Updated: Dec 3, 2019
The Anheuser-Busch-owned brewery
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (BCS) is easier to find than ever before. First launched back in the mid-'90s, the beer—considered the original bourbon barrel-aged stout—used to be legendary not only for its luscious whiskey-tinged flavor but also for how difficult it could be to procure. Goose Island now has a massive warehouse dedicated to barrel-aging, meaning scoring the beloved brew feels almost too easy: I've gotten it on draft at the airport. But though no longer as physically scarce, Bourbon County Brand Stout remains rare for another reason: It's one of the few products from a brewery bought out by Anheuser-Busch that still maintains its hype and—outside of the occasional hiccup—its quality, year after year.
"There's always talk about how Goose Island has 'sold out' and certainly there's a halo of that around the beer, but the reality is our partnership with Anheuser-Busch has only enhanced and grown the Bourbon County Stout brand," Goose Island Beer Co. Brewmaster Keith Gabbett tells me. "Anheuser-Busch understands what this beer means to Goose and the overall craft community and really lets us do what we need to do to preserve the prestige and heritage of the brand."
According to Gabbett, the brand's consistency comes from sticking to its roots. "Every year our first priority is to perfect the recipe [former Goose Island Brewmaster and BCS creator] Greg Hall brewed over 20 years ago. Without nailing the original recipe, there are no variants and no BCS," he says. "The overall process of BCS has not changed."
Since 2010, Goose Island has been consistent with another BCS tradition as well: releasing the beer on Black Friday. Though Goose Island wasn't the first brewery to dedicate a big annual event to a single beer's release (Hall admits that idea came from 3 Floyds Dark Lord), Goose Island is known for staking its claim on the biggest shopping day of the year. And the turnout on Black Friday still serves as a barometer for the Bourbon County Brand's popularity.
"Year over year, [BCS] continues to be one of the best beers on the market and that's not just me saying it, that's our fans saying it by waiting in line to try it," says Gabbett. "BCS is something that is very sacred to us and the authenticity we uphold is what keeps our fans coming back."
Another reason fans come back is the variants: mixing the brand up with different recipes or special barrel-aging processes. This year, Goose Island will release eight versions of the heralded stout: Original, Double Barrel, 2-Year Reserve, Reserve Rye, Proprietor's, Café de Olla, Mon Chéri, and the only non-stout in the bunch, Bourbon County Wheatwine Ale.will be releasing eight new Bourbon County Brand beers on Black Friday.