Well it depends on who you talk to…but we’re going with yes and no.
There’s no denying that for many Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County release is a big deal. And 2018’s Black Friday rollout, which features eight Bourbon County variations is the brewery’s largest ever.
This year’s Bourbon County variations include the following…
Bourbon County Brand Stout – The original…aged in 4+ year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels.
Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout – The same recipe as BCBS, but aged in 12-year old “Elijah Craig Barrel Proof” bourbon barrels. And because it’s only available in Chicago, Kentucky, New York City, and Philadelphia this variation should be fairly collectable.
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout –This Chicagoland-only variation is without question the most collectable of the bunch. Using a combination of dark chocolate and two types of cocoa nibs, 2018’s Proprietor’s is a full spectrum chocolate showcase, from smooth and milky to deep dark and earthy.
Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine – The first recipe to veer from the original Imperial Stout roster since Barleywine was introduced in 2013, Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine is making its debut this year. And we expect it to sell well for that reason alone.
Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout – A past favorite, Bourbon County’s Vanilla Stout returned to the BCBS roster in 2018.
Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout – For this variation Goose Island aged Bourbon County Stout in rye whiskey barrels then added raspberry and blackberry juice and puree from Michigan and Washington.
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine – This is an unusual stylistic variation for Goose Island and it will be interesting to see how consumers will respond. The beer is a malt forward English-style Barleywine, aged in 4+ year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels, with Guatemalan coffee beans added right before packaging.
Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout – Another new BCBS variation, this one combines chocolate and orange. And as with Bourbon County’s Coffee Barleywine well be interested to see how this versions sells.
So Does Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout Release Still Matter?
Well it depends on who you talk to… And as we’ve explained we’re going with yes and no…
First created by former brewmaster Greg Hall who had the wild idea to age a stout in emptied bourbon barrels back in 1992, Goose Island’s BourboCounty Stout is the beer that started it all. And for that reason alone it deserves a lasting place in the pantheon of craft beer.
But there’s little doubt that Goose Island’s sale to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011, tainted the brand in the eyes of many craft beer fans, fair or not.
Whether the beers have retained their original integrity as an AB InBev property remains a question of individual taste. And as with all annual limited releases, some years and some variations will always be judged better than others.
2016’s recall of four Bourbon County variations certainly didn’t help to grow the brand’s mystique. Neither does the brand’s ever-increasing availability…
With the exception of Goose Island’s Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout Chicagoland-only variation, and its Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout which was only released in in Chicago, Kentucky, New York City, and Philadelphia, all the other variations are available nationwide in 2018, making them more common (read: less collectable) and again (fair or not) seemingly less special.
On the other hand, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Release matters a great deal to AB InBev, who purchased Goose Island seven years ago only to see it’s now widely available flagships like 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Honkers Ale flounder.
For Anheuser-Busch InBev, the importance that now surrounds the annual Bourbon County release is more than just a Big Beer bid for craft beer credibility…It’s increasingly one of brand profitability.
All image credits: Goose Island