I've been fortunate enough to sample the 2018 Bourbon County variants. Here's what I think.
Occasionally, writing about beer has its perks. On Sunday, Nov. 11, I was able to get in the door at Goose Island Prop Day. The street fest is a tough ticket and gives 2,000 lucky attendees the chance to sample every Bourbon County Brand variant and snag a few bottles as well.
Bourbon County is trickling into Milwaukee on Black Friday (Nov. 23). This year there are a whopping eight variants, and five of those (including the standard Bourbon County Brand Stout) are making it to Wisconsin. Here’s my take on each one.
Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout
Don’t be scared by the hefty orange aroma; the citrus flavor provided by orange zest is perfectly balanced with dark chocolate. It’s oddly reminiscent of Terry’s Chocolate Orange candy. I was surprised by just how much I liked this beer. If you can find it, buy it.
“It’s a combination that works out really well,” explained brewer Oscar Sanchez. “Two different chocolates went into it, and Spanish Navelina orange peel.”
Added Paul Levens, who also helped to develop the beer: “It took quite a while to get that right balance, so that the orange was not overpowering. It could quickly overwhelm the taste profile.”
Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout
Holy Madagascar vanilla beans. Vanilla BCS is always a sought-after crowd-pleaser and this year’s isn’t bashful on the vanilla. The strong vanilla flavor masks some of the dark chocolate stout, but it’s still a pretty good pour and will no doubt be hard to get your hands on.
Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout
If you’re a fan of jammy stouts, this one is for you. It’s made with raspberry and blackberry juice and puree, and those berries dominate the aroma. The fruit is so strong that it gives the stout a slightly tart finish. It might be a good idea to cellar this brew for a few months and let some of that dominant berry flavor settle down.
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine
Full disclosure: barleywines aren’t my favorite, and the idea of a coffee barleywine felt gimmicky to me initially. Oddly enough, it kind of works, and largely because the hint of dark coffee flavor cuts some of the sweet flavor inherent in a barleywine. It’s an interesting replacement for the always popular Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.
Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine
The smoothest of the BCS varieties I tried. The sweet toffee flavor isn’t too much and it combines nicely with a slightly boozy finish, thanks to spending time in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels. This is a silky beer that sits nicely on the tongue. If you’re a fan of barleywines, you’ll love it.
Note: You’ll have to travel to Chicago (and likely wait in line) if you want a shot at this year’s Proprietor’s and Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout. Both are extremely limited and aren’t available in Wisconsin.
Bourbon County Brand Proprietor’s Stout
This year’s Prop is made with a substantial amount of chocolate. I’ve heard others mention how the chocolate flavor dominates, but honestly, I don’t think it does (or perhaps I just really like chocolate). Granted there’s a fair amount of sweet chocolate flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering.
“I picked one flavor out of Bourbon County to amplify as much as possible,” said Brian LaGro, the brewer who created this year’s Proprietor’s. “You get vanilla from the barrel, you get chocolate and coffee from the malt. I figured ‘let’s do chocolate and make a boozy brownie out of it almost.’ Chocolate is pretty prominent but you still get the heart and soul of Bourbon County.”
Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout
This year’s reserve was aged in 12-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon barrels and I was afraid that it might be a little too boozy. It wasn’t. Its dark chocolate flavor is rich for sure, but the alcohol heat is kept in check. If you’re making the trip to Chicago to get a bottle, good luck and store this one away for a special occasion.
Where to Get Your Bourbon County in Milwaukee
Ask your local beer store or beer bar of availability ahead of the Black Friday release day and plan accordingly. The Bourbon County variants are extremely limited, so do your research. A couple of options to get you started:
The Brass Tap (7808 W. Layton Ave.) is tapping a few Bourbon County variants when it opens at 11 a.m. on Black Friday, Nov. 23, Get there early to secure a pour or two.
Discount Liquor Milwaukee (5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.) and Discount Liquor Waukesha (919 N. Barstow St.) have limited amounts of Bourbon County variants available on Black Friday and the following Saturday, Nov. 24. The limit is one bottle per customer. Get there at 9 a.m. (or sooner) when the doors open.