December 31, 2015

If you’ve followed the craft beer industry and you like dark beer you’ve probably heard of the Bourbon County Stout brewed by Goose Island in Chicago. It is released annually on Black Friday and causes beer geeks to camp out in front of bottle shops and brewpubs for the chance to sip the notorious nectar.

That’s right, while most of the country is worried about what gadgets to grab for cheap prices on Black Friday there’s an entire culture of people looking to pay high prices for bottles of beer… It’s wild!

I’ve never been one of the true beer fans to put myself through long lines and huge crowds for a 6-pack but I was finally able to get my hands on a few bottles of the illustrious BCBS this year. Even though Goose Island was bought by AB Inbev back in 2011 and technically is no longer a “craft brewer” I was still excited to join the club of people who have enjoyed this legendary stout, whose history dates back to 1992. I came across a case at the local Whole Foods Market and picked up 3 bottles (limit of 6 per person) and then the very next day I found a giant stash of BCBS at the Kroger grocery Store down the street! I know Goose Island has increased this beer’s distribution but I was still excited to make the purchase since the recipe remains the same.

A short recap about BCBS before we dive in. Back in 1992 the founders of Goose Island Brewing Company decided to create a special beer for their 1,000th batch in their brewpub. After making a deal with Jim Beam, they aged their stout in bourbon barrels for 100 days before releasing it to customers. It was a complete game changer and Goose Island’s reputation as bourbon aged beer makers quickly spread.

You can even argue that Goose Island created an entirely new classification of beer style.


They stepped BCBS up a notch in 2010 when it was aged in barrels from Pappy Van Winkle (arguably one of the best bourbons in our country) and called it “Rare BCBS”. It’s the only beer I know of that’s made by a AB Inbev brand that craft beer enthusiasts still go crazy about. It breaks all the rules.

This year there are 6 varietals of BCBS:

  • “Rare BCBS”: aged in 35 year old Heaven Hill Barrels
  • “Proprietor’s BCBS”: bourbon aged maple syrup, toasted pecans, & guajillo peppers
  • “Regal Rye BCBS”: blackberry juice, candied cherries, & sea salt
  • “Barleywine BCBS”: aged in third-use barrels from bourbon and the original BCBS
  • “Coffee BCBS”: uses Intelligentsia’s Los Delirios coffee beans from Nicaragua
  • “BCBS”: The Original

I have only been able to find the original BCBS here in Houston for around $10 per bottle – yeah, it’s an expensive beer and Goose Island has custom bottles created by VSA Partners solely for it. The branding used is actually quite impressive with the unique bottle neck tag that makes it stand out among everything else on store shelves. And the bottles are larger than normal at 16.9 ounces (think of a hybrid between the traditional beer bottle and a bomber bottle).

But enough with admiring the branding strategy, time to pop it open!

I threw one in the fridge and stashed the other four in my beer cellar for aging. This is another rare occasion where cellaring a beer is a good thing, I don’t normally recommend you do that. As soon as you begin to pour BCBS into your glass there’s an instantaneous feeling of quality that doesn’t normally come from a sudsy liquid. The aroma is intense with booze, chocolate, coffee, & some vanilla. It definitely lives up to the hype and the wait. Just a single sip packs more flavorful punch than 90% of the beers I’ve ever tried. But take this one slow, it’s a “sipping” beer at 14.2% alcohol by volume! That’s stronger than most wines you can find and the “Rare BCBS” gets all the way up to 14.5% ABV. This is a definite treat for dark beer lovers or bourbon drinkers to enjoy if you can find some in stores or on tap somewhere. Or maybe you can talk me into sharing a bottle with you (good luck).

There’s no need for me to recommend this beer to you, its history and hype speak for itself. My only suggestion is be ready for a very different and special beer experience, savor it. I’m glad I was finally able to try the infamous Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. That’s one more step to true beer geekism for me. I hope you are able to find some as well – let me know what you think of it.