While you should always take online ratings with a grain of salt, there are times when the prevailing opinions about a beer you’ve just had simply cannot be ignored. Take the 2013 Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island for instance. For a time, prior to being labeled as “retired,” the beer was listed among the upper echelon on the Beer Advocate list of the Top 250 beers. In fact, users of the site had it ranked as the third or fourth best beer in the world. Is it really that good? At least for the moment, let’s pretend we’ve given the Magic 8-Ball a shake and been met with the answer of “ask again later.”
A small-batch beer produced as an exclusive for the city of Chicago, Proprietor’s was released along with other Bourbon County-branded products on black Friday 2013. In addition to the original Bourbon County Brand Stout, a total of four additional variants made up the complete line.
- Bourbon County Brand Barleywine – this new variety for 2013 is an English-style barleywine aged in third-use barrels that once contained Kentucky bourbon and then Bourbon County Brand Stout.
- Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout – aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels, along with hand-toasted coconut, it was created to show the company’s “immense gratitude to the loyal and adventurous fans in Chicago whose support helped bring Bourbon County to towering new heights.”
- Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout – brewed using beans from Intelligentsia Coffee that were roasted and cold brewed prior to blending.
- Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout – another new variety for 2013, this beer was aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels with mulberries, marionberries and boysenberries.
- Bourbon County Brand Stout — The original.
Now, it’s important to note that the 2013 edition of Proprietor’s is now one year old, so it’s only natural to expect some of the flavors to have leveled off – though like all beers in the series the label says the it should develop in the bottle for up to five years. That said, the obligatory stout flavors of roast and dark chocolate are still quite prevalent in this beer as are notes of wood and a touch of spice from the barrels. What’s somewhat out of balance, though, is the presence of both the bourbon and the coconut. The aroma borders on being boozy with only faint hints of coconut, while the taste is quite the opposite. Coconut comes on in a flourish towards the finish, with the bourbon not really standing up all that much in the flavor other than to provide some lingering warmth in the aftertaste.
Does this make it a bad beer? Not at all. In addition to having all the expected flavor elements of an imperial stout, it’s got the right look and feel, with its predictably pitch black profile, smooth carbonation and a rich, full body. It’s just that in its current state, the discontinuity between flavor and aroma doesn’t allow it to come across as what the ratings imply to be a nearly perfect beer. Naturally, after a year in the bottle, it’s possible that a mellowing malt character has caused the bourbon and coconut to stand out more. At the same time, given even more time this beer could still round into form should the bourbon and coconut components soften, making it a better than it is now or has been in the past.