Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout is one of those beers that has made an incredible impression in the beer community year over year since its first release in the mid-nineties. In Chicago, each year that it has been released, the line to purchase it rivals that of getting Metallica tickets when the Black Album was released. Now that craft beer has taken off to new heights over the past couple years, the release has only gotten more intense.
After the InBev purchase of Goose Island in 2011, it was questionable of what would happen to the Bourbon County brand. There was speculation that the quality of the beer would suffer and that InBev would change the recipe. Personally, I was pretty happy to see what happened. I never was able to purchase Goose Island products in New Jersey and due to theInBev purchase; I was able to find Bourbon County in stores the following year. It took a little bit of calling around, but the quality was still there and the beer was delicious. Even the variants (Cherry Rye & Coffee) made it out to some of the new distribution areas.
Although the brewery produced more Bourbon County in 2012 than any other year before, it still wasn’t enough. This past years release marked a new strategy: multi-city Black Friday beer release. This was a first for the veteran brewery and marked the beginning of a new tradition. Goose Island produced more variations and more volume of Bourbon County this year than any of the years preceding. The releases this past year included:
•Bourbon County Stout: The original bourbon barrel aged stout.
•Bourbon County Coffee Stout: With Intelligentsia coffee added. Goose Island has bottled this each year since 2010, using a different roast of coffee from Intelligentsia each year. The coffee used in the 2013 version was Los Immortales.
•Bourbon County Backyard Rye: Brewed with boysenberries, marionberries and mulberries. The original intent was that the brewery would use all local fruit for this variation, but after spending an entire day picking fruit in Chicago to only have a fraction of what was needed, it was realized that it’s only feasible option was to order more from elsewhere.
•Bourbon County Barleywine: An English style barleywine aged in barrels that carried the previous years Bourbon County Stout. Comparable to their previous Barrel Aged Barleywine release (King Henry).
•Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout: Brewed with toasted coconut and only available in the Chicago market.\
Three official release parties were organized in different cities across the country. There was still the usual release at the Binnys across the street from the Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago, but there were also official release parties at Top Hops Beer Shop in New York City and at City Beer Store in San Francisco.
The New York City release was organized very well and looked much like a typical Black Friday sale. People were lined up in front of a store front located on the Lower East Side of New York City, but instead of waiting to get a $50 Blue Ray Player or a Tickle Me Elmo, they’re waiting to spend that money on some of the finest and most sought after beers on the planet.
Although the line of people reached around the block, those in line were in great company. The brand manager for Goose Island was in attendance telling the tale of Bourbon County and answering all the questions people had while waiting in the cold. To sweeten the deal, he was giving away free bags of Intelligentsia Los Immortales coffee (the same coffee used in this year’s coffee variation), Bourbon County Brand glasses and a limited edition print Bourbon County release party poster (only 500 printed).
The brand manager also explained how the demand was in Chicago. Apparently over the past few years, local fans of Bourbon County in Chicago have been stiffed when it comes to this release. After receiving countless complaints, the brewery wanted give something back in the hopes to make it right. They decided to release the Proprietor’s variation brewed with toasted coconut and only make it available in the Chicago market. This quickly became one of the most sought after beers since its release.
Although it was Black Friday, no one was trampled when the doors at Top Hops opened at 9am. Everyone came in through the entrance, snaked around the back of the store and then back towards the front. Bags of each release were already available with the limits set (2x Barley Wine, 2x Coffee, 4x Original and a voucher for Backyard to purchase at a future date). Things ran smoothly as everyone was handed their bag, paid for it, and walked back out the door they came in through. There were also ballots available to make silent bids to purchase some of the previous year’s releases of Bourbon County while waiting on line.
Most people were in and out of the store in less than ten minutes: incredibly shocking considering that they were purchasing such a limited release beer weeks before anyone else in the tri-state area. Top Hops carried on with the release party at noon, when they opened the store again and put a whole array of different Goose Island beers on tap – including Bourbon County and variants.
The brand manager for Goose Island said that this was the first year the brewery has attempted to host a multi-city release party. In the future, they hope to expand to other major cities with the long term plan to have this be a nation-wide release. It was encouraged to take pictures and use social media to see how Chicago and San Francisco were celebrating while waiting on line. Although the New York City release was awesome, it couldn’t compare to the release in Chicago.
It’s pretty safe to say that the demand and popularity of this beer will continue to rise and the multi-state release won’t be a problem. If you’re in one of the cities that has a store selected to partake in this release next year, then it’s worth visiting – even if it’s for the glasses, poster and coffee alone. It’s certainly a better use of time than waiting in line at Walmart to get trampled for a crappy toaster or dvd player.