Black Friday has passed and I hope everyone got what they wanted. I myself, just wanted my usual allotment of Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and as many variants as I could get. As far as BCBS is concerned, last year was a good year for me as I was able to get my usual three regular BCBSs and two different variants. Overall, there were some nice ones to try this year as Goose Island had a great selection to choose from.

They included:

  • Bourbon County Stout 2020
  • Bourbon County Kentucky Fog Stout 2020
  • Bourbon County Special #4 Stout 2020
  • Bourbon County Caramella Wheatwine Ale 2020
  • Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout 2020
  • Birthday Bourbon County Stout 2020
  • Anniversary Bourbon County Stout 2020

I was lucky enough to get Kentucky Fog and Caramella Wheatwine ale in addition to the regular base release. I find it interesting that every year, it seems that these special beers become more and more available and I really start to ponder that they might not be as limited as Goose Island would want me to think. For example, I visited my local Total Wine & More store on Jan. 1 and as I perused the shelves, there were still plenty of the base beer and at least three bottles each of the basic variants. Years ago, this never happened years ago as I fought like hell to even get the base variant.

Anyway, I have in front of me a delicious sounding variant; Special #4 Stout, an oatmeal stout variant of the original Bourbon Brand County Stout recipe. As are all of the releases, it is aged in spent bourbon barrels. This one uses crystal oats to smooth out the mouthfeel and according to the brewery, adds a roasted nuttiness. After the initial bourbon barrel aging, Intelligentsia coffee from Ethiopia—called “metad buku”—is added along with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup from Bissell Maple Farm in Ohio.

Poured from the bottle with moderate strength, the deep tan head is slow to form and never reaches the inch or two that I usually expect from these beers. The color is deep and dark, almost black, with a deep brown, opaque color around the extreme edges. The aroma is heavily malted with bits of dark fruit clawing to the top and my nose is picking up the coolness of unrefined sugar.

The first taste is very sweet with huge notes of brown sugar, roasted malts and molasses. There is a familiar taste of oatmeal-raisin cookies with the emphasis on the raisins. Unfortunately, the sweetness and sugar become almost overwhelming. The maple syrup becomes dominant and forces all other nuances to the bottom rung of the ladder. I do get a bit of smooth oats and of course, lots of bourbon but the balance seems askew. Mouthfeel is overwhelmingly sweet and as the beer warms, it struggles to improve. After one last warming session and the hope that this beer will balance itself out, I am still left with a bit of disappointment as the backbone of this beer succumbs to the maple syrup. Not terrible, but balance of ingredients, in my opinion, was not well thought out.

Goose Island Bourbon County Special #4 Stout
BREWERY: Goose Island Beer Co.
LOCATION: Chicago, Ill.
STYLE: American Stout
ABV: 13.3 percent
IBU: Not Disclosed
PRICE: $18.99
RELEASE DATE: Nov. 27, 2020
AVAILABLE IN: 500ml bottles
BEERS POURED: One
Special #4 Stout is not one of my best experiences with BCBS. I'm sure the intentions were good, the overwhelming maple sweetness took away what I anticipated to be an amazing beer. The balance suffered due to the amount of maple sweetness and it did not get any better as I progressed through the drinking process. Hopefully future variants along this style will be more thought out and balanced.
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