Beer Review 0571: Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Coffee Imperial Stout

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Each year, Goose Island (Chicago, Illinois) produces variants of its Bourbon County Brand Stout. Since 2010, they’ve teamed up with nearby Intelligentsia Coffee to make a coffee version of the beer, and each year, the brew uses a different coffee.

While barrel-aged beer was around long before 1994, Goose Island 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.

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.

The 2013 bottling of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout uses Intelligentsia’s Los Inmortales coffee, to the tune of 2,000 pounds of the El Salvador-sourced beans. The coffee was cold brewed and used in the beer; surely not coincidentally, Los Inmortales is 100% “bourbon” cultivar, and comes from a fragile tree that typically has a low yield. So it mirrors the beer in the fact that it is bourbon barrel aged, and is also limited. BCBCS is 13.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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Pouring produced a small, soapy head that lingered for a fair bit before disappearing to not even a cover. The coffee variant produces more head than regular BCBS; the color is pretty much identical, and the drinker is faced with a pitch black, opaque beer that has a small hint of lighter brown edges when held to light. The beer appeared clear as I poured, and I didn’t notice any particles or sediment. Lacing is very sparse, almost non-existent.

The nose features pretty much what you’d expect: huge coffee, but it’s definitely sweetened and influenced by the bourbon barrel aging. The coffee seems quite dark, heavily roasted and black, but the barrel flavors swoop in and create a hazelnut creamer effect, along with a shot of caramel. The barrel pops off heavy notes of vanilla, tamed bourbon, and almond. As it warms, the coffee doesn’t intensify but the vanilla does, enhancing the hazelnut. The huge alcohol contained within this beer…is completely hidden! Amazing.

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Alright, so, if you read my notes about this beer included at the bottom of the review, you’ll see that I dog it a little for lack of coffee…but here’s what I found: when allowed to warm (30 minutes or more), the coffee notes begin to come out more. And this is a beer that you need to sip on for a fair bit before making your mind up; initially, it’s almost like Bourbon County Brand Stout watered down with a bit of coffee. But when allowed to come into its own, you’ll be rewarded with a really tasty blend of flavors. We’ve got black coffee that quickly changes to flavors of hazelnut and vanilla; then comes in a stiff layer of bourbon, bringing in some warm alcohol. But the finish is where this brew shines, leaving behind dark berries, chocolate, caramel, and chunky brownie. Wow! The coffee and vanilla flavors here are the major stars, and they do all of the heavy lifting. At 45 minutes in my glass, this is a treat to sip on, and it’s better than pretty much any dessert you could think of (exception: creme brûlée!). Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout is full-bodied, with a thick, foamy mouthfeel. The alcohol is fairly stiff, so be prepared.

If you have bottles of this beer, I recommend that you enjoy them now. Obviously, the coffee is going to fade, hence why it was bottled less than three weeks before release. But right now, this is drinking spectacular, and you should enjoy a serving of this after your next satisfying meal as a dessert. I was initially a bit disappointed, but I fully changed my mind over the course of the entire glass.

Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Coffee Imperial Stout, 94 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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