The arrival of Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County series is one of the most anticipated and hyped beer releases of the year. For the last couple of years the lineup for the release has been the standard stout, a coffee version of the stout and a barleywine that all see pretty wide national distribution. There are also two much harder to get variants that change from year to year as well. This year’s stout variants were vanilla rye and Proprietor’s, which was a cinnamon chocolate stout this year. The beers are simultaneously released across the country on Black Friday. This massive release throws the beer nerd universe into temporary chaos with people waiting in line for hours to get their hands on the elusive bottles.
My introduction to bourbon barrel aged beers began much like my introduction to sour beers, with a brewery considered to be among the best in the world at the style: Firestone Walker. In this case that formative beer was Parabola, an impeccable bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout and I've been a Firestone Walker fan from that day since. Since that experience, I've made it a point to get my hands on and try as many of Firestone's annual bourbon barrel releases as possible.
The craft beer scene is a far different animal today than it was in the late 1970s. That might seem like an obvious statement, but think about how much different things were when Ken Grossman started Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. There were no labs to buy yeast from, no catalogs of different hop verities to choose from and no other craft breweries to buy used equipment from. All of the equipment they used to start Sierra Nevada was made from scrap metal and old dairy farm equipment. Fast forward thirty-five years later and Sierra Nevada is one the largest craft breweries in the country and producing over a million barrels of beer each year.
A few hours ago I thought it was a perfect time to crack open a bottle of one of the biggest, baddest English barleywines I had in my cellar. Now, close to midnight on a Monday I sit starring at an empty bottle and a sad glass that once held the sweet bourbon-infused nectar that was Mother of all Storms.
Craft beer lovers in California are well aware of the fantastic products Jesse Fridman and Damian Fagan have been putting out over the last few years. While those names might not sound familiar to most, the San Francisco-based Almanac Beer Company they started in 2010 has garnished quite a reputation for putting out unique beers using locally-sourced ingredients from family owned farms. Their farm to barrel approach has turned out a long line of highly-rated brews all without the use their own brewing equipment.