Goose Island Beer Co.’s bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout has become one of the standard bearers of the style, and earned itself quite the fan base in the process. (Its most dedicated seekers line up at liquor stores in the early morning hours of Black Friday, when it is released nationwide). The brewery also releases variants on the Bourbon County line, which this year include Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout; Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout (brewed with blackberry juice, sea salt and candied cherries); Bourbon County Brand Barleywine; Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (bourbon-aged maple syrup, toasted pecans and guajillo peppers); and Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (imperial stout aged in Heaven Hill Barrels for 2 years). The bottles and labels also were dramatically redesigned this year.
So, is this year’s Bourbon County Brand Stout worth the effort to find? Emphatically yes. There’s plenty to savor in the aroma alone: the barrel imparts rounded oak and vanilla scents, backed by cocoa powder, coffee roast, leather, black cherry and even a whisper of sweet cigar smoke. A full-bodied sip washes layers of vanilla bourbon flavor to all corners of the mouth, and though it’s hefty with the stout’s dark Belgian chocolate, tobacco and peanut shell, lighter tones of plum and toasted coconut flash underneath and keep the beer lively. A 13.7% ABV leaves a warmth in the throat, while lingering flavors of caramelized marshmallow and sticky vanilla remain on the lips after the swallow. Just try and resist pouring another snifter full.
(Editor’s note: Our blind tasting panel scored the beer a 98.)