There are very few beer national beer releases that come close the hype as the Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, which is released nationally every year on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
As in previous years, there were some variants released alongside the regular version, all in 500ml bottles:
- Bourbon County Brand Stout — 14.2 percent ABV
- Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout — 13.4 percent ABV
- Bourbon County Brand Barleywine — 12.1 percent ABV
- Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout — 14.1 percent ABV
- Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout — 13.5 percent ABV
- Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout — 14.5 percent ABV
As see above, there were quite a few changes to what has been done in years past.
Historically there was Bourbon County was sold in both four-packs of 12-ounce bottles (for the regular, Coffee and Barleywine) and 22-ounce bottles (for the Proprietor’s and any other variants). Now, all releases are being sold in 500ml bottles. It wasn’t just the size of the bottles, but the look was modernized dramatically.
This year also marked the greatest number of Bourbon County releases, five stouts plus the Barleywine. One of those five stouts is Rare Bourbon County, a release that has been dormant for the last five years.
Rare refers not to the number of bottles, but instead is referring to the barrels that the beer was aged in: decades old bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill.
The Goose Island website has more info:
Back in 1979 the folks at Heaven Hill Distilleries filled a handful of new freshly charred American white oak barrels with some of their finest whiskey. It is rare for Bourbon to age in barrels for more than twenty-three years. But these barrels patiently sat for over thirty years. The extra years developed a distinct and complex character that makes them truly one-of-a kind. We filled those barrels with Bourbon County Brand Stout, and then stored them away in our Chicago Barrel House to age for two more years.Each of the Rare Bourbon County Brand Stouts are packaged in boxes that are made from wood taken from the barrels they were aged in, and they look and smell like it from a mile away.
Each of the Rare Bourbon County Brand Stouts are packaged in boxes that are made from wood taken from barrels, and they look and smell like it from a mile away. As for those production numbers, they are estimated to be anywhere between 30,000-60,000 bottles based on what various Goose Island brewers and employees.
Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout is composed of the regular Bourbon County Brand Stout aged for two years in 33-year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. The base beer is brewed with Willamette hops as well as 2-row, Munich, chocolate, caramel, roast barley and debittered black malts.
Goose Island last released Rare Bourbon County in 2010, that version was a 13 percent ABV stout that had been aged for two years in bourbon barrels that previously contained Pappy Van Winkle 23-year.
While there is a nice hiss when the bottle is opened, the Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout pours a very dark brown and features very little head that disappears quickly, leaving no lacing whatsoever. There is not much carbonation visible, and the aroma from the glass is a combination of strong bourbon, sweet oak, vanilla, dark chocolate, bitter espresso and brown sugar.
The flavors start right off the bat from the sip, with strong sweet bourbon up front on the palate, interspersed with other flavors of creamy oak, dark cocoa, sweet raisins, figs, vanilla, espresso beans, leather and coconut. There is a very unique candied pecans note on the finish, something that I have not tasted in a beer before, and distinct enough that I could place it immediately. As it warms, the profile adds quite a bit more fudge and toffee to the other flavors, and the sweetness bumps up a notch, but it is still far from the level of a regular Bourbon County Brand Stout. There is virtually no carbonation to speak of and the mouth feel is just a touch thin, although well within normal limits.
BREWERY: Goose Island Beer Co.
LOCATION: Chicago, Ill.
STYLE: Imperial Stout
RELEASE DATE: Nov. 13, 2015
AVAILABLE IN: 500ml bottles
BEERS POURED: One
As I found out, the answer is a bit more complicated than I expected it to be. The beer itself is extremely nuanced, with oak, bourbon, fruit and a wonderful candied pecan note on the finish that is as unique as it was unexpected. It is also exceptionally well balanced, with noticeably less sweetness than the regular Bourbon County Brand Stout, as well as a better integration of the bourbon notes. Yes, there could be a bit more carbonation, but that is a minor squabble in the grand scheme of things. So, is Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout worth the $60 price tag? For me, the answer is no, but this beer comes close, and sometimes close is enough.