2022 Bourbon County Stout Review | The 30th Anniversary
Thirty years ago, Goose Island Beer Co. released the first edition of Bourbon County Brand Stout. Its initial success evolved into a phenomenon resulting in beer drinkers annually lining up around the block at various stores to try to get their hands on a bottle. In celebrating the 30th Anniversary, Goose Island brought back two fan-favorite variants among the seven-bottle 2022 Bourbon County Stout lineup.
Keeping with the make-up of the past few years, this year’s lineup features some variants that focus on the barrel and others that focus on the adjuncts. This has been Goose’s success formula of late, which results in a lineup that pleases both the bourbon-focused beer drinkers and people who might want something a bit sweeter. Here are our thoughts on each of the beers with our rankings below.
The Original: The 2022 Bourbon County Stout (14.3% ABV)
Mike Zoller (MZ): On the aroma, you get big notes of chocolate but the taste is a lot more balanced this year. It’s not nearly as sweet with the barrel heat noticeable from the start to the finish. I also got notes of vanilla, oak, and a slight almond flavor as well. Original has been one of the top beers for the last few years and that continues in 2022.
While people will search for the variants, Original sits right in front of you and for the price point, it’s an excellent barrel-aged beer.
This year’s barrel blend includes Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey barrels, but Goose Island added Four Roses in the mix for the first time. This more barrel-forward base beer will play a big role in keeping the other variants in check.
Matt Powers (MP): As Mike Siegel, Senior Innovation Manager at Goose, reminded us: “The barrel is an ingredient.” Adding to Mike’s comment, with the addition of the Four Roses Bourbon (barrel) to the blending process, there’s a lot that goes into making sure there’s plenty of bourbon and oak in the “OG” version of Bourbon County. The warmer winter and resultant higher humidity also greatly influenced this year’s vintage. I agree with Mike that it’s less sweet than previous releases (across the board, I noticed less sweetness in the entire collection of Bourbon County beers this year). The bourbon with its vanilla, dark/rich chocolate notes, and some almond notes shine, and there’s plenty of “oakiness,” too.
This is my favorite pure Bourbon County in some years. I get more bourbon and oak in this than I remember in some of the recent previous releases. It reminds one of why the beer had such a profound impact on the industry.
The 2022 Bourbon County Stout | 30th Anniversary Reserve (14.4% ABV)
MZ: Remember when I said that Original being more barrel-forward would play a role in the other variants? Well, 30th Anniversary is a great example of how that base beer combined with the small batch barrels for 30th Anniversary produced one complex beer.
30th Anniversary reminded me of a more subdued version of 2015 Rare. There is a lot of barrel presence in this beer but it’s not as hot. To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Bourbon County Stout, Goose got small batch barrels from Booker’s, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, and Baker’s and blended them together.
What’s really cool is each bottle has the potential to have a different blend and will feature a tag letting you know what make-up your bottle has.
Expect a drier, more oak- and tobacco-forward beer that is a delight to sip. This would be what I want in my glass come February when it’s -10F degrees outside and there are 12 inches of snow on the ground. Light a fire, sit back and sip 30th Anniversary.
MP: I was sure this was going to be my favorite beer of the collection the second I took my first sip, and it was close (read on). For those that truly love a pure BBA, this is the beer for you. 30th possesses a wonderful marriage between bourbon barrels and stout, and its mouthfeel is exquisite. Mike covered it well, although I would add that in addition to the tobacco and oak notes, I would argue there’s plenty of traditional bourbon notes that shine in this beer, too — chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of fruit (cherry, plum, etc).
Two-Year Barleywine Reserve (17% ABV)
MZ: Goose brings back a straight Barleywine variant and for me, it was the star of the lineup. Aged for two years in Old Fitzgerald barrels the beer has all the classic notes of Barleywine that you’d expect like caramel and vanilla but because there is so much emphasis on the barrel it’s not too sweet.
