Goose Island Reveals Seven (Seven!) Bourbon County Variants for 2017

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Bourbon County Stout lovers will have even more beer to hunt for next year. For 2017, Goose Island revealed on June 12 that a total of seven variants will be released. The brewing company announced the new variants to the public via its blog as well as with a Facebook Live video featuring Goose Island brewmaster, Jared Jankoski.

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The 2017 Bourbon County releases will include Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine, and Bourbon County Brand Stout Coffee; the Proprietor’s Brand stout, equated this year to bananas foster; Northwoods Stout, the new national variant, with blueberry and almond; and two brand new additions to the lineup, Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout and Bourbon County Reserve Brand Barleywine, both part of the new Goose Island Reserve Series featuring specially aged, one-time-only releases of the original brands.

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This year’s Goose Island Reserve Series debut includes two variants, Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout aged in Knob Creek barrels, just in time for their 25th anniversary, and Bourbon County Reserve Brand Barleywine, aged in 35-year-old Heaven Hill barrels for 20 months.

For the core brands, barrels for 2017 are single-source, second-use, fresh-unrinsed bourbon barrels ranging in age from five to seven years. “This year we really put the hammer down for getting [the barrels] fresh,” Jankoski said.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand 2017 Releases

Bourbon County Brand Stout

The OG BCBS “may be slightly punchier for 2017, but hopefully the old friend it’s always been,” Jankoski said in a Facebook Live video on June 12. Expect familiar flavors from the original — charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and smoke notes.

Bourbon County Brand Barleywine

The big change for BCBB this year is this: In previous years, barleywine was aged in third-use bourbon barrels that had BCBS in them beforehand; this year, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine will be aged, like the new BCBS, in second-use, fresh-unrinsed, five- to seven-year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. This marked difference is expected to impart more booze (a slightly higher ABV and more bourbon character).

Barleywine seekers can otherwise expect a medium body with flavors of oak, charcoal, tobacco, and vanilla, with a little extra bourbon heat.

Bourbon County Brand Stout Coffee

Bourbon County Coffee has also taken an interesting turn, only this one is revolving back to its roots: The 2017 variant will feature Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Espresso, the very coffee bean used in the first-ever Bourbon County Coffee release back in 2010. The bean was selected after flavor trials and blind tastings with several single-origin coffees, Jankoski said.

“This year we had a handful of options and a lot were intriguing to us. We did three different groupings of tastings to try to dial in what we were going to do this year,” he said. “We kept [Black Cat Espresso] in our back pocket this year, and in a blind tasting it turned out to be the favorite.” Expect rich, dark chocolate notes and robust espresso aroma, Jankoski said. “We felt good about it and are really excited about that one. I’m looking forward to the full production batch of that later this year.”

(Jankoski also said there were “some supply issues and availability issues” with certain single-origin beans, so perhaps the return to Black Cat also results from availability and scalability.)

Bourbon County Brand Northwoods Stout (National Variant)

This year’s national variant is a blueberry-and-almond recipe conceived of by Jankoski, who said he has been working with those two flavors for a long time as “sort of a personal project.” The dark chocolate notes of the stout and the blueberry and almond extract combine in a way that is “supporting and pleasing aromatically,” Jankoski said.

“The almond is more the almond essence, [giving a] fruity marzipan note. It’s a really nice supporting flavor,” he said. “Every year we have a lot of discussion [about] levels of anything we’re going to put in Bourbon County Stout. We did a bunch of trials and mockups here. I like the way it came out, so I’m looking forward to scaling this one up as well.”

Bourbon County Proprietor’s Brand Stout

This year’s Proprietor’s Stout, only available in Chicago, introduces another surprising flavor: banana. The winning recipe (each year, Goose Island brewers “compete” to see which recipe will make it into the bottle for the forthcoming Proprietor’s Stout) belongs to Quinn Fuechsl, a Goose Island brewer who was also recently awarded an R&D position at the brewery, Jankoski said.

The beer recipe is compared to bananas foster, featuring banana, cassia bark (essentially, cinnamon), and — here they are again — almonds. The taste test showed a “well-integrated, straightforward banana bread note,” Jankoski said, though he admits scaling this recipe up will be a challenge. “Banana is a funny ingredient, and we’re still not sure how to get it into the beer in the final phase, and back out of the beer before it goes into bottles,” he laughed.

 Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout

The brand new Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout is the result of a long-lasting partnership with Knob Creek, who happens to be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. For this beer, the original Bourbon County Brand Stout will sit in 11-year-old Knob Creek Bourbon barrels freshly emptied from their first batch of whiskey.

This variant should impart big flavors of charred oak, vanilla, caramel, and smoke. “Don’t expect it to be massively different from Bourbon County original, but I do hope for some subtle depth,” Jankoski said, adding that it should have very developed whiskey flavors when it comes out of the barrel.

Bourbon County Reserve Brand Barleywine

This one takes Bourbon County Brand Barleywine and ages it 20 months in 35-year-old Heaven Hill barrels, resulting in similar flavor to the original barleywine but enhancing it with even more barrel time. This one has an interesting history — while the Reserve Brand Barleywine was aged 20 months in third-use barrels (preceded by Heaven Hill bourbon and BCS Rare), the barleywine itself was recently found after being lost in the barrel house for two years.

After aging for two full years, the forgotten barleywine developed rich malt character and fruitiness that Jankoski thought would go great in their empty collection of 35-year-old Heaven Hill barrels. “To me, it was an opportunity I didn’t really think twice about,” he said. “This beer, I have tasted extensively, and it has a deep supporting cast of caramel malt character, really viscous, subtle notes of sherry-like oxidation, and fruitiness, all held well in that deep malt base.”

Though the 2017 Bourbon County release dates were not announced, fans can keep up with them and other Goose Island releases on the Goose Island blog.

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