Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout is among that small handful of beers that nerds go crazy trying to track down. Released just once a year, it’s always been made in extremely limited quantities, with stores routinely getting just a few cases—nowhere near enough supply to meet the demand. This year, though, Goose Island is said to have produced up to five times as much of it as usual. People all over the country—and as nearby as Queens and Long Island—have had relatively little trouble securing multiple 4-packs, but in Brooklyn and Manhattan it’s still been frustratingly hard to come by. It’s around, but it’s not exactly flooding the shelves.
If it seems like a lot of fuss to be made over a beer, that’s because it is. And it’s absolutely worth it.
Bourbon County is in many ways a straightforward barrel-aged stout—it impresses not with zany ingredients or over-the-top bitterness or anything like that, but with amazing complexity and clarity of flavor. Before you even taste it, though, the aroma alone justifies whatever lengths you went to to find it: the first thing you’ll pick up is a huge whiff of vanilla and oak from the bourbon barrels, along with a pretty hefty blast of alcohol—understandable when you’re dealing with a 15% ABV beer (oh yeah, I forgot to mention: you’re dealing with a 15% ABV beer).
In the taste, you get those same bourbon characteristics right up front, followed by a little bit of chocolate and endless roasted malts. There’s also the slightest hint of toasted coconut, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me but has popped up with other really good barrel-aged beers like Firestone Walker’s Parabola. You’ll get some caramel and dark fruits in there too, before it all gives way to the soothing warmth of the alcohol. There’s a little more carbonation than I was expecting, which is nice—otherwise, the intensely creamy thickness would almost be too much too bear.
This is one of those beers that requires you to tweak your understanding of what a beer even is. You’re not going to drink six of them in a night, or even two of them in a night, really, and the one you do drink will probably last you a good deal longer than you’re accustomed to. And that’s the point: sip it slowly and enjoy every drop of it.
If you’re interested in getting some for yourself, you can try the usual Brooklyn and Manhattan spots, or you can feel free to tweet at me and I’ll tell you about a smaller, less heavily trafficked store that has a good amount in stock. Be warned, though: a 4-pack will set you back right around $30.