On Nov. 28—Black Friday—Goose Island will release this year’s lineup of Bourbon County beers, an annual tradition that dates back to 1992, when the Chicago brewery poured the very first batch of Bourbon County Brand Stout on draft at its Clybourn brewpub. With fall on the horizon, and this year’s collection underway, I caught up with Eric Ponce, senior brewer of Goose Island’s barrel program, to find out the details of the lineup.
First: Why Black Friday?
“It gives people a reason not to stand in line at the department store, but at a liquor store instead,” jokes Ponce. “We [brewers] pretty much have to stand in line, too. We get one bottle, but if we want more, we have to line up along with our customers.”
So what would inspire someone to stand in line on a cold, blustery day? Read on:
Bourbon County Brand Stout
“It’s the first beer we ever did in bourbon barrels, and it’s the base beer for all of our Brand Stouts. The base beer is a high-gravity imperial stout that goes straight into the cask and sits for a year—we’re actually in the process of racking it now. Traditionally, and with year’s release as well, you get a nice bourbon wet oak flavor, some dark, bitter chocolate and bitter coffee as well. It’s really rich and smooth with low carbonation, and it rolls off the tongue.”
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout
“There are a lot of ingredients going into this one. This year we have cassia bark—basically chunks of cinnamon—cocoa nibs, coconut water and panela sugar. [To experiment with the ingredients,] most of the brewers took home mason jars of the stout, added [ingredients] and brought them back to the brewery. There were maybe 45 variants that the brewers came up with. Bourbon County Stout [BCS] on its own is really complex, but when you add all these other components, it just blossoms. We really enjoyed the cinnamon aspect—the fresh cinnamon on top of the BCS really put a smile on our face. The cocoa nibs add a little more smoothness to the beer. Panela—basically unrefined sugar—and coconut water add a nice earthy undertone. All the brewers are really excited about this one, and we think it’s going to be a hit.”
Bourbon County Vanilla Rye
“We don’t usually do the same [BCS] variant more than once, but we’ve done vanilla in BCS in the past, and it was the most talked-about. We got rye whiskey casks from Kentucky, and we got 100 pounds of vanilla beans—75 pounds of Madagascar beans and 25 pounds of Mexican vanilla beans. We literally are separating the bean, scraping out the nice vanilla, and adding two whole pounds of fresh vanilla per cask. It’s taking a lot of time, but we know it’s going to be well worth it. With rye whiskey, you get a little more of a mild, spicy undertone. We like it with the other flavors of BCS, and with the fresh, vibrant vanilla beans on top.”
Bourbon County Coffee
“We do Coffee each year with our friends Intelligentsia Coffee—their main roaster is next to our brewery. We usually bring in the head roaster and some of the crew, and they bring eight to 10 varieties of beans from around the world. We do a cold press to narrow it down. We ended up using Zirikana from Rwanda. We love the notes of toffee and caramel it adds. In the past, the [BCS Coffee] beans were fruity and acidic, so this year we wanted something a little smoother.”
Bourbon County Barleywine
“The Barleywine is a nice, robust, high-gravity barleywine. We usually only use our bourbon casks one time: Then, we give them to other brewers or ship them to Scotland. But we do use some a second time for our Barleywine. The Bourbon County barrels are filled with the Barleywine, so you definitely get some of the same undertones of BCS, because we just emptied them. [This year], you’ll get a lot more dark pitted fruits, like dried cherry and prunes, and still get that dark bitter chocolate flavor and a slight coffee flavor.”
So it’s settled, then: Mark your calendars for Nov. 28.