One of America’s most famous craft beers made its China debut in October: Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. This international award-winner is a decadent Imperial stout, 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.
What makes it taste so good? It’s actually aged in bourbon barrels.
Bourbon County Stout By the Numbers
On a fateful evening in 1992, a thoughtful Greg Hall, brewmaster of Goose Island Brewery, found himself seated next to Booker Noe, Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon’s master distiller. Hall had been searching for the perfect way to make Goose Island’s 1,000th batch of beer something special. A spark flickered: What happened to all those whiskey barrels after Jim Beam was done with them?And what would happen if you aged a beer in them? That spark of an idea led to the creation of a brew unique and innovative enough to set the beer world on fire: Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout.
Looking for the historic spot that birthed the very first batch of Bourbon County Brand Stout? Grab a ticket to Chicago and head over to Lincoln Park’s Clybourn Avenue. Arrive at number 1800 and you’ll find the Clybourn Pub, where Goose Island first started brewing its world-famous craft beers nearly 30 years ago – and where dedicated drinkers celebrate the release of the annual Bourbon County Brand Stout batch.
In order to age a delicious whiskey, distillers like Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill age the bourbon in barrels made from American White Oak trees that have been thoroughly charred within. This charring allows the whiskey in the barrel to seep into the wood where it absorbs the flavors of the tree – toffee, caramel, and spicy vanilla. To achieve the perfect flavor profile, the whiskey ages for a minimum of 8 years in the barrel.
-5 to 38
Bourbon County Brand Stout is aged in these same whiskey barrels after the distillers are done with them. But instead of Kentucky, Bourbon County Brand Stout is aged in the vastly different climate of Chicago, the heart of America’s Midwest. The weather in Chicago soars to 38 degrees Celsius during the summer (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The wood in the whiskey barrels expands during the intense heat, allowing the beer to penetrate even deeper into the pores of the wood. During Chicago’s famously chilly winters, the temperature plummets to a frosty -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). The wood of the barrels then contracts, squeezing the beer out of the wood’s pores and back into the content of the barrel, bringing with it all the goodness it had spent the summer soaking up deep inside the wood.
8 to 16
Goose Island’s brewers give the Bourbon County Brand Stout plenty of time to interact with the charred wood of the whiskey barrel and ride the ups and downs of Chicago’s wild weather. This craft beer is aged in the bourbon barrels for 8 to 16 months. Perfection takes time!
11 to 15%
Bourbon County Brand Stout is not a beer for the faint of heart. While your average witbier weighs in at about 4 to 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), a typical pale ale comes at 5 to 6% ABV, and an IPA or saison has anywhere from 6 to 9% ABV, the Bourbon county Brand Stout blows them all out of the park, varying every year between a whopping 11 to 15% ABV.
When Bourbon County Brand Stout made its debut back in 1992, the world had never seen a beer like this before. Beer enthusiasts, cicerones, and craft brew judges resorted to using brand new words to taste the incredible flavors they were experiencing: smoky, coconut, roasted coffee. Bourbon County Brand Stout began growing an international name for itself – becoming so famous that by 2006, it was awarded the gold at the World Beer Cup.
Goose Island’s brewery has doubled in size since the 1990’s- a lot goes into creating enough tasty beer to keep the craft beer drinkers of the world satisfied! Their brewers use 32 fermenters, over 15 different yeasts, state-of-the-art filters,centrifuges and a 50 barrel JV Northwest 5 vessel system that brews 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The brewery produces 500 cases of beer and 50 kegs an hour. The gigantic 143,000 square foot (13,000+ square meters) barrel warehouse is one of the biggest barrel ageing programs in the U.S., hosting more than 14,000 oak barrels in 2015.
Every year leading up to the release of the year’s unique batch of Bourbon County Brand Stout, master brewers around the USA experiment with and submit recipes for Bourbon County Brand variants. In 2015, out of the 100 finalist variant recipes submitted, Di Rodriguez nabbed the top spot. Devised in Rodriguez’s kitchen, her recipe incorporates bourbon barrel aged maple syrup from Sugar Chalet, guajillo peppers and toasted pecans. The crew used over 100 pounds of dried guajillos, and toasted 1000 pounds of pecans to brew this mouth-watering recipe.
In 2015, Goose Island’s production of the BourbonCounty Brand Stout expanded to an incredible 4,500 bourbon casks’ worth – that’s A LOT of whiskey barrel-aged stout! 2016 is about to top this number to bring more Bourbon County Brand Stout to China for the very first time in history.
Luckily, you can get your hands on the limited Bourbon county stout on Goose Islands official merchandise store here.