Monday, December 17, 2012

Bourbon County Stout 2012 – Goose Island

                It was surprisingly easy to find bottles of the 2012 release of Bourbon County Stout.  I was surprised that I was able to find not one 4-pack, but four.  I originally had the 2012 release at the Great Lakes Brewfest, but had already been there for a few hours before the limited pour, so I was in no state to take notes or give the beer a full review.  In the weeks that followed, I tried a few bottles of Bourbon County Stout with friends and noticed strong alcohol notes, indicating that the beer would likely benefit from more time in the bottle.  Therefore, with my 16 bottles, I decided the best thing to do would be to wait and let it develop, hoping the strong alcohol notes would fade.  Before getting on with the review though, how about a quick background on Goose Island, a former craft brewery, now wholly owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

                The Goose Island Brewery was founded by John Hall in Lincoln Park Chicago on May 13, 1988.  After traveling around Europe John developed a preference for more full flavored beers than the mass market American Lagers that dominated the American beer scene.  Back in the US, John Hall opened Good Island, bringing in his son, Greg.  Goose Island grew over the years, as the popularity of their beers grew.  By 1995, demand for Goose Island beer outgrew the capacity of the Clyborn Brewpub and a larger brewery and bottling line opened.  In order to keep up with demand, the Hills opened a second Goose Island Brewpub near Wrigley Field in 1999.

                Goose Island continued to grow, in 2006, Widmer Brothers Brewery purchased a 42% share in Goose Island, and the Hall’s signed a distribution agreement with Anheuser-Busch, allowing them to expand into new markets.  On March 28, 2011, Goose Island was sold to Anheuser-Busch, Widmer Brothers (now the Craft Brewers Alliance) sold their 42% share to Anheuser-Busch as well.  Perhaps prompted by the sale, brew master Greg Hall announced his intention to step down.  He now makes craft cider in Michigan.  Meanwhile, his father remained with the company and is currently in charge of the day-to-day operations of Goose Island.

                Many have said that Goose Island “sold out” when they literally sold out to Anheuser-Busch in 2011.  The Brewer’s Association certainly agrees, no longer referring to Goose Island as a craft brewer.  It is hard to not buy in to the argument that Goose Island has “sold out,” abandoning the craft beer spirit that allowed them to succeed.  However, so long as they continue to produce quality beers they will continue to remain successful.

                On to the review.  On Beeradvocate, Bourbon County Stout has a score of 98.  Over at ratebeer, it has a score of 100 overall and 99 for style.  Unfortunately, neither of the review sites has Bourbon County Stout separated into vintages, odd since the blend is slightly different every year.

They Say:

Brewer's Notes:

Brewed in honor of the 1000th batch at our original Clybourn brewpub. A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer. 
Recipe Information:

Style: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Alcohol by Volume: 14.5%
International Bitterness Units: 60
Color: Midnight
Hops: Willamette
Malt: 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black
Serving Suggestions:

Preferred Glass: Snifter
Food Pairings: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Cheese Pairings: Capriole Bourbon Chocolate Torte
Cellaring Notes: Develops in the bottle for up to 5 years

I say:

                Bourbon County Stout pours translucent black with a thin, dark tan head that falls back into the beer quickly and leaves minimal lacing in the glass, although if you will pardon my use of a wine term, it has great legs.  The aroma is of bourbon, vanilla, caramelized sugar and chocolate with harsher fusel alcohols becoming dominant as it warms.
                The flavor is also dominated by bourbon with background notes of roasted malts, sweet caramelized sugar, vanilla, chocolate and harsh fusel alcohols (think Everclear, cheap Vodka or Rubbing Alcohol).  The harsh alcohol notes increase in the flavor as it warms, holding true to the aroma.  Bourbon County Stout is full-bodied with a low level of carbonation, making it slightly syrupy, and it has a noticeable astringency will hopefully lessen in the bottle.

                The 2012 release of Bourbon County Stout has a noticeable harshness both in astringency and fusel alcohols, hopefully the two faults will fade over time and the beer will become much more enjoyable in 6 months to a year.  If you have a few bottles of the 2012 release you will likely be best served saving them for later, just be sure to find a dark, cool, dry place to store them and your efforts will hopefully be rewarded.  If you must drink your bottle, or bottles sooner than June 2013, hopefully yours aren’t as astringent and fusel as mine.

                That’s all for today, check back soon, maybe even tomorrow for another review!

                Happy Drinking!

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