Every year, Goose Island’s announcement of the variants that will be featured in its annual Bourbon County Brand Stout release attracts a fair deal of attention. Despite the brewery’s acquisition by Anheuser-Busch InBev, beer geeks still line up to buy “BCBS” on a yearly basis, and the brewery is often able to shape or subtly critique the current market for barrel-aged beers via the flavors they choose to release. And this year’s just-announced slate of releases seems particularly relevant largely for what it chooses to mostly omit: Adjuncts.
Yes, of the eight BCBS releases dropping this year, five of them feature no adjuncts at all — just the influence of the barrels in which they were aged. Even with three additional adjunct beers as part of the lineup, it still feels like a choice that stands in fairly stark contrast to the current industry obsession with sticky sweet, adjunct-laden pastry stouts. We don’t often give a ton of credit to AB InBev-owned breweries at Paste, but I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t pleased to see the brewery moving in this direction, if only because it suggests that others might follow in their wake.
The five, non-adjunct releases of BCBS for 2019 will instead focus on specific attributes of their different styles of whiskey barrels. The full slate of releases is as follows:
Bourbon County Stout
The original—you know it, you probably love it. Always a very barrel-forward beer in our estimation, even compared with others in the field it helped to pioneer, it is nonetheless the most “accessible” of the variants. It is aged in a mix of Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey barrels, and then blended for consistency. The brewery says this gives it a “richer, more complex mouthfeel (featuring) flavors of cocoa, vanilla, caramel, almond, plus leather and tobacco,” for what it’s worth. There will also be a “vertical collection” of original BCBS released, including bottles of 2017, 2018 and 2019 stout.
Bourbon County Double Barrel Stout
This variant is aged in 11-year-old Elijah Craig barrels from Heaven Hill, and then transferred to new, 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels for a second round of aging, which presumably “re-energizes” the aging process to end up with even more barrel and booze character. Maximum bourbon character seems like the goal here—and considering how boozy the original BCBS usually is, that’s saying something.
2-year Reserve Bourbon County Stout
This variant rests for two long years in 11-year-old Knob Creek barrels from Jim Beam, which is a very, very long time to age a beer in any kind of barrel. Goose Island says this treatment is “creating an oak-forward intensity accented by hazelnut and chocolate notes, all while allowing the signature flavor profile of the Knob Creek Bourbon to shine through.”
Reserve Rye Bourbon County Stout
With so many bourbon variants, it’s only fitting there be at least one rye variant. This one travels back to Heaven Hill to be aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels—the winner of our blind tasting of cheap rye whiskeys, if you’ll recall. Goose Island says the result “exemplifies fruity, spicy rye flavors as well as the notes that come from the impact the barrel has on the original imperial stout.”
Bourbon County Wheatwine Ale
Goose Island introduced Wheatwine into the variant lineup last year, and it was apparently pretty well received, winning a medal at Chicago’s annual “FOBAB,” the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer. Fittingly, they stuck this one in Larceny bourbon barrels, which is a wheated bourbon, to double up on the wheat content of the beer. We would expect this offering to be particularly sweet and syrupy, as both wheatwines and wheated bourbons are typified as sweeter and richer than normal.
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout
Finally, we start getting into the adjuncts here, although we must note that even these beers don’t seem particularly over the top. This year’s version of Proprietors features toasted pecans, coconut, cacao nibs and vanilla—a fairly standard bill of pastry stout implements, in our estimation. The brewery says the result is “reminiscent of Tiramisu, ending with lingering notes of marshmallow.”
Bourbon County Cafe de Olla Stout
For the second year in a row, the brewery is choosing not to release a regular version of Bourbon County Coffee Stout, which was once a staple of the lineup. Instead, the coffee-forward entry is Cafe de Olla, which is apparently inspired by “a traditional Latin-infused coffee,” according to GI. It features several infusions of coffee, along with cassia bark, orange peel and panela sugar. Sounds pretty tasty to us, and also well within the realm of convention. Another hint that Goose Island is trying to go a bit more subtle with this year’s BCBS variants?
Bourbon County Mon Cheri Stout
The most unique of this year’s new offerings is the Mon Cheri Stout, which seems to have something of a “cherry pie” inspiration. It’s made with both Balaton and Montmorency tart cherries, but will raise eyebrows for the other additions: Brown sugar, oats and granola, which is a beer ingredient we’re not sure we’ve seen before. The latter apparently helps contribute a “pie crust” flavor, which plays nicely with the cherries. All in all, it sounds like a concept we’d be curious to try.