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Ultimate 6er | Is BCBS Still the King of BA Beers?

Ultimate 6er | Is BCBS Still the King of BA Beers?

Each year, throngs of beer fans ignore industry arguments and engage in the annual Black Friday hunt for Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS). It’s difficult to argue its historical significance, current popularity and quality. But, do people covet BCBS due to its quality or because of its fame? Or, is it a little of both? There’s no right answer, and there’s no judgement to be given for choosing either option. But, maybe it’s not really about choice as it is a sign that the BCBS fame can’t last forever.

Maybe, what we are seeing is a slowly evolving beer revolution akin to the bloodless 1688 Glorious Revolution in England that ousted a King and forever put the government in the hands of Parliament. BCBS isn’t going away and it will likely always be revered. However, other beers might well supplant its power within the market and on social media.

I couldn’t mention the likes of Firestone Walker, Great Divide, New Holland, Surly or the thousands of small breweries found throughout the nation — I have but one liver to give to science. The BCBS alternatives — true rivals — are growing at a rapid pace. Nonetheless, here are six examples from this past autumn that demonstrate how high the bar has been set regarding the art of spirit-infused BA beers (sans souring techniques).


GABF Special Blend: Avery Brewing & Odell Brewing Effin Teamwork

As Tristan Chan noted for in a pre-GABF article, the two breweries each created two individual beers that were blended on the floor at various times during the Great American Beer Festival.

It’s a simple recipe, really.

  • One part Avery four-month-aged (13% ABV) Vanilla and Coffee Stout brewed with vanilla beans and Espresso roast.
  • One part Odell Rye-Barrel-Aged (8.5% ABV) Coconut White Stout with toasted coconut, cocoa and roasted coffee.
  • Blend

10… 9… 8… the countdown to mixing commenced. The euphoric crowd cheered and raised their phones and cameras to capture the moment. Though crowded, the patrons found their way to get a taste a beer that proved to be silky smooth, delectable and absolutely delicious.

I believe the common reaction involved eloquent commentary such as “Ooooooh,” and “Holy S*** that’s good.”

BCBS Alternatives
Effin Teamwork at GABF, photo by Mathew Powers

Deschutes Brewery | Abyss & Black Butte Porter (Anniversary Editions)

Sometimes, it takes a moment shared with beer geeks from all over the country to truly and fully ponder the skill and artisanship achieved by a brewery and its barreling program.

For this Chicago-based writer, the light bulb went off during a Deschutes GABF party that included 2013 Abyss & 2015 Black Butte Porter XXVII. As one who’s indulged in every Bourbon County Stout offered for more than a decade, it was impossible not to compare.

I’ve had both beers many times, but I found myself thinking deeply about the matter. The conclusion took all of about five seconds: Deschutes is more than just a BCBS alternative, it’s worthy of it’s own Black Friday long lines.

One poster found on one of the many rating sites summed up Abyss perfectly this past November, “This is a very consistent product put out by Deschutes and that pleases me to no end. I earnestly think what ever hype is generated by The Abyss is genuinely earned.”

And I think USA Today described the 2017 version perfectly, “Black Butte is an insanely flavor-loaded ale full of dark chocolate, cocoa, caramel, cinnamon, vanilla, cayenne pepper and other characteristics imparted by being aged in bourbon and rum barrels.”

BCBS Alernatives: Deschutes Black Butte Porter XXVII
Photo by Mathew Powers

FoBAB Special: Sierra Nevada | BBA Cocoa Coconut Narwhal

It’s almost absurd to showcase one beer at the annual Festival of Barrel Aged Beer. It’s literally an entire room full of BCBS alternatives.

However, I found it compelling that one of the “Mt. Rushmore” craft breweries, known for reintroducing America to hops, now finds itself excelling in the BBA genre. (A Sierra Nevada Trip in the Woods variant won bronze at FoBAB in 2016.) The barrel-aged cocoa coconut variant of its famed Narwhal provided further proof that one need-not stand in line for Goose.

