Holy cow! You guys have easily made this my best month ever despite the fact that I was gone for a week to Washington D.C. and wrote no new posts during that time (minus a pending photo spread of Port City Brewing in Alexandria, VA). In thanks for your dedication and in apology for that pesky thing called "life" getting in the way of craft beer reviews, I'm breaking something extra special out of the cellar today! All the good vibes I'm feeling call for no less than to break out a bottle of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.
Being religiously revered by the craft beer communities (100/100 on both beeradvocate.com and Ratebeer.com) makes these bottles pretty hard to get and I consider myself lucky that I was able to snag two. However, this may not be as much of an issue in the future as Goose Island has announced that due to a large increase in barrel-aging facilities, BCS will be available year round!!! Such an occasion also gives me an opportunity to break out my new "sampling" glasses that I picked up while at Port City. They have a mark on them to indicate the proper size of the pour, a nice wide body to permeate the air with its aromas, and finally a very narrow opening so that the nose may better do its duty. Despite the aforementioned perfect ratings, I will be giving this beer the most unbiased review that I can. Let's pour!
OK, so those perfect scores are on to something. The characters in this aroma (chocolate, bourbon, and coffee) are certainly not new to the craft beer world, but the way in which they mingle is unmatched. I attribute this somewhat to the Anjilanaka coffee beans used in the brewing process, as the coffee aroma is completely unique. The rest I attribute to the craftsmanship used when brewing this beer. The chocolate aroma is thick, rich, and has more than a little bit of lactose behind it, implying a chocolate milk. The bourbon is the next aroma and its tingle is unmistakeable. Already the sweetness of the malts is harmonizing with that of the bourbon and it's very exciting. The coffee starts out in third place, but grows in prominence as the beer warms. It truly does the work of tying all three ingredients together. The darkness of the coffee compliments the malt, but it bitterness also helps balance it. Meanwhile, its bite takes a note from the bourbon's warmth and earthiness. This is a blend of the gods.
I'm not sure how to score this, as I feel the head is simply not up to par. Then again, are head and its retention going to be possible in a 14.0% ABV? Granted, it was present initially in a handsome dark brown, but only it poured a half a finger tall and fizzed down to nothing as I snapped a few photos (see above photo). As far as the rest of the appearance, it's as black as tar and even has that slight yellowish outline when held up to light. Pretty cool.
Note: I eventually scored this beer 3/3 instead of 2/3 after considering the mouthfeel. If one does not hold a minimal carbonation content against the beer when in the mouth because of its style and high ABV, then I feel it's hardly fair to do so when in the glass.
I'm pretty sure this just made my tastebuds each put on their favorite NCAA mascot costume and begin a violent, marathon orgy. The beginning is a eye-closing harmony of world-class chocolate and bourbon's sweetness. It literally made me close my eyes in a moment of requiem. The bourbon fades away briefly to showcase the chocolate, which is an ohmygoshIjustpaidhowmuchforchocolate type chocolate that you only wish you could get for your significant other on Valentine's Day (hell, you wouldn't mind receiving it either). With the coffee's light bitter it is simply extravagant. The bourbon then re-enters, but this time it brings its heat and not so much its sweetness; it's not about to let this Bourbon County Stout go without its namesake, after all. The result is a confectioner's dream of silky milk chocolate, bourbon's sweetness and warmth, and hints of coffee. My tasting glass has definitely warmed and I'm finding the coffee to be quite understated, but the bourbon to be quite prominent. Unless this strange type of coffee bean is helping contribute to the Godzilla-sized portions of amazing chocolate in this beer. In that case, I can find it pretty easily. The finish is fantastic, but probably only if you like bourbon. It's a whole lot of alcohol warmth that spreads it wings across the chest, but does allow the coffee bitter to come through a bit more to give a "very dark" chocolate sensation. Detecting any other flavors past those two behemoths is going to be insanely difficult.
This is a little bit thinner in the mouth than I expected after the thick pour and heavy lactose smell, but thankfully so. Had it been as thick as one expects, the beer might border on undrinkable. That said, the initial mouthfeel is a bit thin, but sits heavily upon the tongue as if it takes a while to realize what it is there to do. The carbonation is minimal, but in a beer this big and alcohol laden it is not completely inappropriate nor unwelcome.
Overall Impression 10/10
Color me impressed. You can't be mad at a beer that promises you bourbon and then delivers. Or rather, one that delivers, but not at the expense of other flavors. I've definitely had the products of brewers happy to blast their hard work with bourbon and call it a day. Goose Island, while brewing a beer strong with bourbon, also gives us oodles of dripping, rich chocolate and a coffee backdrop that tops any I've tasted (although Beer Geek Brunch gives this coffee it a run for its money). This is a monster beer that still manages to harmonize a trio of insanely delicious flavors. You know when you've had something special and this beer certainly qualifies.
They almost lost their perfect score in the "Appearance" category, but they pulled through to gain that elusive 50/50; only the fifth beer to do so, in over 140 reviews! Right from the aroma, this beer is ready to knock your socks off. My tasting glass sat at least two feet away from me and I could still smell the chocolate/milk/coffee blend emanating from its opening. The taste is a wonderful conglomeration of flavors and any stout lover/big beer lover will be able to appreciate this beer. Some could complain it's too boozy, but I counter that the warmth never overwhelms the other flavors. It may knife fight them for the spotlight, but it never drowns out its partners. In fact, to remedy this (and to help keep the beer at a more desirable temperature as a whole) I recommend small pours. Those that find the bourbon warmth to be an issue may have let the beer warm too much. Keeping it at a suitable drinking temperature helps to blend the bourbon with the other delicious flavors and keep this harmony strong. Also, never give this beer a wine-tasters' slurp unless you wish to be lambasted with bourbon goodness. Kudos to Goose Island on this AMAZING brew and best of luck on their barrel-aging endeavors!!!