25 Beers of Christmas: Bourbon County Brand Stout

Goose Island – Bourbon County Brand Stout

Imperial Stout

13.8% ABV (2015)

Goose Island Beer Co. – Chicago, Illinois


It’s nearly impossible now, in the Year of Our Lord 2015, to be a beer fan and not feel inundated with discussion and marketing of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout and its variants.  Considering that this beer used to sit on shelves for months, readily available on tap at the brewpubs throughout the year, this is both amazing and, for many people (including me) quite infuriating.  To this day, BCBS is my favorite beer in the world, but the great lengths one must go to in order to acquire a decent quantity does lessen my enjoyment… at least until I get that first taste of the year, soon after its Black Friday release.

This could not be a proper 25 Beers of Christmas list from Infinite Bruner if it didn’t include Bourbon County, as it has been an integral part of my holiday experience for many years now.  From bringing it home to my Arkansas family at Christmas in 2007, to enjoying it or its variants while wrapping gifts almost every year, to enjoying either a BCBS or the Bourbon County Brand Barleywine on Christmas Eve for the last several years, it is a constant in my recent memories of the season. 

BCBS pours jet black, inky like motor oil, with thin, deep brown lacing and bubbles residing atop the beer.  The aroma is oak, vanilla, deep milk chocolate, bourbon, and a slight roastiness.  The taste is strong with bourbon, contributing a warming feeling throughout, with vanilla, maple syrup, bitter chocolate, and low earthy hop notes.  The beer is highly bitter on the finish, with a boozy bite.  Carbonation is quite high, though within the thick, massive body it feels more moderate.  The high bitterness melds with the high residual sweetness to create a complex balance.  When fresh, this beer has typically had a bit of an alcohol burn, though the 2014 and 2015 versions have eliminated a lot of that for a much smoother drinking experience. I, for one, miss that flash of hotness from the previous versions.

Bourbon County Brand Stout should be poured at 55-60 degrees (if you can stand to wait that long) and I have to recommend a snifter as the proper glass, though I have used a large red wine glass (globe shaped, inward-rounding lip) as a substitute before, which basically just serves as a giant snifter.  This beer is also a prime candidate for aging, as the alcohol and bitterness will mellow over time and different flavors and aromas will accentuate, ebbing in and out of prominence.  The max time per the bottle is five years, but I have a feeling these will last much, much longer.   However, if you only obtain a limited quantity, drink it fresh, as the brewer intended!

Most imperial stouts, especially barrel-aged ones, require intense desserts to match, but Bourbon County is a beast unto itself, and only the richest chocolate will survive.  A chocolate lava cake, “hot chocolate” from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, a Mexican dark chocolate torte all will pair well, but a chocolate chip cookie most certainly will be obliterated.  I, for one, almost always drink this beer alone, since it’s as big of a calorie-bomb and sugar-bomb as any of the treats mentioned above.

Goose Island’s beers are available just about everywhere in the U.S., and Bourbon County (in theory) can be as well, but may be very difficult to find due to the limited quantity produced.  Several variants are also made, with the most widely available being a Coffee version and a Barleywine aged in the same oak barrels. 

We’ve only got two beers left in the countdown after today! Look for them both on Christmas Eve, as I don’t expect any of you to be logging on to Infinite Bruner on Christmas Day.  You should be spending time with your families and, of course, drinking beer!

JAB – 12/23/15