The barrel ties in that big oak flavor and the heat tingles your tongue in a fantastic return of Barleywine. Goose also let us know that 60% of this beer was actually double-barreled during the two years and the other 40% spent one year in one Old Fitz barrel.
This beer has a lot going on with the sweetness of the Barleywine and the heat from the barrel. It’s all kept in balance so well that the final product in my mind will go down as one of the best Bourbon County Stout variants of all time.
While I wish I didn’t have to wait this long to have another Barleywine variant, the wait was worth it.
Conor O’Driscoll Master Distiller, Heaven Hill Brands said:
“This is a stunning beer and a wonderful reflection of the Old Fitzgerald barrels in which it was finished. The soft, rich character of the extra-aged bourbon partners beautifully with the complexity of the beer. The result is an outstanding addition to the Bourbon County lineup.”
MP: I will be blunt here. This wasn’t my favorite Bourbon County beer of the night. It was my favorite Bourbon County beer of all time.
Yes, the barrel is an ingredient, and one would be hard pressed to find a better ingredient for the English-Style Barleywine than 14-year, 16-year, and 17-year old – all Bottled-in-Bond – Old Fitzgerald Whiskey Barrels. (To be “Bottled-in-Bond”, a Distillery must follow the rules established in 1897 that stipulate a spirit must be made by a single distiller in a single season, aged for at least four years in a federally-bonded warehouse and then bottled at precisely 100 proof.)
The classic Barleywine flavors include some level of sweetness with notes of toffee, chocolate, and a little cherry, but as Mike said, it’s kept at a minimum because of the barrel heat – a wonderful infusion of whiskey flavor. The sophisticated blending process only adds to the excellence of this beer.
Coffee Stout (13.2% ABV)
MZ: The first-ever Bourbon County variant also took some time out of the lineup but Goose brought it back once again partnering with their neighbor Intelligentsia. This year’s beans were from Burundi and a women’s coffee initiative called Turihamwe.
James McLaughlin President & CEO, Intelligentsia explained:
This year, we jointly selected a small lot of coffee from the East African country of Burundi. Not only is the quality of this coffee extraordinary, but it is also grown by a group of women farmers who formed a cooperative five years ago. Being included in the 2022 Bourbon County Coffee Stout is a phenomenal recognition of the hard work of these growers.
Up front, you’re getting all coffee and it’s phenomenal. The sip keeps that coffee train going with a little barrel late but Goose made sure to have the coffee shine. They used cold brew as well as steeping whole coffee beans in the beer as well.
Fans of the coffee variants of the past will be excited to try this one.
MP: As one of the few adults in the world that doesn’t drink coffee, beers such as these are usually tough for me to evaluate. (I don’t suppose brewers will start making energy-drink beers, will they?) But, I enjoyed it. In fact, I drank my entire sample without hesitation. The coffee provided depth to the stout, and the barrel didn’t get hidden in the coffee flavors whatsoever. If I liked it, coffee drinkers are almost sure to like it.
Sir Isaac’s Bourbon County Stout with Figs (13.9% ABV)
MZ: We move into the more adjunct-focused beers. I’m more of a barrel-focused variant drinker myself so when my rankings come out these will be towards the bottom but it’s very much just my personal preference.
I actually think Goose did a great job keeping these variants more balanced than in previous years. In the past, we’ve seen these adjunct-heavy beers be too sweet and overpowering when initially released.
Sir Isaac’s uses 10,000 pounds of Mission figs in a beer that has several layers of flavor and works quite well. Figs star in the beer but the notes of chocolate and a hint of cinnamon make it a more well-rounded sip. Of the three adjunct variants, I liked Sir Isaac’s the best.
MP: I noted in my comments about the OG 2022 Bourbon County Stout that this year’s collection proved far less sweeter than in previous releases. And, this beer proves it. While it included FIVE TONS of figs, one doesn’t notice sugar sweetness, but instead the savory aspects of a cookie and some fruit. Oddly, I didn’t taste fig, per se. I noticed the aforementioned cookie notes, graham cracker, and some dried fruit, along with cinnamon and hints of chocolate.The balance is nice here.
