Chicago, Illinois based Goose Island Beer Company (owned by ABInBev) announced their brand lineup for 2023 Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) on August 7, which will be sold nationwide on Black Friday in November. On that day, the lines aren’t just long for TVs and toys; liquor stores around the country will see lines for this barrel-aged beer.
The list for 2023 includes the following: Bourbon County Brand Original Stout, Bourbon County Brand Eagle Rare 2-Year Reserve Stout, Bourbon County Brand Angel’s Envy 2-Year Cask Finish Stout, Bourbon County Brand Bananas Foster Stout, Bourbon County Brand Backyard Stout and Bourbon County Brand Proprietor’s Stout. Full write-ups on each style are available here.
Beer aged in barrels? Yes and it’s more common than you think in today’s craft beer landscape. Most of the beers barrel-aged today are in bourbon barrels, with the beers being mostly dark beers like imperial stouts although essentially any beer style can be barrel-aged. Bourbon barrels can only used once by the distillery and then they are sold to other liquor distilleries (usually Scotland or Canada) and breweries. Go into any brewery in America and I bet you’ll see bourbon or rye whiskey barrels.
Bourbon barrel-aging beer took off thanks in part to Goose Island, whose BCBS was the first barrel-aged style to hit the market in the early 1990s. When they were sold to the brewing giant ABInBev in 2011, AbInBev took the beer and ramped up production, making Bourbon County an annual release far greater than anyone had ever seen with many different variants. The Goose Island Barrel House in Chicago, once a giant nondescript 130,000 sq. ft. warehouse for the beer, is now still a storage facility for barrels but also a private event space where you can get married or host a party amongst one of the most sought after beers in the land.
What stood out this year was the focus on particular bourbon brands: Angel’s Envy (owned by Bacardi) and Eagle Rare (owned by The Sazerac Company). The limited edition beers made with these distilleries are something to get both bourbon geeks and beer geeks excited. The Eagle Rare collaboration is one they’ve done before whereas the Angel’s Envy is brand new for 2023. It’s usually a gray area for breweries to use the name of the distillery on their labels when releasing a barrel-aged beer but it’s incredibly rare for breweries to work directly with large distilleries.
The Eagle Rare version is the base imperial stout aged for two years in Eagle Rare 10 year bourbon barrels. Two years is a very long time to age a beer in (it’s usually six months to a year) and the brewery says the flavor notes are “robust oak, toasted almond, and warming vanilla.” These are all hallmarks of extended barrel aging.
The Angel’s Envy collaboration is being deemed the first “cask finished” BCBS. The beer is aged in Angel’s Envy bourbon barrels for one year and then transferred to a second set of Ruby Port wine barrels where it is matured for another year. Cask finishing is popular in whiskey and scotch production. This “double barrel aging” is done by many craft breweries but this is one of the first time I’ve seen a brewery actively work with a distillery to showcase this kind of conditioning.
It’s another strong lineup from one of the preeminent bourbon barrel-aged brands. Want to learn more about barrel-aging beer? Visit your local brewery to try their offerings as well.