Lakefront Brewery got the Black Friday beer holiday rolling in Milwaukee, but Goose Island was a big part of the trend overall. In 2010, Adam Vavrick, who was the beer manager for Binny’s in Chicago at the time, created a Black Friday event around Bourbon County Rare and the idea took off. Binny’s became known for big lines in the early morning on the day after Thanksgiving. Other beer stores followed suit and Black Friday became a big day for Bourbon County Stout.
Goose Island is releasing eight Bourbon County variants this year. Seven of them will be available in Milwaukee on Black Friday – Goose Island Proprietor’s Stout is a Chicago-only release.
Ask your favorite liquor store about availability. Discount Liquor and Ray’s Wine & Spirits will both have all seven Milwaukee-area variants. Discount Liquor will have them available on Black Friday and Saturday. Ray’s has its yearly in-person Super Saturday event planned, after a hiatus due to the pandemic.
For a full list of what’s going on this week, check out our Guide to 30 Beer Events On Or Around Black Friday.
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“There’s a certain kind of feeling when you have people lined up,” said Orey Laev, president of Ray’s. “We’ve had a lot of people asked about it. We’re excited everyone is excited about it again.”
If you’re out hunting for Bourbon County, here’s what to expect:
Bourbon County Stout:
Other variants have come and gone, but the standard Bourbon County is fairly consistent. It is blended using bourbon barrels from the likes of Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace.
There’s a pleasant dark chocolate thing going on with Bourbon County that makes it an ideal base beer for other variants. Hints of vanilla and barrel oak don’t hurt either.
Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout:
Goose Island finished Bourbon County Stout with honeycomb-shaped cherry wood. It’s a process they’ve never attempted before.
The use of cherry wood instead of real cherries provides more subtle hints of cherry flavor and avoids an overpowering fruit taste – thankfully, there’s no chocolate-covered cherry happening here. Caramel and dark chocolate sweetness round out the flavor.
Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout:
Aged for a year in Old Forester 150th Anniversary Bourbon barrels. These exceptional barrels were hand selected by Old Forester to create the extremely limited bourbon.
I didn’t expect the slight tart berry finish provided by the barrels. Some toffee comes through as the beer warms. I’m a fan of Old Forester bourbon, and while this was good, it wasn’t my favorite of this year’s releases.
Bourbon County Fourteen Stout:
A nod to the 2014 Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout. It is made with cassia bark, cocoa nibs, panela sugar and coconut water, and with rye added to the mash bill for a little bit of spice.
The sweetest of the bunch. Coconut, dark chocolate and cinnamon are big here. I’d let Fourteen age for a few months and mellow some if you’re not a fan of these big flavors.
Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout:
The stout is made with lime and orange juice and zest, coriander, cassia bark, nutmeg, brown sugar and vanilla.
I wasn’t sure about this one, but Classic Cola was a pleasant surprise. The citrus finish is unexpected and ensures that the beer isn’t cloying. Surprisingly, the large mix of ingredients blend well to provide a moderate cola flavor.
Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout
Aged for 18 months in barrels used to make Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon.
Complex but well-balanced flavor that includes chocolate, vanilla and notes of the barrel. The potent 15.4% ABV offers some pleasant warmth but isn’t overly boozy. Easily one of the best of this year’s bunch, and likely to be one of the most sought after.
Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout:
Aged first for a year in Elijah Craig Small Batch barrels and then another year in Elijah Craig Toasted Bourbon barrels.
Complexity is king here too. There’s chocolate, some vanilla, oak and a dark fruit finish. It’s the booziest of the bunch, but even at 16% ABV the heat isn’t over-the-top. If I could choose one beer from the 2021 group to try, it would be this one. If you see it on a shelf, grab it.