Spoiler: They didn't go with Horchata or Neapolitan.
The Goose Island Beer Company has officially announced the varieties of its acclaimed Bourbon County Brand Stout that will be released this fall, and though the annual lineup is always big news, the biggest news for 2018 isn't necessarily the varieties that will be available; it’s the varieties that won’t.
Ever since Goose Island first began aging its stouts in bourbon barrels back in the ‘90s—a revolutionary decision at the time—the release of Bourbon County Brand Stouts each year on Thanksgiving weekend’s Black Friday has become one of the most anticipated events in the beer world. This morning, the Anheuser-Busch-owned Chicago-based brewery has announced it will be releasing eight BCBS variants this year: Original Stout, Reserve Stout, Proprietor's Stout, Wheatwine, Vanilla Stout, Bramble Rye Stout, Coffee Barleywine, and Midnight Orange Stout.
This year, there’s an added twist. Last month, rumors flew throughout the beer community that Goose Island had gotten approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for labels for two extremely-interesting sounding BCBS variants: Horchata and Neapolitan. Needless to say, those two beers apparently won’t be a part of the 2018 BCBS lineup. (To be fair, even at the time, we only suggested that they “may” be released, and pointed out that label approvals don’t necessarily mean a beer will ever make it to store shelves.)
So what gives? Were these labels decoys? Are these products we may see in the future? Was the story a hoax?? “Thanks for asking,” Brewmaster Jared Jankoski responded via email. “Yes, we had some fun with potential variants. Neapolitan and Horchata are things our brewers have made in the past for fests or trials around the brewery. 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.”
But, back to what actually is being offered for 2018. Here’s how Goose Island described the eight variants that will be available starting on Friday, November 23. Hopefully, in this case, we can trust the horse’s mouth. (All descriptions courtesy of Goose Island.)
Bourbon County Brand Stout (ABV: TBD): "Aged in 4+ year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels, the original bourbon barrel aged stout tastes as good as when we first made it over 20 years ago. Flavors of cocoa, vanilla, caramel, almond, cherry, plus leather and tobacco flavors permeate this complex beer that deepens with each sip."
Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout (ABV: 15.2%): "The same recipe as BCBS, but aged in 12-year old 'Elijah Craig Barrel Proof' bourbon barrels. This bourbon was awarded 2017 'Whisky of the Year' by Whisky Advocate, the top honor in the world of international whiskey. Reserve is intended to showcase the nuances of a premium single source, and highly sought after bourbon."
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (ABV: TBD): "This year’s Proprietor’s explores the broad spectrum of chocolate. Using a combination of dark chocolate and two types of cocoa nibs, this rich and decadent beer highlights the whole range of chocolate from smooth and silky milk chocolate flavors, to deep and earthy dark chocolate."
Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine (ABV: 15.4%): "Made from two-row and malted wheat, Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine debuts this year. As the first recipe to veer from the original Imperial Stout since Barleywine in 2013, Wheatwine is a deep amber color, lighter than it’s BCBS counterparts and a true medium to convey the characteristics of 4+ year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels. Wheatwine is full of high caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, and toffee flavors."
Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout (ABV: 14.9%): "This longtime favorite makes a long-awaited return to the BCBS roster. Utilizing whole grade A vanilla beans from Madagascar, BCBS Vanilla delivers on all the quinnessential things fans love about this variant: aromatic vanilla, marshmallow, toffee, oak and floral notes highlighting the creamy mouthfeel and enhancing the chocolate flavors that are ingrained in BCBS."
Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout (ABV: TBD): "For this variant we aged Bourbon County Stout in rye whiskey barrels then added raspberry and blackberry juice and puree from Michigan and Washington. The result is complex jammy fruit notes that are prominent, but well integrated with the caramel and chocolate flavors of the beer and spicy rye character from the barrels."
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine (ABV: TBD): "Working with our friends at Intelligentsia, we flew down to Guatemala to source some of the world's best coffee to use as we release the first-ever Coffee Barleywine. The beer is an English-style Barleywine, meaning malt forward, and aged in 4+ year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels before adding La Soledad coffee beans right before packaging to retain a bold coffee aroma and flavor."
Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout (ABV: 14.9%): "Brewer Oscar and Quality Analyst Paul created the concept for this new variant of BCBS. The result? Midnight Orange. They combined two things we love, orange and chocolate, taking Bourbon County into a new and exciting direction. While the chocolate compliments the Bourbon County base, the orange zest offers a point of contrast for a bold new flavor profile to delight Bourbon County fans and newcomers alike. With dual inspiration from a favorite childhood treat and an exquisite Mexican Mocha the bright, orange aroma provided by the fresh Spanish orange peel leads into a rich cocoa flavor."