Following the success of its Bourbon County Brand barrel-aged stout series, Goose Island Brewing has announced a new series set to launch next month: the Cooper Project. The new project will be the first barrel-aged series outside the Bourbon County stout, which was first introduced in 1992.
The Cooper Project is a rotating series of barrel-aged recipes that will be released throughout 2017. There will be three Cooper Project releases in total this year, with the first, a barrel-aged Scotch ale, scheduled to be released March 6, 2017. Weighing in at a hearty 8.7 percent ABV, the Cooper Project Scotch ale is described by Goose Island as deep copper in color, imparting flavors of rich malt, toffee, and subtle roast, allowing for a balanced blend of flavors from the beer and from the bourbon barrel.
The second release will be a barrel-aged blonde doppelbock, and the third will be a barrel-aged porter.
Although the Cooper Project has not been officially announced, Goose Island published a short post about the new series on its Facebook page, and Men’s Journal had the chance to speak with Mike Siegel, research and development manager and brewer at the Goose Island production brewery in Chicago.
According to Siegel, the recipes for the Cooper Project were inspired by beers that have come through the brewhouse and been barrel-aged for experimental purposes. The Scotch ale recipe came from Goose Island brewmaster, Jared Jankoski. “We’ve made it unofficially or on a small scale a couple of times,” Siegel said. “[With] any beer that comes through the brewhouse — we do quite a lot of new beers — we will traditionally see how it plays in a bourbon barrel, [which we] generally have available,” he said. “It’s purely opportunistic.”
The blonde doppelbock and porter recipes originated in the Fulton and Wood series, an internal program in which recipes are created by company employees, with those deemed best selected to be brewed and released in certain markets.
The Cooper Project has no intent of mirroring the Bourbon County series, according to Siegel. “This series was an opportunity to branch out and do something different from Bourbon County Stout,” he said, also referring to BCS as a “labor of love.”
Where Bourbon County was big, bold, boozy, and bourbon-forward, he continued, the Cooper Project is an intentional step in a different direction. “We want to do something different [from] Bourbon County Stout very decidedly,” Siegel said. “We want to begin to share beers we felt have worked in these opportunistic trials over the years. Ultimately, we picked these three [Scotch ale, blonde doppelbock, and porter] because the flavors pair really well [with bourbon barrels].”
Although the beer’s fact sheet currently introduces the series as Goose Island’s “first bourbon barrel–aged series outside of Bourbon County Stout,” Siegel says the barrel house won’t be limiting itself to bourbon only.
Furthermore, although each beer will be described as “barrel-aged” for four months, Siegel said, the Scotch ale is actually a blend of the original recipe and the barrel-aged beer. “We specifically didn’t want that bold, in-your-face boozy flavor,” Siegel said.
With all three releases — and perhaps this is the key difference between the Bourbon County stouts and the Cooper Project — “the bourbon barrel, instead of being the diva of the show, is part of the ensemble,” he said.
Siegel also said the Cooper Project’s first release will impart “a nice balance with the Scotch ale’s malt character,” which can typically be very rich and sweet for this particular style. “It’s a little more reserved in sweetness, with a nice balance between the bready notes, roast notes, and caramely sweet notes,” he said.
The Cooper Project Scotch ale will be available in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles bearing a new, proprietary glass bottle and packaging design made specifically to signify Goose Island barrel-aged releases. The label — a nod to the Bourbon County series — will feature a small flag at the neck, along with a “more practically minded” body label with information including style, cooperage, aging time, year, and release number.