Beer Review: Goose Island Reserve Bourbon County Stout 2018

This limited edition was aged in some of the last of the Elijah Craig 12 Year bourbon barrels.

 photo by Kevin Gibson

photo by Kevin Gibson

Goose Island’s Reserve Bourbon County Stout 2018 launched on Black Friday, along with its classic forebear Bourbon County Stout, and the immediate quandary, of course, is to drink or not to drink?The big imperial stout is one worth hanging onto in order to let it mature in the bottle. I have a friend with a 2012 hanging around waiting for a special occasion, and the label even advises, “Develops in the bottle for up to five years.”

But in order to write a few words about it, I had to open the bottle. So I made the sacrifice and poured part of the deep, black contents into a tulip glass. Even with minimal head, the beer erupts with aroma, particularly chocolate, roast and a bit of vanilla. I was a bit surprised I didn’t detect more of the 12-year Elijah Craig bourbon barrels (Editor’s note: this is noteworthy because Heaven Hill no longer offers that product, having replaced it with a non age statement, small batch bourbon), but the nose was nevertheless inviting.

The flavor yielded more of the same, but opened up with each passing sip. A big, chocolaty flavor offered a pleasant, light roast with vanilla and hints of the oak, with most of the flavors of the bourbon backing out of the way. The thick, chewy beer coated my palate quickly, warming my throat and ultimately spreading that warmth into a big, boozy finish, speaking to the 15.4 percent alcohol within. As the flavors worked their way into my palate, I began to get dark fruits, a faint note of butterscotch and char. The dark chocolate flavor built until it blended with the char and roast to almost create a hint of black licorice or fennel.

I expected a bit more nuance from the barrel—these Bourbon County beers typically age for about 11 months—but this one stays the course of the big, hearty base beer, with maximum chocolate and roast. In other words, get your hands on one of these and enjoy a big winter warmer when the temperatures crater.

Or, you might be better to served to go the route of letting this one sit for a while to see if the oak and bourbon assert themselves more completely over time. Either way, you won’t go wrong.

The Bourbon County Stout series from Goose Island is available this year in its original version, plus several variants, such as a wheatwine variant, a coffee barleywine and others.