Last year, some early labels were never released, and the brewery said you might see “more labels like this in the future.”

By Mike Pomranz
Updated June 12, 2019
Credit: Courtesy of Goose Island Beer Co.

For diehard fans of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout line of beers — consistently rated as some of the best brews in the world — Christmas comes extremely early every year. The day after Thanksgiving to be exact. Goose Island has turned Black Friday into the official public release day for these legendary barrel-aged brews, kicking the holiday season off to a boozy start.

But like a kid poking through their parents’ closet, plenty of beer fans no longer seem content to wait for Goose Island’s official announcement to find out what this year’s ever-changing list of variants will be. And in the beer world, that “parents’ closet” is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) website. Brewers are required to get all new labels approved by the TTB, and then as part of their process, the TTB posts these labels online. As a result, new beers often “leak” before they are officially released. In the past, enterprising beer bloggers have used this system to beat Goose Island to the BCBS punch — but last year, something strange happened. And now, overzealous beer lovers might not know what to believe.

In 2018, the BCBS labels — pulled from the TTB — began circulating in July, and two variants immediately jumped out as the most interesting: Neapolitan and Horchata. But when the actual list was officially announced a month later, those two flavors were nowhere to be found. So what happened? Goose Island has openly talked in the past about holding back potential releases that the brewers didn’t believe were ready for primetime. But another possibility exists: That Goose Island put out these labels as decoys. Just because a label gets approved doesn’t mean it has to be used — so the possibility of fakes is definitely on the table.

Last year, Brewmaster Jared Jankoski essentially told me that’s what happened. “Yes, we had some fun with potential variants,” he said via email. “Every year we have dozens of variant submissions from our brewers. You may expect to see more labels like this in the future before we share the final variants.”

So here we are again: The first 2019 labels hit the web this week via the blog Guys Drinking Beer. No, none of the potential releases are as far-flung as Neapolitan and Horchata, but some new concepts are in the mix. Let’s start with those…

Both Bourbon Country Brand Dry-Hopped Stout and Bourbon County Brand Oyster Stout would be new for the brand. The former is self-explanatory, and the latter is described as a “stout aged in bourbon barrels with oyster shells added.” If you’re feeling skeptical, it’s worth noting that both these labels are specifically for kegs, so it’s possible they are more limited releases — which may explain why they don’t entirely feel like they fit the BCBS mold.

As for the rest of the leaked labels, they feel pretty standard: Bourbon County Brand Stout, which will be the 2019 version of the original, and Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine would both be returning products. Two-Year Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout is billed as a “stout aged for two years in 11-year-old Knob Creek bourbon barrels” — a partnership we’ve seen before. Bourbon County Brand Double Barrel Stout is said to be a “stout aged in 11-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon barrels then aged in 12-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon barrels” — again, a partnership we saw last year, albeit with a second barrel aging this time. Finally, another keg label was found for Reserve Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout — a “stout aged in Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye whisky barrels.” Nothing suspicious there except for the spelling of “whisky”; Heaven Hill’s own website uses an “e.”

What’s nearly certain is that more BCBS labels are on the way. Goose Island has upped or equaled the number of variants every year. Last year, we had eight bottled versions; right now, we’ve only seen labels for four bottles. But as for whether any of these labels are decoys… My guess is that Goose Island will probably go the “fool me once” route and use last year’s unused labels as a warning shot. Think about it: Goose Island already has to go through so much trouble coming up with interesting real variants of Bourbon County Brand Stout, so why would they want to kill themselves coming up with fake ones every year as well?