forward and I loved it. The other flavors, primarily the vanilla, were in the background and were noticeable but on the smell and the taste you’re going to get a lot of chocolate. One thing I noticed is that this year’s original is much lighter in color than previous years. It’s incredibly smooth and gets down to the core of what Bourbon County is supposed to be.


Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout: 13.1% ABV

Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Photo by Eric Dirksen.

On Wednesday night at the tasting I said that Prop and Coffee were 2 and 2a for me. I still believe that, but Prop’s story is so interesting it gets the notch to my number two spot in the rankings.

Kosmal has a background in food science and before coming to Goose was actually creating recipes for chocolate milk. Why did she come to Goose?

“I just like beer,” she said.

Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Kosmal with her beer. Photo by Eric Dirksen.

Prop this year is not like Prop’s of recent years. While those have focused on heavy coconut and chocolate flavors, this year’s Prop is much more smoke and pepper forward. On the smell you’re going to get that smoky aroma and on the taste it’s smoke with pepper and it’s excellent.

Too many times pepper flavors in beer can be over powering and used as a gimmick to create spicy beer – that’s no the case with Prop. The pepper notes pair perfectly with the smokey flavor and tie that all together with the chocolate from the cocoa nibs and you have one great Prop.

The beer is aged in barrels that once were used to age maple syrup. While those barrels provide a slightly sweet background to the beer you’re not going to get maple flavors at all in the taste. That was the intention according to Kosmal.

This is one of the more complex Prop recipes in recent years and it’s one that is great to drink now but one that should develop really nicely over the years.


Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout: 12.5% ABV

Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Photo by Eric Dirksen.

Coffee stouts for me over the past few years have become one of my favorite types to drink. Like I said above this year’s coffee and Prop are tied for the second spot behind BCBS.

A cool note about this year’s coffee is that Jared Jankowski, Brewmaster for Goose Island, and some other Goose brewers went to Costa Rica this year to personally sample the beans and bring back the right one for the brew.

As in previous years the coffee is from their next door neighbor Intelligentsia. The bean is called Flecha Roja and is from the Coopedota cooperative. The first thing you’ll notice about this year’s coffee is that it is much more fruit forward. The beans themselves are zesty with tropical flavors of pink grapefruit and those flavors really come forward in the bean.

Don’t worry you’ll still get your strong coffee flavors but this year’s batch is not as roasty as previous coffee BCBS.


Bourbon County Brand Barleywine: 13.6% ABV

Photo by Eric Dirksen.
Photo by Eric Dirksen.

Every year Barleywine notches the bottom spot on my list. It’s nothing against Barleywine, but for my BCBS is a stout and those are the flavors I expect and look forward to.

That being said Barleywine is great this year. 

This year’s Barleywine is sweet with the pronounced raisiny flavor but also packs a punch. It’s boozy, hot and as Kosmal says it’s the closest thing to wine while still being beer. The main difference of course being that Barleywine uses barley and not fruit like wine in the process.

Let us officially turn the page on 2015 and focus on the 2016 batch which Goose Island knocked out of the park. It will only be a matter of time before the lines start forming at Binny’s and other stores around the city of Chicago. Your time waiting will be well worth it.

While it might seem crazy to look ahead to 2017 Goose Island did note that it will be the 25th anniversary of Bourbon County Brand Stout and they’ll be doing some pretty cool things to celebrate.

But let’s focus on 2016 for now.

Mike Zoller is the Midwest Editor for Follow him on Instagram: @CHICAGOBEER and PorchDrinking Chicago’s Twitter feed for the latest Chicago craft beer news: @PORCHDRINKCHI.

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