We're fans of Goose Island's Bourbon County beers. The introduction of Bourbon County Stout in 1992 inspired craft breweries across the country to revive barrel-aging programs that had been abandoned since the introduction of stainless steel to the brewing process. Over the years, Goose Island has added new beers to the Bourbon County portfolio, including a coffee stout and a barleywine.
While the base beers change with each variety, the approach remains the same. They brew superhigh-alcohol beers in the range of 15 percent for yearlong aging in barrels that formerly housed Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Over the course of the year, the beer absorbs vanilla and coconut notes from the oak as well as bourbon flavor from the barrel's previous resident. All the Bourbon County creations are a sensation and attract long lines at participating retailers every Black Friday.
The rarest of the Bourbon County beers, though, is called simply Bourbon County Stout Rare. The base beer is the same rich imperial stout that comprises the Bourbon County Stout, but rather than aging the beer for one year in a Buffalo Trace barrel, Rare is put down for two long years in Pappy Van Winkle barrels. We're not sure whether it's the extended aging time or the influence of the superior spirit, but we got lost in the depth and complexity of the barrel flavors in the resulting beer when we tried it at a Goose Island tasting event in New York.