(Photo by Daniel Hartis)

The winners of Goose Island Beer Co.’s annual Proprietor’s Day lottery descended upon Fulton Street today for the chance to purchase the first bottles of the brewery’s Chicago-only variant. This year’s Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout is fashioned after Bananas Foster, and brewed with bananas, roasted almonds and cassia bark.

If you weren’t able to make it to Chicago, you’ll be happy to know that–as always–Goose Island will release additional Bourbon County Brand beers on Black Friday. There’s the standard Bourbon County Brand Stout, aged in barrels from Heaven Hill. Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout, on the other hand, was aged in 11-year-old Knob Creek barrels. Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout returns again for 2017, though this time it’s brewed with Black Cat Espresso from Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee. And new this year is Bourbon County Brand Northwoods Stout, which adds blueberry juice and almond extract to the annual release. In a blog post last month, Goose Island brewmaster Jared Jankoski announced the brewery would not release its Barleywine Reserve this year since it was not up to their expectations, but the brewery will release its Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Ale. 

This week we sampled the Bourbon County Brand Stout, the Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout and the new Bourbon County Brand Northwoods Stout.

(Photo by Daniel Hartis)

The standard Bourbon County Brand Stout has never shied away from its heritage as the first beer to be aged in bourbon barrels (whether it actually debuted in 1992 is up for debate). The whiskey character in this year’s version is especially assertive, perhaps overmuch. There’s a big whiff of alcohol on the nose, and dry oak in the first sip. The whiskey overwhelms the base beer, which is no easy task given its heft. Behind the whiskey and the barrel notes are mild roast and dark chocolate. The beer feels a little thinner in the mouth than previous releases.

While the standard beer this year is brash and bold, Bourbon County Brand Reserve Stout comes in a touch smoother. The bourbon is big here, too, but more subdued and well integrated. This allows for a range of additional flavors to share the spotlight, from the aforementioned chocolate to sweeter notes of creme brûlée and pipe tobacco.

The Northwoods variant offers an even milder barrel note. The aroma doesn’t scream blueberry so much as it does a more generic, sugar-spiked fruit juice flavor. That juice tames the base beer’s big bourbon character and rounds out some of the rougher edges. The barrel is much more smooth in this variant, and the tart blueberry is more discernable on the palate than in the nose. The almond comes through toward the end of the sip, leading to a warm but not overly boozy finish. Which of these three you prefer will likely depend on how much bourbon you like in your barrel-aged stouts, but the Northwoods variant offers a fun take on a classic beer. And while it’s a pleasure to drink, we have half a mind to reduce it down and serve it over pancakes.