While there are plenty of great alcohol releases throughout the year, the blockbuster season most definitely kicks off around the time all the great sales do: Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving might be best known as the day for 6 AM Christmas doorbuster deals. But it’s also the day that all the greatest alcohol starts dropping for the year. Sure, you have your Pappiez and your BTACs and other limited whiskey releases. But it’s also the day that the iconic Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout drops in its hometown of Chicago.
This year’s multiple releases stay true to the Goose BCBS spirit, while simultaneously amping up the collaboration, nostalgia, and robust flavor profiles this particular offering has become known for. We had the opportunity to try all 8 of this year’s offerings virtually with the brewers, so read on to find out what you need to be on the hunt for. We’re going to rate the options on a scale of least to most favorite at the end, but for now, we’re going to present the entire eight-bottle 2021 Goose Island BCBS lineup in the order we reviewed them with the brewery.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 2021 (Original) (14% and 14.4% ABV)
This is the beer that started it all–for Goose and the barrel-aged beer space as a whole. And it’s still based on former master brewer Greg Hall’s recipe year after year. This time around, it pairs chocolate aroma with whiskey and oak notes, a deep chocolate note and an almond, fruit, silky mouthfeel that calls out the mixed barrels from Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace while still paying homage to the beer itself. It’s an absolute classic.
Goose Island Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout (15.6% ABV)
In case you weren’t aware, Old Forester released three separate 150th Anniversary Bourbon batches in honor of George Garvin Brown’s original process that were unfiltered and delivered to the public at original batch strength. They were crazy limited, sold way too high on the secondary market, were stupid delicious (if you got to try any of them), and Goose Island got ALL of the 150 barrels to barrel age this beer inside. After much deliberation (they thought about releasing separate versions like Old Forester did with the bourbon) they decided to blend all the barrels for the Reserve 150 Stout that combines fruit, black currant, and chocolate with incredibly subtle chocolate, alcohol, and astringency.
Goose Island Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout (14.3% ABV)
Adjunct beers are always a weird thing to discuss–especially when they involve adjunct wood cooperages–but Goose more than delivers on the collaboration with Black Swan Cooperage and their cherry wood setup. This beer–somehow, as if from a sort of alchemical process–manages to combine robust cherry, honeycomb, toasted waffle, and old-lady Werther’s candies flavors…without diluting any of the beer profile or individual flavors. We’re not saying you should serve Grandma a 14.3% beer, but the flavors she would enjoy are most definitely there.
Goose Island Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout (16% ABV)
If you bought this beer without knowing anything about it, you’d think it was weird. You’d be right. First, it went into Elijah Craig SB barrels. Then it went into Elijah Craig Toasted Barrels. (Just for the record, according to the powers that be, it was in the toasted barrels for 12 months, which is longer than the whiskey aged in there.) Eventually, it ended up as an aged beer that’s fruit, fruit, and more fruit with a side of wood, marshmallow, vanilla, and toasted oak. It’s incredibly smooth don’t get us wrong, but it’s not the first in this lineup we’re reaching for.
Goose Island Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout (14.1% ABV)
What happens when two Goose brewers bond over their love of the “classic cola” recipe from the 19th Century? Hundreds of experiments over almost as many weeks on a quest to recreate that centuries-old magic. They more than delivered with this combination of lime, orange, coriander, molasses, and vanilla that–in addition to being one of the most “refreshing” beers you’ll ever taste despite the ABV–also includes more ingredients than any other Bourbon County Stout beer to date.
Goose Island Bourbon County Fourteen Stout (13.2% ABV)
The only beer from this collection that isn’t based on the current BCBS recipe, Goose Island Bourbon County Fourteen Stout leverages the recipe from the 2014 Goose Island Proprietor’s blend to create a remix of the classic with modern properties. Three different rye malts and rye whiskey barrel aging are layered with cassia bark, cocoa nibs, panela sugar, and coconut water to create a beer reminiscent of the classic while still being altogether different with its intricate, sweet, and spicy profile.
Goose Island Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout (15.4% ABV)
As someone who, like most of you, spends far too much time on the Tater-y Secondary Bourbon groups, I understand the appeal of wanting to hate on what is undeniably the “Goose Horsey Bourbon Beer.” I get it. I really do. I never bought or made my own Blanthon’s bourbon stave, but I could have completed them many times over in normal, Gold and SFTB (700ml imports only, please and thank you), Takara Red, Green, and maybe even LMDW with a little bit of help. I wanted to hate this 18-month barrel-aged beer with its big, chocolatey, and malty mouthfeel, with notes of maple, vanilla, and syrup. But I can’t. Spoiler alert for the upcoming ranking–Goose Island’s BCBS Reserve Blanton’s Stout is by far the best classic option on this list. Sorry, not sorry.
Goose Island Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout (12.8% ABV)
For the second year running, frozen dessert treat and Goose BCBS beer mastermind Emily Kosmal has crafted an absolute dinger. As with previous years, Prop is a Chicago-only release. If you have ever sunk your teeth into one of those ridiculously bright Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bars, we strongly encourage you to reach out to all your Windy City contacts to find you some of these bottles because, believe it or not, it tastes exactly like that in beer form. Standard BCBS aged in barrels with strawberries, vanilla, and coconut comes together to create a sum-is-better-than-its-parts decadent dessert treat that we would happily purchase by the yard at Riot Fest…it’s that good.
Our Goose Island 2021 Bourbon County Stout Ranking:
8 – Goose Island Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout [The history and pedigree are there, but it isn’t worth the effort.]
7 – Goose Island Bourbon County Stout [Classic. Classic. Classic. The bourbon barrel-aged beer that started the revolution is better than ever and infinitely more drinkable (for better or worse)… but the brand is just doing so many cool, weird and delicious twists/adjuncts/collaborations that it’s hard to put it at the top.]
6 – Goose Island Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout [It’s interesting, but we’re not sure we’d hunt it out.]
5 – Goose Island Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout [We’re still not totally sold on toasted barrels, but when you combine beer with a bunch of Elijah Craig barrels it turns out pretty damn good.]
4 – Goose Island Bourbon County Fourteen Stout [To this day, Prop ’14 has a cult following even outside of Chicago, so it’s exciting to see this get a revamp almost a decade later. It’s still just as delicious, and you’ll find us drinking both versions on tap at the Goose HQ whenever possible.]
3 – Goose Island Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout [Turns out “classic cola” is a whole helluva lot different than “modern cola.” Who knew? Find a bottle and check it out because you’ll be surprised.]
2 – Goose Island Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout [Yes, it’s just that good.]
1 – Goose Island Proprietor’s Stout [It’s unlike anything else you’ll ever pour out of a bottle.]
All of the Goose Island 2021 Bourbon County Stout lineup is available now at select national retailers (some releases are Chicago-only). Hit up the link below to learn more about the innovative history of this particular release and where you can find it in your neck of the woods.