Beer Review 0388: Goose Island 2012 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout

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While barrel aged beer was around long before 1994, Goose Island (Chicago, Illinois) made it popular in the United States when they placed Imperial Stout in bourbon barrels to celebrate their 1,000th batch of beer made at the original Clybourn brewpub. After tasting the results, it seemed like every brewery either had or wanted a barrel aging program. Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout achieved legendary status.

As such, I thought it appropriate to review Bourbon County, affectionately known as BCBS, for my 500th unique checkin to Untappd. If you’re unfamiliar with Untappd, it is a beer tracking service where you ‘checkin’ to beers you’ve had; you can rate them, follow your friends and interact with other beer drinkers. You can even checkin by location — for beer drinkers, it’s an awesome app, and you should download it. Then add me as a friend so we can drink together!

Goose Island opened in 1988. John Hall was the visionary, and he was inspired by the beers he had tasted in travels across the country. He started the brewery with the notion that drinkers wanted to see their beer being made, so Goose Island actually started as a brewpub. In 1995, a dedicated facility was built with a bottling plant to keep up with demand.

In 2011, 58% of the company was sold to the world’s largest brewer, ABInbev. As result of the sale, many of Goose Island’s everyday brews are now made in New York. However, Goose continue to produce the more connoisseur-friendly bottles in Chicago, of which Bourbon County is part of.

Released once each year, BCBS comes in at a striking 15% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The malt bill is impressive (2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black) while there is just one hop used: Willamette. I couldn’t find any information about how long this beer spends inside bourbon barrels, but the bottle suggests it will “develop in the bottle for up to five years.” While Goose Island distributes to North Carolina, this beer isn’t in the portfolio. Thanks to Dave (Untappd user OnWisconsin) for sending me BCBS as part of a trade.

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This beer poured a small, dark tan head, which was soapy and fizzy in texture. It quickly subsided, which was expected for such a high alcohol beer. The color of the liquid was pitch black; when held to light, there was just a touch of lighter brown edges. I noticed as I poured that the body appeared clear and free of any particles or sediment. There was no lacing, again, typical for a high ABV brew.

On the nose, we’ve got a massive load of bourbon and all the scents that accompany it: vanilla, toasted marshmallow, oak, and hot alcohol. Team this up with the malts, which provide a ton of dark fruits like raisin, dates, and prunes; dark chocolate, thick and chewy caramel, and a touch of burnt black coffee. The aroma is intense and awe-inspiring — dessert in a glass, indeed.

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Bourbon County hits the palate with a bevy of dark fruits — raisins, cherries, and prunes, mixed with a solid and creamy note of dark chocolate. But it doesn’t take long for the bourbon to come out, and it does in the middle; hot, almost spicy bourbon delights the tastebuds, transitioning into a finish of vanilla, charred barrel, dark fudge, s’mores, caramel, and a VERY warming alcohol. After a few sips, I started to sweat. This one will put hair on your chest, but the heavy alcohol works well with all the flavors. Full-bodied for sure, the beer has a thick, creamy mouthfeel, and it is cloyingly sweet. There’s massive, unforgiving sweetness.

Bottom line on this legendary brew: it’s awesome times a thousand. Two things to critique: this beer is so sweet, it is cloying; as I sipped, I could feel my lips getting sticky. And the alcohol, while it plays well with all the flavors, is a bit much. With the drinkability being so, so, so, so, SO dangerously high, you better be careful or you’ll wind up in the floor in a hurry.

One other thing of note: I don’t recommend letting this beer warm up too much, as the alcohol becomes too dominant. So don’t pull this out of the fridge thirty minutes before you have it… just sip on it starting at fridge temp and see how it develops as it warms.

Not a perfect score, but damn close! Cheers to 500 more beers on Untappd.

Goose Island 2012 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout, 98 points. Price: $5.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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