Like Mike, I prefer pure barrel-aged beers, but I appreciate a good adjunct if it’s done well. This city is full of breweries who masterfully balance adjuncts with base strong-BA beers without turning them into sugar bombs. I don’t rank Sir Issac as my favorite, but the adjunct takes some of the edge off the bourbon and barrel characteristics, and that is probably going to be appealing to a wide audience. I would happily drink it, too.
Biscotti Bourbon County Stout (14.3% ABV)
MZ: If you like almonds, you’re going to like Biscotti. Up front, it’s almond with just a hint of anise seed that gives it a layer of black licorice flavor. This is the one variant that seemed to be just a bit too much on the adjunct with nothing on the back end to tie it all together and keep the balance.
With so much almond it didn’t allow the barrel to shine through and made this a more one-dimensional beer. I do kind of want to dunk a biscotti in it just to see what it would taste like.
MP: I mainly agree with Mike here that this beer is for almond lovers, but I also picked up on the anise – I felt it was heavy in anise. I did not get the homage to biscotti here at all. Mike called it black licorice, which is a good assessment. But, it’s still not overly sweet — again, that’s a theme in this year’s collection. To me, the bourbon flavors, barrel (oak), and even the base stout, get a little lost in this variant. Still, I’m sure some people, notably those who truly enjoy adjuncts, will enjoy this variant. I will be curious if anyone thinks the beer resembles a biscotti, though.
Proprietor’s Stout (13.4% ABV)
MZ: For the Chicago-only Bourbon County Stout variant this year, they wanted to go tropical and they absolutely nailed the flavor profile. Hoping to recreate the Jungle Bird cocktail they liked to drink going out around Chicago, brewers Jason Krasowski and Paul Cade sought to bring a tropical vibe to Bourbon County. For the first time ever, pineapple was used as an adjunct in a BCS and it was accompanied by toasted coconut, banana, and lime juice.
This was the most interesting one to discuss with others at the tasting because we all got different notes on the taste. For me, it was a lot of coconut with some banana and next to no pineapple and lime. Others felt like they got all pineapple with little banana.
I’m curious to see what others will think of this beer and what flavor profiles they get. For me, I’d have loved to get more lime at the end as it would have cut the sweetness of the coconut and banana. That burst of citrus at the end would have re-engaged the palate and rounded this beer out nicely.
Personally, I think waiting on this one to see how it develops in the bottle would be really interesting. If that coconut and banana fades a bit and allows the other flavors to shine through, this could be a sleeper of a variant – it just needs time.
MP: I wanted to like this beer so much. Two Begyle alums, Krasowski and Cade, introduced this beer with so much enthusiasm. And, their creativity can’t be argued here. I really did want to like it. In fact, at first sip, I did like it. (I even Tweeted that “it worked.”) But, then, as I continued, the multitude of tropical flavors proved too much. Prop is trying to be two things: a good cocktail and a good beer. But, you know the football adage that if a team has two quarterbacks, it really has none? Well, that’s Prop to me.
Mike is right that we all shared wildly different opinions about the beer (most of us ranked it at the bottom, but one of our peers and friends at the table ranked it as his favorite of the seven!). We also had a funny debate about what flavors we noticed. Mike wanted more lime, which is interesting because the first thing I tasted was lime. And then coconut. And then banana and pineapple. When I noticed the lime, I liked it – it’s a shame Mike never had that experience. He might have liked it – * smile *
Mike’s 2022 Bourbon County Stout Rankings
- Two-Year Barleywine
- 30th Anniversary
- Sir Isaac’s
Matt’s 2022 Bourbon County Stout Rankings
- Two-Year Barleywine
- 30th Anniversary
- Sir Isaac’s