Goose Island says:
Brewed in honor of the 1000th batch at our original Clybourn brewpub. A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer. A great cigar beer.
Karl: An event five years in the making, the culmination of months of hunting and interstate beer-tracking, our vertical tasting of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, 2006 through 2010, finally happened. I fully expect to receive a decent amount of internet heckling for this, but I’m going to admit right up front that this was quite simply too much for me.
Throughout this whole tasting I lagged behind both Ryan and Andrew who were cruising through a half-decade of stout-y bliss, and at the end I threw in the towel. I had multiple ounces of many years remaining, and I basically said, “Have at ye, gentlemen.” They had to polish ‘em off for me. I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know if it was the beer or just my general mindset that particular evening but the Bourbon County Stout defeated me.
It was a fun defeat, though.
Honestly, we could have probably laid these down for another 2-3 years before getting into them because aside from the ‘06, the differences were surprisingly subtle. Only minor differences were noticeable (at least to my palate) across the newer beers, while the ‘06 stood alone with its thinner body, its distinct liquor burn, and its lingering harshness.
The ‘07, despite years of age, was much sweeter than I expected, with some chocolate on the finish and a hint of that multi-flavor concoction Dr. Pepper in there as well. The ‘08 and ‘09 were probably my favorites of the whole process, with flavors of cola, dark rum, peanut or peanut butter, and a little black pepper, perhaps. Both very complex beers, but friendly at the same time — like a philosophy major on ecstasy, perhaps.
The ‘10, our freshest brew, featured fruit, dark liquor and fig flavors, thicker and somewhat milder than the rest. Age seemed to deepen and separate the flavors of the Bourbon County Brand Stout rather than mute or blend them, and most surprising to me out of all of this was the continued presence of bourbon all the way through. I find that bourbon flavors drop out of aged beers like this after a couple of years, but here that whiskey burn stayed clear through to the end of the line, even emerging to be the main event by the end.
I’d have to check the timestamps on the photos I took, but I’m pretty sure I took literally an hour to drink what I did, and like I said above, I couldn’t finish. If you have the opportunity to crack a few years worth of this Goose Island offering, allow yourself a decent window of time to do so. It not only requests the commitment, it practically demands it.
Andrew: I think Karl properly surmised the 5-year Bourbon County Brand Stout goodness by saying, “I’ve hit the bourbon wall.” I won’t give Karl too much of a hard time for failing to finish because frankly, it wasn’t easy for Ryan or I either. It was one of those things where I felt like I HAD to finish, no matter how much it hurt…kind of like cough syrup or ‘Tussin.
I have to agree with Karl; these could have probably used some more time because the changes from the ’06-’10 were subtle, not the dramatic difference we saw from our KBS vertical last year.
As you moved from oldest to most recent, it got less bourbon-y, less boozy and less burn-y. The ’06 was thick as a milkshake with a ton of bourbon and wood in the nose. I thought the dark chocolate stood out in the flavor, along with some coffee. Did I mention it burned?
Progressing to my favorite beer – the ’08. Not sure what it was, but I really dug this beer – it was nutty, oak-y and just enough booze burn to keep me coming back for more.
This was intense, and it took us a while to get through them with most of our time sitting in silence, staring at the five glasses in front of us. But we survived and lived for another beer, or four or five that night.
Ryan: Much like Karl and Andrew, I was a little disappointed there weren’t more drastic changes to this beer. They were soft, subtle and at times — especially near the end of our tasting — unnoticeable. But at the same time, the lack of glaring differences allowed me to better appreciate this beer. Comb through our cellar reviews and you’ll find beer after beer that has undergone drastic changes after a year or two in the cellar. But not the Bourbon County Brand Stout. Sure, each bottle was a bit different but overall this beer has held together incredibly well.
The ’06 version of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout gave off a nose full of oak, bourbon and vanilla. So much so the smell conjured up an image of the exact wood barrel this beer was aged in. Or maybe it was the next one over? Or is it that one in the corner? Bah, forget it. The body of the ’06 was both thin and syrupy — if that’s even possible — and tasted of vanilla, dark chocolate and plums. This was easily the smoothest of the five.
The ’07 gave off more bourbon and more carbonation than the ’06. It was livelier, more festive. Dark chocolate flavors stood out as did a nice touch of peanut butter.
The 2008 bottle will forever be known, in my book, as “uninterrupted bourbon.” Sure, there were other flavors too but the bourbon just hung there, from start to finish. It never faded. it was never too strong. It was…perfect. Also worth noting was the bit of homemade root beer and roasted peanuts on the finish.
’09 was big. Bigger than the previous versions; more bourbon, more carbonation and more chocolate. “Lots and lots of chocolate,” I wrote.
A fresh bottle brought everything full circle. The flavors were at their brightest. And also their strongest.
There have been plenty of times over the last year-and-a-half when we have finished off the few bottles of something I have laid back to cellar and wondered aloud, “what would that taste like after three years.” Or, “Why didn’t we hold one more bottle back?” Well, I took note and made it a point to throw an extra bottle each of the ’06 through ’10 in to the cellar for a ten year vertical.
Uninterrupted bourbon, indeed.
So sit back, enjoy the show and hopefully we’re still here in 2015 to tell how you this beer has developed – either subtly or not – over ten years.