Nostalgia sells, and Goose Island isn’t bashful about it when conducting its annual Bourbon County Brand Stout media tastings. Cookies, coffees, and popsicles are the flavors that power these barrel-aged stouts which come in around 16 percent ABV. The 2022 lineup consists of the original and six variants that add flavors (called adjuncts) like coffee, fruit, or nuts. Whisky fans will also notice notes depending on the type of barrel that’s held the beer. A bottle holds 16.9 ounces and retails for $12 to $30 (beware of price gouging, a Thanksgiving tradition right up there with passing out while watching football). Find them at retailers starting on Black Friday, November 25. Many stores have already launched online ordering, while bars across the city will have their taps flowing with the new beers over Thanksgiving weekend.
Below is a slightly edited transcript of a Slack conversation between Eater Chicago Editor Ashok Selvam and Reporter Naomi Waxman about the 2022 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout lineup.
Ashok: This was the first time Goose Island invited media in three years for an in-person tasting of its Bourbon County lineup due to COVID. Before we get to the beer, as a noob, what were your initial impressions of the event?
Naomi: Noob is the word, at least when it comes to Bourbon County, but I’m definitely familiar with Goose Island and its outsized presence in Chicago’s brewing scene. The group was small but the excitement was palpable, especially for those of us who haven’t previously explored the soaring Barrel House that’s basically a temple to all things beer. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the evening, but the impressive accommodations set a strong tone.
Ashok: Goose, bankrolled by InBev, was definitely pulling out all the stops — and they were bringing in new blood; it wasn’t just the old guard. Sure, plenty of beer bloggers attended, but there was a more diverse crowd. There was even a writer from Elite Daily. Uproxx covered it! A couple of years ago, that just wouldn’t have happened.
Naomi: It was reassuring to find myself sitting across from a fellow novice, especially one who generously accompanied me on more than one visit to the cheese and charcuterie platter. I generally feel that the nostalgia and story — some might even say mythology — around the Bourbon County line is arguably more intimidating than the brews themselves, so knowing there was a mix of experience levels in the room created a better sense of inclusion.
Ashok: Goose’s marketing team has helped craft that mythology — the brewery’s leaning heavily into celebrating its 30th anniversary, even though some dispute when Bourbon County was actually created. It was kind of funny to see the first-timers see the barrel room and experience the bells and whistles. It was oddly nostalgic, like seeing a friend watch a movie you saw several years ago for the first time. And speaking of nostalgia... that’s become a pillar of the BCBS mythology over the years. Brewers tapping into childhood flavors: candy, popsicles, colas, and teas to make beer bros get a little misty-eyed.
Naomi: Everyone had a little story to tell about their first encounter with Bourbon County, which was charming if perhaps slightly romanticized — not unlike those flavors drawn from fond memories of childhood, a lure to which nearly everyone can relate. The power of those flavor recollections is formidable and on particularly full display in this year’s Biscotti Stout. I was admittedly skeptical about the concept, but its potent notes of almond and anise seed transported me to the kitchen of the Italian grandmother I never had. To quote my notes verbatim, “low expectations, major payoff!!!”
Ashok: So, you’re diving into the biscotti. This will be one of the polarizing ones. To me, it wasn’t super balanced. Kind of felt like Homey D. Clown was taking a spice bag and slamming it into my jaw. But apparently, Todd Ahsmann, president of Goose says it pairs delightfully with blue cheese. That might be worth a try.
Naomi: It will no doubt be controversial, which arguably only helps raise its profile. As a longtime fan of sours and other funky beers, I was very surprised at how much I liked the mingling of spice and chocolate. I hope other noobs will give it a try and draw their own conclusions. I did not, however, have the same reaction to this year’s other cookie-inspired beer, Sir Issac’s Stout.
Ashok: You mean the beer that was in no way influenced by the cookie that we aren’t allowed to mention. I mean, Mondelez is a local company! You’d think they’d find a way to share the Fig Newton recipe. Or maybe they’re working on another beer collaboration with another brewery.
Naomi: I am generally averse to yucking other people’s yum, but The Cookie That Shall Not Be Named strikes me as a surprising nostalgia thread to pull. It has its fans, which is great, but is there a demand for this particular flavor profile?
