Chicago’s Goose Island announced earlier this year its intention to release a wider array of Bourbon County beers than ever before, but it seems the brewery might have bitten off a little bit more than it could chew. The much-heralded barrel-aged beer program intended to release seven variants of the classic Bourbon County Brand Stout in 2017, but that number has now been reduced to six. Today, the brewery announced that it would not be releasing the previously announced Bourbon County Barleywine Ale Reserve 2017, citing the fact that the end results weren’t as impressive as the brewery hoped. Or as Brewmaster Jared Jankoski put it on the brewery’s announcement, “it doesn’t taste like what we wanted it to.”
It’s a disappointing announcement to be sure for beer fans, or at least those who still drink Goose Island after its 2011 acquisition by Anheuser Busch InBev, but certainly a better outcome than what happened to the brewery’s Bourbon County series back in 2015. That year, the brewery sustained what amounted to a public black eye when it recalled four different Bourbon County beers with infection issues via lactobacillus acetotolerans, which had not been detected before release. One can only assume that the QC testing on all Bourbon County releases has only become that more stringent in the last few years as a result—it was a costly error for Goose Island’s public perception at the time, and gave ammunition to craft beer geeks searching for any decline of quality at GI to act as an anti-ABI rallying cry.
Regardless, the brewery deserves credit for recognizing and choosing not to release what must have been a particularly expensive batch of beer. Reserve Barleywine is essentially an even more decadent version of the brewery’s regular Bourbon County Barleywine, aged for two years in barrels that had previously held whiskey for 35 years, and after that held the 2015 batch of Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. Those are some seriously pedigreed barrels, right there. The fact that the beer went into those barrels around the same time as Goose Island was already dealing with infection issues does make one wonder whether the same issues are at play here, but the brewery doesn’t elaborate much on their decision. Jankoski does write the following: “we know that both re-using barrels and lengthy aging time can put us in a vulnerable situation.”
Jankoski goes on to assure fans that the other six version of Bourbon County Stout (including the regular Bourbon County Barleywine) are all tasting normal and will be available as previously scheduled. As in previous years, the varieties will all go on sale nationwide the day after Thanksgiving, excepting Proprietor’s, which is a Chicago-exclusive release. You can read the descriptions of the remaining BCBS releases below.
Bourbon County Brand Stout 2017 — imperial stout aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels
Bourbon County Brand Stout Reserve 2017 — imperial stout aged in freshly 11-year-old Knob Creek bourbon barrels
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout 2017 — imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with Black Cat Espresso coffee from Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout 2017 — imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with bananas, roasted almonds and cassia bark
Bourbon County Brand Northwoods Stout 2017 — imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with blueberry juice and almond extract added
Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Ale 2017 — barleywine ale aged in fresh bourbon barrels