© Goose Island Beer Company

What a world. 

Mike Pomranz
July 09, 2018
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One cornerstone of craft beer has always been innovation. Back in the mid-‘90s, a Chicago brewery by the name of Goose Island made what has become one of the most imitated breakthroughs in craft beer history when they aged a stout in whiskey barrels, creating the first batch of Bourbon County Stout—named as the third most important craft beer ever. Though spirit barrel-aged beers are extremely common now, at the time, the move was rare enough to take the brewing world by storm.

Over the ensuing two decades, Goose Island has attempted to keep that interesting spark alive in its Bourbon County Brand beers. For instance, they regularly team up with local roaster Intelligentsia on a version brewed with coffee. And last year, one of the core releases was Northwoods Stout, a Bourbon County variety made with blueberry juice and almond extract. However, if recent labels approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and obtained by MyBeerBuzz are to be believed, 2018 may include two of the most buzzworthy flavors Bourbon County has ever tried: Horchata and Neapolitan (yes, like the ice cream).

Importantly, label approvals don’t necessarily mean a beer will ever make it to store shelves. And in the past, Goose Island has gone so far as to announce a beer will be released and then hold it back at the last minute because the brew wasn’t up to the Bourbon County Brand’s quality standards. Lastly, Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune, who literally wrote the book on Goose Island, wasn’t able to get a comment from the brewery. And yet, there’s no sensible reason to seek label approval on a beer that isn’t being considered for a release; These varieties, at the very least, show where the brewery's mind is currently at. 

Bourbon County Brand Neapolitan Stout, according to the label, would be “aged in bourbon barrels blended with strawberry puree, chocolate, vanilla, and lactose.” Meanwhile, the Horchata variety is described as “flavored with Ceylon cinnamon, vanilla, and lactose.” Lactose is a relatively common stout ingredient, thanks to a popular take on the style known as a “milk stout.” It's also used in a New England-style IPA offshoot often called a “milkshake IPA,” where the ingredient lends an extra creaminess.

For the record, the other labels were Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout (aged in 12-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon barrels), Proprietors Bourbon County Brand Stout (aged in bourbon barrels with cocoa nibs and chocolate added), Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout (aged in rye whiskey barrels and blended with raspberries and blackberries), Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout, and Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine.

But getting back to the more adventurous varieties, the key demographic for Bourbon County Stout—which is released every year on Black Friday during a massive event at the Goose Island brewery—has always been the beer geek contingent. Will diehards really be interested in two flavors that sound more like mainstream crossover attempts? A comment on the BeerAdvocate message boards might be an indicator: “By next year they're just going to be aging these things on fruity pebbles and cocaine,” the user Oldbean quipped. Good luck in getting TTB approval for that one!