It’s that time of year again, as Goose Island Beer has announced the 2021 Bourbon County Brand Stout lineup with new flavors like cola and a strawberry ice cream bar. Goose Island will release its beer locally on Black Friday with many bars across the city securing kegs in hopes of attracting big business over Thanksgiving holiday weekend and beyond.
Standing in line at stores, such as Binny’s Beverage Depot in Lincoln Park — where Goose Island started its Black Friday tradition — has become an annual Chicago-area ritual for beer fans waiting in line wanting to purchase the full line of beers before they sell out. But, as production has increased — thanks to the parent of Budweiser buying Goose Island in 2011 — most of the beers aren’t as difficult to find. In addition, for Chicagoans, Goose Island has been keeping most of the Bourbon County lineup available year-round at its Fulton Market Taproom and Clybourn brewpub in Lincoln Park. Like wine, this beer changes flavors over time, and many fans elect to horde their brews waiting for new notes to emerge over the years before imbibing.
Bourbon County is credited as the first beer aged in bourbon barrels, which allows the beer to pick up flavors from the vessel’s previous tenant. These are boozy beers (this year’s lineup ranges from 14 to 16 percent alcohol by volume) that are good for cold winter days. However, during the pandemic, many beer drinks have dismissed seasonality and taken to drinking stouts year round.
So what to expect from this year’s eight beers? Goose Island had partnered with Intelligentsia nearly every year on a collaboration, but there is no coffee concoction for 2021. Also, Goose Island has brought back a fan favorite from 2014.
Here’s the run down, all according to a Goose Island news release.
Bourbon County Stout: This is the original base and will feature “flavors of chocolate and vanilla, oak, whiskey, and molasses, followed by caramel, berry fruit, and almond.” The beer comes from blended from a mix of Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Last year, Goose Island quietly put out select bottles out in the wild made from single barrels (rather than the blend). Fans drank up the single-origin bottles, and Goose Island now sells them as a set. Perhaps these so-called Easter Eggs will return for 2021.
Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout: For the first time, Goose Island took the base Bourbon County Stout and used toasted honeycomb-shaped cherry wood chips. Goose says this will impart a noticeable difference from the base by adding “red fruit, ripe cherry, and light toffee.”
Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout: The beer’s aged in Old Forester 150th Anniversary Barrels. Expect “notes of chocolate, vanilla, and coconut,” plus “molasses, almond, berry, and oak.” This will be a coveted bottle.
Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout: Double-barreled Bourbon County stout was originally bottled last year (it’s still available at the Clybourn brewpub). This year’s edition is aged a year in Elijah Craig’s small batch bourbon barrels and another year in Elijah Craig toasted bourbon barrels. Expect “toasted marshmallow” and a “fruit and oak finish.”
Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout: This Reserve is aged 18 months in Blanton’s Original single Barrel bourbon vessels. These barrels are from a high-end bourbon, and expect “rich dark chocolate and oak notes,” and finished with “clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.”
Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout: Perhaps a spiritual sibling to last year’s Kentucky Fog (made with tea), Goose Island turns to another beverage. Goose described it as a “whisky cola” with “lime, orange juice and zest, plus coriander, cassia bark, nutmeg, brown sugar, and vanilla.”
Bourbon County Fourteen Stout: This is a throwback to a beloved variant from seven years ago. Goose has revived its recipe from the 2014 edition of its Chicago-only Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout. Once agin expect cassia bark, cocoa nibs, panela unrefined cane sugar, and coconut water.
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout: Only available in the Chicago market, Proprietor’s is one of the most sought after variants. This year’s is inspired by a strawberry ice cream bar. Expect to be reminded of short cake “layered with vanilla and topped off with the slight fruitiness of strawberries.”