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Hop Notes: Goose Island Beer Company reveals 2015 Bourbon County lineup

Goose Island is a name that most beer drinkers are familiar with. The brewery began as a small Chicago brewpub, opened by John Hall in 1988.

To celebrate the brewery’s fifth anniversary in 1993, reg Hall, head brewer and son of John, brewed the biggest, boldest beer he could think of — a boozy stout aged in used Jim Beam bourbon barrels.  He named it Bourbon County Stout.

Since that time, Bourbon County Stout has become an icon with beer geeks and is listed on every notable “best of” beer list in the world. The brewery was sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011 and continues to brew its world-class Bourbon County lineup with current brew master Brett Porter.

There is a fair amount of controversy in the beer world about this business deal and many no longer consider Goose Island craft beer. Regardless of your opinion about the brewery, hundreds of people line up each fall for the chance to purchase a few bottles of this highly coveted, well crafted beer.

Like many beer geeks, I have several bottles of different Bourbon County variants from various years in my cellar and I save those for special occasions. Just recently, a good friend shared a Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (2014) with me, and I was reminded of how incredibly tasty these beers are and why we go to such great lengths to acquire them.

If you think standing in line for 24 hours in cold temperatures for a chance to buy a big screen TV at a large box store is crazy (I sure do), how about standing in that same line for the same amount of time and in the same temperatures for a few bottles of beer?

For some, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is associated with shopping for great savings. With beer geeks however, this day has become known as a day for special release beers, including Bourbon County. Binny’s Beverage Depot on Marcey Street has become the location for the Bourbon County Release and lines are expected to form very early again this year.

Each year, a few variants are brewed in addition to the original stout and the lineup for this year was announced recently in a Chicago Tribune report

  • Bourbon County Brand Stout (14.2 percent ABV, IBUs 60): According to the report, the brewery used about 4,500 bourbon casks this year, which is about 500 more than last year.  
  • Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (English Barleywine Style, 12.1 percent ABV, IBUs 60): This is the third year for this in the regular lineup. It is aged in third-use barrels — first use was bourbon, second use was aging Bourbon County Stout.
  • Bourbon Brand Coffee Stout (13.4 percent ABV, IBUs 60): Since Intelligentsia Coffee is a next door neighbor to Goose Island, it didn’t take much thought to use its coffee in one of the variants. It has been brewed on and off for several years, including the past two or three consecutively.

After the first three, the variants become a little more interesting. Some that have been released in the past include Vanilla Rye, Cherry Rye, Backyard Rye and Bramble Rye. 

  • Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout: Continuing in the tradition of aging in rye whiskey barrels, this beer will be brewed with blackberry juice (blackberries were used Bramble Rye, 2012) and cherries (used in Cherry Rye, 2012).

  • Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout: This is the third year for this variant that is only distributed in the Chicago area. For this year’s version, guajillo chili peppers and maple syrup will be used and it will be aged in bourbon barrels instead of rye as in the past two versions.

  • Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout: First introduced in 2010, this was the base beer for Bourbon County Stout, however, instead of aging for one year in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels (like Bourbon County Stout), it was aged for two years in 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. It was very expensive and very limited in supply. This year’s version (only the second time brewed) will have aged for two years in 35 year old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels.

The most noticeable difference for this year’s release will be the packaging. Instead of the traditional 12- and 22-ounce bottles used in the past, this year’s release will be sold in 16.9-ounce custom bottles with raised lettering.

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