(Read: 13 Alternatives to Bourbon County Brand Stout)

It wasn’t a BCBS alternative; it was so good I considered stealing the keg and making a run for it. I didn’t, of course, because I had a few BA beers that night which would have made it difficult to run through a crowded hall with a heavy keg. (My editor wants me to add that stealing is wrong. Sorry. That’s what I meant). 

Just thinking about that beer has me drooling. What a beer.

BCBS Alternatives - Sierra Nevada Cocoa Coconut Narwhal aged in Bourbon Barrels
Photo: Mathew Powers

Oskar Blues | BA Ten Fidy & BA Java Ten Fidy

If the beer world is new to you, welcome! Let me introduce you to Ten Fidy. It’s one of “those” stouts that enjoys its own name-fame. If you are a card-carrying beer geek, Ten Fidy needs little introduction (even if you don’t care for it).

Like Sierra Nevada with its Narwhal, Oskar Blues felt it prudent to take its famed stout and throw it in a barrel. And, then they introduced a coffee variant. And there was much rejoicing.

(Read: “Fuck Bad Beer” Sierra Nevada’s Brian Grossman is Bat Shit Passionate)

Also, like Narwhal and Black Butte, there’s something extra special about barrel-aging a beer that’s already coveted before it gets the oak treatment. Kinda like buying your dream house and then a few years later you find a secret room filled with gold… and a Ferrari. Score.

I planned on including my picture in this section, but fellow writer, the California-based Krisstin, pretty much summed up the popularity of this beer eloquently with one IG post (note the caption).

“Thanks Dad!”

Founders | CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout)

Each year, KBS emerges from the caves found underneath Founders’ brewery and that unearthing of fermentation is met with enthusiasm and excitement comparable to the fanfare associated with BCBS.

(Read: Founders Brewing’s Stevens & Engbers Cap Off Massive 20 Year Anniversary)

And then there’s CBS. Taylor Laabs—who also lives in Chicago—found himself as the point man on the CBS story (an assignment I’m sure he did not mind tackling). Here is his story.

His introduction says it all, “Few things evoke childlike joy from fully-grown adults like old video games and rare beer… As I sat there with my N64 controller in hand, taking in the maple syrup-laced decadence that has garnered this imperial stout high praise and a fervent following over the years, I fully understood why CBS had gained its “whale” status.”

Indeed. The oft-reviewed; oft-photographed; oft-shared; and oft-rated Founders CBS has achieved “beer darling” status in 2017.

Crystal Lake Brewing (Chicago-area) Boathouse Reserve Series | 2015 Rye Barrel Aged Stout 

I know what you are thinking… “Who?”  

Even Chicago-area beer fans are probably wondering why I am discussing BCBS alternatives without mentioning Revolution, Half Acre, Begyle, Hailstorm’s Vlad Series or the Chicago Craft Beer Week’s “Beer Under Glass” long-line-inducing Imperial Oak Quiet Giant.

Here’s why:

It’s not the “name” that matters in 2017. It’s not the label. It’s the liquid. And stellar liquid exists in more places than you realize. Yes, Avery, Founders and Oskar Blues have the ability to make national waves with its beer, as does Goose Island. But, your local brewer down the street knows what he or she is doing, too. Trust me.

I’m Matt Powers. I professionally write about both Whiskey and Beer. I’m a full-out-obnoxious-annoying-irritating-BBA snob. And I can say this without reservation: “My favorite BBA beer of the year was the 2015 Heaven Hill Rye BA Imperial Stout from Crystal Lake.”

What’s astounding about my own conclusion is that this was also my favorite BBA year. I had at least ten blow-me-away BBA (Rye-BA, Rum-BA, etc) beers this year from breweries near and far, including Goose Island Prop, which I freely admit to loving.

But, dammit if Crystal Lake didn’t knock me off my bar stool with its 2015 Rye BA Stout (and the rest of the Boathouse Reserve Series, too). The sublime balance between the spicy rye notes and the sweetness of the stout (aided by the whiskey) along with a kiss of oak… Wow!

What say you? Comment away! (Don’t troll. Trolls are sent to the pit of Old Milwaukee.)

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