Bourbon County NFTs have shut down.
Luckily there is still beer.
Two months after a tepid consumer response to expensive digital versions of Goose Island’s renowned alcoholic beers aged in whiskey casks, Chicago’s oldest brewery has announced good old-fashioned liquid versions of this year’s Bourbon County beers, which includes the return of two old favorite beers and beers destined to emulate Fig Newton and biscuits.
As always, the beers – six stouts and a barleywine – will be available the day after Thanksgiving. The flagship, Bourbon County Stout, is widely considered the first modern beer aged in bourbon casks, a practice that has become a hallmark of the industry. Spread across an entire beer family, the lineup has been hit and miss over the past few years, with some impressive results (looking at you, Birthday Bourbon County Stout) and some headaches (what exactly were you, Bourbon County Reserve 150 Corpulent?).
A disclaimer: As you’ll see below, Goose Island celebrates what it calls the 30th anniversary of Bourbon County Stout; the brewery says the beer was introduced in 1992. But as I wrote in 2016, while reporting for my book on Goose Island and its sale in Anheuser-Busch, this is probably incorrect.
In my report, I concluded that it was most likely published in 1995. Coincidentally, esteemed beer writer Jeff Alworth wrote a similar story around the same time and suspects it was probably published in 1994. He also reported that the former Goose Island Brewmaster Greg Hall acknowledged that 1992 “was always an estimate” because “the original production strain was lost.”
That said, Goose Island clings to 1992 mythology. So be it.
As for those NFTs, well, it was a bold idea when it was announced in May: 2,022 Bourbon County NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, available for $ 499 each, offering digital images of Bourbon County together. at real value that included access to Bourbon County events and beer. Although the price dropped to $ 399 due to the cryptocurrency market crash, Goose Island only sold 305 NFTs before ending the sale after two weeks.
Some things are simply better in the glass than on the phone.
And as for this year’s Bourbon County lineup, here it is, broken down into three categories:
As always, the training anchor will be Bourbon County Stout (14.4% alcohol), an approximation of the original created in 1992 – or maybe 1994, or maybe 1995. There is a cruel irony about this beer: it is released every year and in large quantities, but the diehard beer fans tend to overlook it too or ignore it completely. In a world where novelty is valued, there isn’t much new in Bourbon County Stout. But here’s the thing: it’s still a great beer!
It was, in fact, my preference among last year’s lineup, which I tasted multiple times to make sure I wasn’t unnecessarily counterintuitive by arguing it over rarer and more expensive Bourbon County beers. But, sure enough: it was my favorite of the eight beers. It turned out to be “the most balanced, with the most interesting depth of flavor”. There is no reason to expect it will never be the same again this fall with the usual notes of vanilla, chocolate (which can turn milky, dark or dark, depending on the year), dried fruit, oak and hints of coffee. This beer is blended from barrels from Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace distilleries.
There will probably be a lot more interest in another classic, Bourbon County Coffee Stout (alcohol content not available), a longtime fan favorite that will be released for the first time since 2017. This version is made with Intelligentsia Coffee’s Turihamwe blend from the African country of Burundi, which Goose Island says produces notes of ” rich in chocolate, coffee and caramel aromas. ” It’s hard to beat a well-made dark barrel-aged beer, and for several years Bourbon County Coffee has been among the best – we’ll see if Goose Island can win back the magic.
These two beers are likely to be the biggest rumors, both in terms of price (to be announced closer to release) and curiosity among Bourbon County fans.
Bourbon County Barley Wine Biennial Reserve (17%) it is blended from barrels of three different ages – 14, 16 and 17 years – from the Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond decanter series. If it sounds ambitious, well, it should.
This is Goose Island’s first Bourbon County barleywine since 2018. Bourbon County’s first barleywines, in 2013 and 2014, were well built. The following years were a bit erratic. We are hoping for a return to the old days, and a blend of barrels of that pedigree is cause for optimism. Goose Island says to look for notes of “candy, cherry, vanilla, fig and almond”.
To celebrate the 30th – or maybe the 27th, but who counts? – Bourbon County Anniversary, Goose Island, comes out Bourbon County 30th Anniversary Reserve Stout (14.4%), aged from a blend of Jim Beam barrels from that distillery’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection, which includes Baker’s, Basil Hayden, Knob Creek and Booker’s. It’s a nod to the very first Bourbon County Stout, which was aged in Jim Beam barrels.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to draw a comparison between this beer and the “normal” version of Bourbon County Stout. The base beer is the same, but the different barrels should lead to a marked difference in flavor and aroma.
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In recent years, barrel-aged stouts have taken on a disproportionate number of flavors, often echoing an array of sweet treats. Goose Island stayed true to the motif and with mixed results. They seem to be the less popular beers in the Bourbon County series and the inevitably reduced ones at surprisingly low prices months after release, but here we go again anyway.
Inspired by the classic Italian dessert, Bourbon County Stout Cookies (alcohol content not available) is made with cocoa nibs, toasted almonds, aniseed and what the label describes as “natural flavors”. Look for hints of black licorice, marzipan, cocoa and butter caramel along with “strong notes of nostalgia from your Italian grandmother’s cooking,” the brewery says. There is a lot of flavor in a beer, and if it’s balanced enough to be worth drinking 8 ounces, it will be a win.
The words “Fig Newton” appear nowhere here, but Bourbon County Sir Isaac’s Stout (alcohol content not available) he’s clearly nodding in that direction, named after the legendary British scientist and touting 10,000 pounds of Black Mission figs, Graham crackers and even more “natural flavor”. The result, says the brewery, is a beer with notes of “dried fruit, honey, molasses and citrus fruits, reminiscent of the classic fig biscuit sold on the shelves today”.
Goose Island says its brewers have spent years trying to find “ways to incorporate figs into Bourbon County Stout, but they faced a daunting task due to their subtle flavor.” I’m skeptical of adding graham cracker, but figs might mix well with beer to get an interesting result.
Finally it is the annual Bourbon County Owner Stout (alcohol not available), sold only in the Chicago area. This year’s version is a rum-based version of the fruity jungle bird cocktail; the beer is made with banana, coconut, lime and, as the very first ingredient in Bourbon County history, pineapple.
Ingredients like coffee and coconut can work beautifully in barrel-aged stout because they echo the deeply roasted character of the beer. Others, such as lime and pineapple, could easily fail to do such a thing and cause more angular conflicts than harmony. I don’t realize this beer works. But we’ll find out in November.