Denver Preview of 2016 Bourbon County Variants
Early November is a confusing time of year. The weather is unpredictable leaving you perpetually under/overdressed. Thanks to daylight savings, it’s probably dark when you leave the office. Then there are elections to worry about. When somebody offers a clear win like drinking 13%+ ABV beers on a Thursday night, you just say yes.
Last week, Goose Island offered me and fellow PorchDrinker Desiree Duzich the opportunity to preview this year’s lineup of Bourbon County beers. For the uninitiated, this series consists of bourbon barrel-aged strong stouts and barleywines released annually on Black Friday. Considering some of these limited releases often sell out in minutes, we were especially keen to try them a few weeks early.
Before getting to the tasting, let’s address the sour elephant in the room. After more than a decade of successful bottle releases, batches from four of the six Bourbon County variants released in 2015 suffered off-flavors caused by bacterial infections. While this was disappointing to consumers, Goose Island was transparent about the issue and offered generous refunds on the affected products. For 2016, they’ve dialed the offering back to four core beers and made several procedural changes to safeguard quality including stringent barrel selection criteria and flash pasteurization. To make a long story short, this year’s bottles should have more bourbon flavor and fewer bugs. While I’m disappointed about the absence of Regal Rye, I’m encouraged to see Goose Island focusing on quality. Now how are these beers?
First, we tried the original Bourbon County Stout. This has traditionally been my favorite variant and it tasted just as great as I remembered with vanilla, chocolate, and mild spicy notes reminiscent of cinnamon. Full-bodied and creamy with a dry finish, this is the BCS everybody knows and loves.
Our second stop was the Bourbon County Barleywine. This year the aroma screams bourbon and brown sugar. Decadent malts lead the charge followed by a brisk hop finish. The use of first-use casks put the bourbon front and center. The body felt syrupy and rich while the pronounced hoppiness provided balance.
Next, we moved on to the Bourbon County Coffee Stout. This year, they’ve selected Intelligentsia’s Flecha Roja, a Caturra/Catuai coffee grown in Costa Rica. The coffee adds smoky roastiness and acidity that pairs well with the base beer’s chocolatey sweetness. The coffee flavor seemed more aggressive than last year in a way that’s likely to leave coffee drinkers like me very happy.
Finally, it was time to taste Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout. These extremely limited variants allow Goose Island’s brewers the opportunity to let their creativity run wild with adjuncts. This year’s release features chipotle peppers and cacao nibs. On top that, the beer was aged in bourbon barrels which previously contained maple syrup. This variant offered a complex flavor ranging from fruity smokiness to earthy chocolatey bitterness and rich sweetness that reminded me of figs. The moderate spiciness pairs well with the bourbon and amplifies the heat on the finish. Desiree astutely described this beer as “like drinking a spicy Fig Newton.”
In summary, we enjoyed all four variants. Based on our tasting, it seems the new production methods have not diminished the quality or flavor of these beers in any way. My favorites were the original Bourbon County Stout and the Barleywine while Desiree preferred the Coffee Stout and Proprietor’s. Thanks to Goose Island for giving us a preview of this year’s release.