Goose Island creates a stir every year when they announce the variants of Bourbon County Brand Stout they’ll be releasing, but this year is likely to get some extra attention from one demographic in particular: Whiskey geeks. The connections of the AB-InBev-owned brewery allows Goose Island to get their pick of barrels from a variety of well-liked distilleries, which in recent years has included selections from the likes of Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace. These are already barrels that many independent craft breweries find difficult to acquire, but this year Goose seems especially intent on both exploiting the whiskey collectors and rubbing their resources in everybody’s face, as they’ve announced two BCBS variants that are aged in barrels that formerly contained none other than Old Forester Birthday Bourbon and W.L. Weller 12 Year Bourbon. Suffice to say, that’s going to generate some serious interest from the truck-chasers in the whiskey community, as both Birthday Bourbon and the entire W.L. Weller lineup have become almost comically sought-after in the last few years.
You can read about the entire lineup of 2020 BCBS variants here, but let’s focus specifically on these hyped whiskey bottles for a moment. Describing the duo of whiskey whales, Goose Island put out the following statement:
“These distilleries have crafted some of the world’s most sought after bourbon including Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, for our Birthday Bourbon County Stout, and Weller 12 Year for our Anniversary Bourbon County Stout,” said Goose Island R&D Manager Mike Siegel. “As a bourbon lover, I’m excited to work with these great barrels and bring them together with Bourbon County Stout. Together with the rest of the variants, I couldn’t be happier with how this year’s lineup turned out.”
The first selection, Birthday Bourbon County Stout, was aged for one year in barrels that previously contained 2019’s release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, the coveted yearly release from Brown-Forman. This was an 11-year-old bourbon that we quite enjoyed when we sampled it, packed with signature OF notes of dark fruit, creme brulee and banana fruitiness. The stout aged in those barrels is described as possessing “berry, maple, chocolate and vanilla” notes. It should be noted that this was aged in the barrel for one year, which is essentially the standard for BCBS.
The second beer, Anniversary Bourbon County Stout, refers to the 10-year anniversary of Goose Island releasing this product lineup on Black Friday, and was aged in barrels that formerly contained W.L. Weller 12 Year from Buffalo Trace. This selection has spent two years in the barrel, which makes this the “extra bourbon/extra oaky” selection of the lineup, and is sure to drive collector interest through the roof. The W.L. Weller lineup was once a fairly accessible line of wheated bourbons from Buffalo Trace, but comparison to the highly sought-after Pappy Van Winkle series (because both use the same wheated bourbon mash bill) eventually drove a self-sustaining frenzy for W.L. Weller that has seen these bottles vanish from shelves, or be sold at ridiculous mark-ups. One gets the sense that Goose Island and AB-InBev know exactly what they’re doing—and which fans they’ll be catering to—in taking advantage of the mania for this particular Buffalo Trace brand. The description says to expect “notes of dried fruit, bourbon, chocolate and vanilla.”
Whereas the beer world has mostly been reacting to this year’s 2020 BCBS announcement with the usual debate over pastry stout flavor combinations and what variants they would have preferred to see, I have a feeling that the 2020 BCBS variants will ultimately be most remembered for the outrageous lengths that bourbon geeks will go to in order to obtain beers aged in Birthday Bourbon and W.L. Weller barrels. I shudder to think of the prices that some of these will be going for on the secondary market—expect to hear some crazy stories, come Black Friday.