Ashok: You don’t know unless you try! And I will give Goose credit for not playing it safe. You never know what’s nostalgic to a person! It crosses all sorts of demographics. Even the safer attempts (I did not care for last year’s Prop — the strawberry was a turn-off) don’t always turn out well.
Naomi: I’d imagine that one of the benefits of such a noted influence and devoted following, not to mention deep pockets, is the ability to stretch yourself in surprising directions. It was interesting to hear from Jason Krasowski and Paul Cade, the brewers who created last year’s Cola Stout, about fans’ reactions (positive and otherwise) to their unusual take. It sounds like they maintained a healthy balance between receiving constructive criticism and remaining confident in their idea and execution.
Ashok: The industry has changed. Brewers, like Cade and Krasowski, might as well have made a PowerPoint presentation on the narrative behind their beer. I did enjoy their contribution to this year’s lineup: a pineapple- and banana-packed beer inspired by the Jungle Bird. Prop 2022 was a tasty beverage, inspired by Logan Square bars like Longman & Eagle, the Whale, and the Whistler.
Naomi: I liked that one too, though I have a hard time seeing myself swapping it out for an actual Jungle Bird any time soon. The flavors and their accompanying narratives are helpful guidelines for people like me who don’t have a long history with Bourbon County. But there’s no getting around it: these are seriously stout-y stouts, with all the texture and dark richness often associated with the style. I can’t say that I’ll be joining the hoards awaiting next year’s release, but I am smarter (at least on this subject) for having explored this year’s submissions.
Ashok: Goose’s take on Jungle Bird is also — and this will trigger some — the right way to do tiki. None of that baggage. All of the taste. Now, Goose is running away from describing the beer as “tiki” because of its complicated history — “tropical” has become the new all-encompassing term. I imagine drinking Bourbon County on a cold day with frost on the glass and snow falling. I’m sitting by the fireplace. With Prop ‘22, I feel like I’m wearing beach shorts and flip-flops. It’s a nice feeling. It’s the same, but different!
But also, in a world of seltzers and where I’m getting older... how much stout can I take? I yearn for Bourbon County in the same mini-cans as Hopewell’s Lil Buddy. That’s no way to maximize profits for a multi-national corporation, but can a boy dream a little?
Naomi: Now that is an idea I can get on board with. A miniature serving of Jungle Bird is exactly what I’m looking for as a very occasional stout drinker, though that quality obviously excludes me from the line’s target demographic. Still, I can see it now: those cute little cans could make for a very nice holiday gift, and even an on-ramp for potential fans who are reluctant to spring for the spendy and unfamiliar brew.
Ashok: More Bourbon County-related food merch is needed, and beyond hot sauce and syrup. I need pies! I need cookies! I need diabetes!
As far as gifts, the most sought-after beer will be the 30th Anniversary Reserve, full of almond and vanilla. It’s held in a combo of Bookers, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, and Baker’s barrels. This will be the bottle for gift givers, and Goose knows it with its special packaging.
Also, you mentioned it before. But coffee is back! Intelligentsia’s collaboration brought me back to the Long Room where I first sipped Bourbon County (and had zero idea of the ABV; a rookie mishap).
Naomi: Coffee is back indeed, as my clock informed me in the wee hours of the morning after the event as I contemplated my decision to indulge in a cup of its single-origin Burundi Turihamwe. That stouty-ness I mentioned is such a clearly ideal companion to coffee and Goose knows how to handle that, so this comeback is a surefire hit.
Ashok: It’s getting harder and harder, tho, to spend the big bucks on the full lineup. I’m starting to prefer to go out to the bars, see my friends IRL, and catch up while drinking the variants on draft. Collecting bottles, as fun as it might be, just doesn’t feel the same. Maybe I need a year off?
Naomi: Coming at things with fresh eyes (tastebuds?) is usually a good idea. Amid all the storytelling and memory-making, drinking beer should still be, well, fun. And now that we know what it’s like to be in relative isolation with our various collections, the urge for IRL experiences seems like a natural one.
Ashok: And it certainly saves some cabinet storage.