The day after Thanksgiving has taken on a number of meanings for different people, but for Goose Island Beer Co. fans, it means one thing: the release of Bourbon County Brand Stout and its assorted variants.

As always, the base beer is an imperial stout brewed with two-row, Black, Caramel, Chocolate, Munich 10 and Roasted Barley malts and is hopped with Millennium hops before being aged in bourbon barrels. Last year’s incarnation was aged in barrels that previously held Heaven Hill bourbon for more than four years.

However, the 2018 lineup also included a number notable aspects: not only were there more versions of the Chicago-based brewery’s popular barrel-aged stout than any other year prior—the total number was eight different variants released in 500ml bottles—there were also three brand new creations:

  • Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV) — a stout brewed with Spanish orange zest and chocolate
  • Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine 2018 (14.9 percent ABV) — an English-style barleywine aged in four-year-old bourbon barrels that previously contained Heaven Hill bourbon before adding Guatemalan La Soledad coffee beans sourced from Intelligentsia Coffee

There were also two returning variants from past years: Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout 2018, an imperial stout aged in rye whiskey barrels blended with raspberry and blackberry juice and puree from Michigan and Washington that was first released in 2011; and the subject of today’s review, Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout 2018, an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with whole, Grade A vanilla beans from Madagascar.

This is actually the third time Goose Island has released a vanilla variant of its most popular stout in bottles. The bourbon barrel-aged stout debuted packaged in 22-ounce bottles in 2010 after being released as a draft-only option at the Wood and Barrel Aged Beer Festival in Chicago the previous year and returned for the 2014 lineup, although that incarnation was aged in rye whiskey barrels instead of bourbon barrels.

The eight variants in the 2018 line-up were:

  • Bourbon County Brand Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
  • Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout 2018 (14.9 percent ABV)
Interestingly, there were also three additional labels filed that were never officially announced by Goose Island: Bourbon County Brand Horchata Stout 2018, an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with ceylon cinnamon, vanilla and lactose; Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout 2018, an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with “dark roast coffee” sourced from Intelligentsia Coffee and Bourbon County Brand Neapolitan Stout 2018, an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels blended with strawberry puree, chocolate, vanilla and lactose.

Visually, the Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Brand Stout 2018 pours a deep black hue with three fingers of brown head that sticks around for quite a while, despite not looking all that thick. After it finally dissipates, it leaves a very thin lacing around the edge of the glass, and there is plenty of carbonation visible as well. Aroma is a strong—almost overwhelming—vanilla note, followed by creamy oak, tobacco, bourbon, marshmallow and fudge sweetness.

After what I smelled in the aroma, I was expecting a lot of vanilla in the actual profile, but I was not expecting what I ended up with: both the palate and the finish are dominated by vanilla so strong that it overwhelms just about any other flavor that is present, at least for the first few sips. There is no nuance or subtleness to be found in those first sips, just a punch of vanilla that almost made my head hurt. Having said that, as the beer warms up a bit there other flavors become significantly more discernible—including charred oak, bourbon, cake frosting, marshmallows, earth, tobacco and even a bit of creamy leather—but make no mistake, the vanilla note remains the star of the show from the first sip to the last.

In terms of mouthfeel, the BCBS Vanilla 2018 is a bit slick in my mouth and leaves a little film behind, albeit not enough to really affect my enjoyment in any major way.

Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Brand Stout (2018)
BREWERY: Goose Island Beer Co.
LOCATION: Chicago, Ill.
STYLE: Imperial Stout
ABV: 14.9 Percent
IBU: n/a
PRICE: $23.99
RELEASE DATE: Nov. 23, 2018
AVAILABLE IN: 500ml Bottles
BEERS POURED: One
I have often wondered if there is any such thing as a barrel-aged stout having too much vanilla in it; after all, one of my favorite stouts of all time is Prairie Artisan Ales’ Vanilla Noir, which is not exactly conservative in its use of the spice. However, after drinking the Goose Island, I can safely say that the answer to the aforementioned question is an unqualified yes. At this moment the beer is extremely unbalanced, with a profile featuring so much overt vanilla that it almost tastes artificial at times and overwhelming the base flavors that you know are lurking just underneath trying to get free, including the bourbon that the base stout is known for. Having said that, I still enjoyed it immensely, and I think this stout will really shine with about six months of age to give the flavors time to meld a bit. In fact, I purchased an additional four bottles that I will be holding onto until at least then, if not longer.
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