Beer Review 0573: Goose Island Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout (2013)

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The final Goose Island Bourbon County variant we’ll be reviewing that was (somewhat) readily available in late 2013 is Backyard Rye, which is Bourbon County Brand Stout dosed with mulberries, marionberries, and boysenberries, then aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels. Around 200 barrels of the beer were made; exactly 50 pounds of berry puree was put into each barrel, meaning a staggering 10,000 pounds of fruit was used in the making of this beer!

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.

Inspired by the berries they ate in their backyards when growing up, the brewers at Goose Island dreamed up this berry version of Bourbon County. It comes in at 12.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). This variation in the series comes in a 22 oz. bomber size bottle, versus the standard 12 oz. offering.

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The pour went very similar to the other Bourbon County Stout varieties — it produced a minimal, scant head that fizzled away within seconds of filling the glass. Backyard Rye is pitch black, and there’s no lighter color to be found, even around the edges; when held in very bright light, there is a bit of a red tint going on. As I poured, the body appeared to be clear and there didn’t seem to be any particles or sediment. There was no lacing.

On the nose, the berries are evident with a blast of fresh fruit — now, let’s get one thing straight before I get too much further: I’ve never tasted mulberries, marionberries, or boysenberries, so I can’t tell you in detail about the berry scent other than it’s fresh, it’s jammy, and it also reminds me a bit of red Twizzler candy. Despite the massive wave of fruit, there’s a bit of room for the hefty malts, presented in caramel, dark chocolate, and roast; then we’ve got the barrel components, which give off vanilla, smooth whiskey, and a bit of wood. It’s nice. Incredibly nice.

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The taste offers initial notes of dark chocolate glazed berries with a side of dipping caramel; we’ve got fresh berries and warming sweetness that transitions into just an edge of unripened tartness. The berries dominate initially, until the middle of the taste when the Imperial Stout starts to take over with a hit of caramel, burnt sugar, and vanilla from the whiskey barrels. Unlike the other Bourbon County variants, the barrel is toned down to a smooth team player rather than a ball-hog. It adds complex notes of vanilla, spicy whiskey, and wood to the delicious underpinning of full-flavored berries. The finish is quite sweet but not cloying, and this brew comes off like one of the best desserts you’ll ever try. Amazing! Backyard Rye is full-bodied, with a thick, sticky, creamy mouthfeel.

WOW. What else is there to say? Well, there’s this: Backyard Rye is an amazing beer packed with full, decadent flavors that are sure to wow. Far too often, I’m disappointed by stouts brewed with fruit, but this might just be the gold standard. This brew is to the point where you hesitate to call it beer, because there really aren’t any beery points of reference. If you’re lucky enough to have a bottle of this, what are you waiting on? I wouldn’t age this — I’d find a nice evening in the not-so-distant future, pry the cap and enjoy the ride. If my beer drinking career came to an unfortunate end on this bottle, I can’t say I’d be sorry. Waiting on this one will likely turn out to be a mistake.

Goose Island Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout (2013), 99 points. Price: $19.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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