On Wednesday evening, members of the media were invited to taste Goose Island’s 2019 Bourbon County Stouts and Wheatwine. The annually anticipated lineup, launching on Black Friday (Nov. 29, 2019), puts a distinctive focus on the flavors different barrels can impart — bourbon vs. rye, for example — as well as the impacts of aging, blending, and in the case of three variants, adjuncts.
Present at the tasting were Goose Island President Todd Ahsmann; Goose Island Brewmaster Keith Gabbett; R&D Manager Mike Siegel; and co-founder Greg Hall, who created Bourbon County Stout in the 1990s, and served as Goose Island’s brewmaster for 20 years. The Goose Island team was joined by Heaven Hill Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll.
As Goose Island announced in August, this year’s variants include the original Bourbon County Stout, Bourbon County Double Barrel Stout, 2-year Reserve Bourbon County Stout, Reserve Rye Bourbon County Stout, Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout, Bourbon County Wheatwine Ale, Bourbon County Café de Olla Stout, and Bourbon County Mon Chéri Stout. All variants are barrel-aged in whiskey barrels a minimum of 4 years old, and are minimally rinsed, meaning more whiskey remains in the wood.
VinePair had the pleasure of tasting this decadent lineup at New York City’s Top Hops Beer Shop, a beer bar and retailer with a long connection to the Bourbon County brand.
Below is our ranking of the 2019 Bourbon County Stouts (and Wheatwine).
8. Bourbon County Wheatwine Ale
Aged in Larceny wheated bourbon barrels.
This FOBAB-winning wheatwine pours a bourbon-like deep amber, with caramel, toffee, and nutty aromas, akin to a New Orleans-style praline. Its high wheat content — 37 percent of the grist — lends an unusual vegetal note on the palate, while the flavors are yeasty and sweet, and not too viscous. It finishes with a hint of herbal bitterness.
7. Bourbon County Mon Chéri Stout
Made with Balenton and Montmorency cherries, granola, oats, and brown sugar.
This variant is very cherry, like a liquid chocolate with cherry liqueur. Goose Island packed a combined 28,000 pounds of cherries and oat granola into this beer as it conditioned to achieve its cobbler-like aroma and flavor, which is a decadent treat for cherry lovers. A hint of acidity and umami like finish left us salivating.
6. Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout
Made with coconut, cocoa nibs, vanilla, and pecans.
This Chicago-only variant is the creation of Goose Island brewer Eric Flores, who modeled the recipe after his favorite Bourbon County variants. Coconut, vanilla, and traces of raw pecan aromas mimic Tiramisu, while toasted, sweetened pecan gives this variant its rich mouthfeel. Drink this one fresh if you get it.
5. Bourbon County Café de Olla Stout
Made with coffee beans and cold brew from Intelligentsia Coffee, cassia bark, orange peel, and panela sugar.
For lovers of last year’s Midnight Orange, and Bourbon County Coffee Stout of yore, this is your variant. The aroma is all coffee bean, followed by a strong citrus note almost like cleaning solution. The palate continues the journey with layers of coffee, orange, and a hint of cinnamon. Pumpkin-beer lovers will appreciate the autumnal baking spice notes on this potent variant.
4. Bourbon County Stout (Original)
ABV: 14.7% and 15.2%
Aged in Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey bourbon barrels.
The original Bourbon County Stout continues its legacy. It pours deep black in the center, with a waning-moon-edge of Burgundy. Vanilla, chocolate syrup, and red-wine-like dark fruit aromas dominate the nose. The body is smooth and ultra-creamy, with a pleasantly viscous texture and minimal carbonation, almost like a room temperature dark chocolate milk. One taster compared its thick, rich flavor to a double-fudge brownie, and we have to agree.
3. Reserve Rye Bourbon County Stout
Aged exclusively in Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye barrels.
This year’s Reserve Rye is a true testament to the effect of the barrel. The nose is still chocolatey and fruity, but earthier than the original Bourbon County, with fig and leafy aromas. It’s perceivably less sweet, too, with a bright citrus-like bitterness on the finish.
2. Bourbon County Double Barrel Stout
Aged two years in 11- and 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels.
Bourbon lovers will swoon over this variant, which has the most bourbon flavor (and liquid) imparted into it. It’s aged one year in 11-year-old Elijah Craig barrels, then another year in 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels. An intoxicating mix of fruit, leather, and chocolate on the nose is followed by a thinner mouthfeel and balanced acidity from the bourbon heat. This hybrid of beer and spirit is insanely drinkable, and in no way belies its 18-percent (!) ABV. Given the time-consuming, intricate process involved in producing this beer, Double Barrel Stout is extremely limited in quantity, so get it if you can.
1. 2-Year Reserve Bourbon County Stout
Aged two years in 11-year-old Knob Creek barrels.
An aromatic explosion, this variant aged two years in Knob Creek barrels starts with rich, moist chocolate cake and dried fruit on the nose so intense, it feels like inhaling texture. There’s a gentle carbonation that lifts that richness, and an oxidative note amplifies dark fruit flavors. A delicate warmth lengthens the finish.