Fancy Pants Sunday: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine
Barrel aging is totally a thing. Well, it has been for centuries. Before industrialization, Europeans fermented beer in wood, stored and shipped in wood, and poured directly from wood. Beer spoiled often. Life was hard. By the mid-20th century, most breweries had happily traded their temperamental wooden barrels for the reliability and convenience of metal tanks. Beer spoiled less. Life was decent. However, brewers have long known that wood-aging can add flavor and depth to beer, especially if said barrel previously contained Kentucky bourbon, Jamaican rum or Washington state wine. The result is a beer more complex than most, as additional flavors bleed from inside the staves — deeper woody notes that play to a beer’s bass and an extended taste that finishes with a nip of booze.
In the early 1990s, when Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Company concocted its first Bourbon County Brand Stout, the practice took an intoxicating turn. After three months inside used bourbon distillery barrels, the brew had a complex oak character from the wood and rich flavors from lingering whiskey — characteristics that made the Bourbon County Brand Stout an instant hit.
Here it is November 2018, and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout is still very much a thing, with more versions of Goose Island’s popular barrel-aged stout than any other year prior. In fact, there are eight different variants released in 500ml bottles, including the first-ever BCBS Coffee Barleywine — which makes it the perfect Peaks and Pints’ Fancy Pants Sunday pick, a weekly column highlighting complex craft beer.
Working with their friends at Intelligentsia, Goose Island flew down to Guatemala to source coffee for their first-ever Coffee Barleywine (15.1%). The beer is an English-style barleywine, meaning malt forward, and aged in 4-plus year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels before adding La Soledad coffee beans right before packaging to retain a heavy, beautifully fresh roasted coffee aroma and flavor. The taste comes in with fresh roasted coffee blending with a slight sweetness. The coffee dominates the barleywine qualities of this brew, but nonetheless they are working together instead of fighting each other. We still can taste the warming bourbon, caramel and toffee.
After its initial release on Black Friday, Peaks and Pints still has Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine in the cooler, as well as the 2018 Bourbon County Brand Stout and the Wheatwine, vanilla and Midnight Orange variants.
You fancy, Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine.