Wednesday, January 14, 2015
A Whale A Week: Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout 2012
It's that time of week again for my new blog entry series: A Whale A Week! This week, I went completely opposite from the incredibly tart Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek to the boozy malt-bomb that is Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout.
Some deep background for this epic beer. I went to medical school in Chicago back in 1996-2000. That seems like a long, long, long time ago now. My first real experience with craft beers (other than a couple of shameful Sam Adams and Pyramid fruit beers) was at Goose Island's Clybourn Brewpub. I used to go down to the brewpub for lunch and a beer sampler, taking my time and getting out of my ghetto basement apartment to study. Once my future wife moved to Chicago to be with me, we continued to frequent this place. I remember going to one of the first Barrel Aged Beer Festivals in the backroom (now occupied by Siebel) in the brewpub. At that time they had something like 8-10 beers available for trial an most were not good. Things have come a long way since then, but Goose Island was truly one of the very first breweries to experiment with this now very popular style of beer aging. When GI was bought out by AB-Inbev I was saddened and sure that my favorite beers would soon by watered down and worthless.
Since then I have noticed no significant downturn in quality of my favorite GI beers. In fact, we have better distribution of these beers in Minnesota now. They have also come out with several variants on the Bourbon County brand like vanilla, barleywine, and this week's coffee entry. I have heard rumors that they are rapidly buying up barrels and making them harder to come by for smaller craft breweries though. This particular beast is a 14.3% ABV Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. They have partnered with Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee for this brew, using La Tortuga coffee beans from Honduras. Looking at their website, the coffee is supposed to have flavors of tangy tangerine acidity with tamarind, orange sherbet and wild honey.
Aroma: Semi-sweet chocolate with a hint of cinnamon is the dominant aroma. There is some distinct bourbon booze character of alcohol, vanilla and even a little toffee. The coffee is subtle in the aroma, but present as a deep roastiness. No hop aroma. A very pleasing and complex melange of scents in this that vary quite a bit sniff to sniff.
Appearance: What can I say...Black! Very dark and opaque black color. A small tan head that disappears rapidly to almost nothing.
Flavor: Very sweet up front. In the middle, before flavor, I note a thick mouthfeel that coats the tongue for a chocolate milk shake effect. Hefty roast malt and some dark roast coffee flavors arrive once you get used to the mouthfeel. No hop flavor, but some bitterness present. Balance to the sweet side, but just shy of cloying. Bourbon vanilla flavors are very strong, but the big malt balances this well. Distinct alcohol warming, but not HOT, just boozy. Despite lack of head, the carbonation is medium and helps clear the sweetness on the palate. Each sip brings out more flavors, making you want to keep trying this again and again. I get a spicy cinnamon flavor as it warms, reminding me of Cigar City Hunahpu.
Overall: The coffee has faded quite a bit from fresher versions I've tried, but the alcohol has mellowed and the flavors have melded into something unique. I'm a huge coffee fan and miss the freshness of that coffee, but this beer is still amazing. Having had a regular BCS from the same year recently, I can say that this version is more complex than the original. I have another of these in the cellar and will drink it soon, since that coffee will continue to fade away. I give it a solid 5/5.
I first tried this beer at Autumn Brew Review several years back and it promptly jumped the rank to become one of my favorite beers of all time. Since then, they have continued to make this and it now comes in 12 oz bottles. I had to trade a friend from the Chicago area for a bottle of this, exchanging this summer at NHC in Michigan. Sj and I drank that one right away since we had been pining over it for so long and then we were sad that it was gone. More recently I came into a stash of beers from another local beer hoarder and managed to get a couple more bottles of this precious nectar. I did not get any of this year's Black Friday release and many tears were shed.
Any thoughts on this beer from the peanut gallery? I know there are a lot of BCS haters and lovers out there!
Next week I think I'm going to start a series of Surly Anniversary beers. While these may not be quite as rare around here in Minnesota, the older bottles are getting pretty hard to find these days, and age may have changed these quite a bit since they came out. Maybe these are closer to small beluga whales rather than Moby Dick, but still worth a try! I'll be starting with the sour Surly Five and working my way through Eight. Unless someone has a Four they would like to share!