Courtesy of Goose Island Beer Co.

Plus, take a sneak peek at this year's offerings.

Mike Pomranz
November 21, 2018

Back in the early ‘90s, Goose Island brewer Greg Hall revolutionized the beer world with the release of Bourbon County Stout — an imperial stout aged in used bourbon barrels. Though putting stouts in whiskey barrels — or putting any beer in any spirits barrel — is commonplace now, almost everyone points to Bourbon County as the beer that launched the trend. It’s one of the reasons that, despite the abundance of barrel-aged stouts available today, people still line up on Black Friday to get their hands on Bourbon County Brand’s latest release.

And speaking of lining up on Black Friday, we’re just a few days away from Goose Island’s annual release event for their lineup of Bourbon County Stouts. The brewery first decided to give these stouts their own dedicated day in 2010 — and idea, ironically enough, that they borrowed from another famous stout, 3 Floyds Dark Lord — and these releases have continued to get bigger every year.

In 2010, Goose Island says that approximately 300 people waited in line to be among the first to get their hands on what was then four different types of Bourbon County Brand Stout: the original as well as three variants. By 2013, that number had doubled to about 600 people waiting for five different varieties. And just a year later, in 2014, Goose Island said that number had more than tripled from the first year with approximately 970 people in line.

Last year, the brand says over 2,000 people were in line to try what had grown to six different versions of Bourbon County Stout, the most ever released. But this year, Goose Island has an even larger lineup: eight different varieties of the beer — ranging from the straightforward original to more intriguing options like Midnight Orange Stout. The only remaining question becomes will that record-breaking number of choices lead to an even bigger line?

Another thing that’s gotten bigger over the years: the alcohol. Back on the first Black Friday in 2010, the original version of Bourbon County Stout clocked in at a still hearty 13 percent ABV. This year’s release, meanwhile, comes in at 14.7 percent ABV — stronger than most wines. Thankfully, despite the increase in alcohol, the beer tastes relatively similar to previous versions with notes of a booze-soaked chocolate brownie.

Courtesy of Goose Island Beer Co.

However, the aforementioned Midnight Orange variant — which is an even higher 15.2 percent ABV — really could have benefitted from a bit of ABV restraint. The nose and taste bear a delightful resemblance to the beloved English candy Terry’s Chocolate Orange; but the alcohol is front and center, almost buoying the citrus notes above the rest of the beer. As a result, I got a bit of a feeling like someone had spiked my beer with an extra shot of Cointreau. This isn’t to say anything was wrong with the results, but I would have preferred to have the booze dialed back just a touch to better accentuate the cocoa nibs that were added to boost the beer’s already fudgy profile.

But through the years, despite all sorts of potential setbacks — Goose Island being bought out by Anheuser-Busch, original BCBS creator Greg Hall leaving his post as brewmaster, a quality issue leading to a recall of the 2015 stouts — the brand is still around, bigger than ever. No, the Neapolitan and Horchata variants never materialized (at least yet), but who knows what the future holds.

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