I had only been living in the USA for four months back in 2016 when my local craft beer shop decided to create a social media event on Black Friday for something called “Bourbon County” by Goose Island. I was a little puzzled as I associated that brewery more with mainstream beers like IPA, pales, mock Belgian and lager. I did a little research and it turned out this is the original bourbon barrel-aged beer.
As well as the main beer, our local store had all these variants like barleywine, coffee and such like. So, after work I went down the store and all they had left was the regular.
I used the term “all they had” maybe a little too frivolously, though as it did rock my socks off. I rarely give beers more than 4 out of 5 on untappd but this one managed to squeeze a 4.5 out of me. My post said “Sparklingly rich stout with those oaky bourbon flavours in full effect. The beer equivilant of stilton”. As a lifelong stilton-worshipper, that’s some high praise.
2017 came around and I wanted to try one of the variations so I persuaded my wife to go to the beer shop while I was at work. She kindly did but still all they had left was 2017’s regular Bourbon County.
I got so caught up in the moment that aside from taking the photo, I didnt make any notes or check it in on untappd. My entry for the day after just says “VERY rich” and again gets 4.5. Fuzzy, happy memories.
2018 comes along and I was determined to get variants. My local store confirmed they were getting three different variants so I booked the morning off work and got up early. I arrived five minutes before opening time (they open an hour earlier at 9am for Bourbon County day).
They’d already opened doors and were handing out numbered queu tickets to people. I was number 27. They only had two cases of the variants and when they opened them at 9 on the dot I noticed there were 12 bottles per case. Even with the one bottle per person rule, if everyone in front of me bought the whole range, I would once again be left with just the regular.
As it happens, most people in front did buy the set at $73+taxes. Most but not all so there was still Wheatwine and Chocolate Orange left. Oddly, the first variant to sell out was the vanilla stout which puzzles me as that is the one kind of stout I’ve never been able to get along with.
The Wheatwine seemed completely unrelated to the main beer except for having been matured in bourbon barrels. It’s the first year they have made it though they have previously made barleywine as part of the series which is almost the same thing. The gentle taste of wheatwine really worked as an apt vessel for the strong bourbon barrel flavors. Its definitely not a starting point for the first timer unless you have an aversion to stout. It’s a little dearer than the regular Bourbon County but not by much so if you’re looking to try something different its perfect.
The chocolate orange version, made by adding cocoa nibs and orange peel to the barrel adds only a fraction of difference. While those lovely flavors are discernable and appreciable, they are deep beneath the overpowering taste of a stout that’s been left in an old bourbon barrel for ages. It adds an 8% improvement for the tastebuds at a 48% price increase. It may look more appeasing in the photos than previous years regular beers but I do have a much better camera this year.
Lovely as the original is, what is the point in spending nearly double on a slight variant? Is it one upmanship so you can boast that you drank something most other people can’t? I hope so because otherwise the attraction may be the veneer of respectability granted by such an air of prestige for a beer around the 15% mark. With it tasting so delicious it’s gone in no time at all and the effects are clearly felt!
The times have changed a lot since this beer launched. Now many breweries produce barrel aged stouts of distinction. They are even easier to find with Founders not only now mass producing their Kentucky Breakfast Stout but also reducing its price. While Bourbon County is no longer the unique experience it once was, it is still an amazing beer. Every stout lover needs to at least try the main beer, just remember to enjoy responsibly!