Bourbon County 2022: Rankings at First Sight
Goose Island just released their Bourbon County lineup for 2022 so of course we’re going to put out our snap judgements on them. In our first two years of doing this – 2020 and 2021 – we were kind of prescient with our rankings. For the most part we nailed it, minus a few outliers, especially in 2021. My personal preferences leans toward lesser adjuncts, special barrels, and longer aging time and Goose Island has the time, space, and investment to accomplish two of the three exceedingly well.
Goose Island is a complicated brewery to try and like sometimes, as it’s hard to overlook their alleged history of union-busting and misconduct allegations, their foray into the much-maligned NFT space, and the fact that their parent company contributes money to some discriminatory causes. Then at times they go out of their way to release small batch beers that benefit important causes, and then they tap some of the younger class of independent local brewers for collaborations utilizing their deep well of resources. And since Bourbon County isn’t the only barrel-aged game in town anymore (and likely not even the strongest lineup of barrel-aged beers in Chicago anymore), Black Friday has felt like less of an important event in recent years than in its heyday six or seven years ago. Even with that, this will be the most read article we post this entire year because a Bourbon County release is still the biggest annual beer news story in Chicago. So, here we are!
Below we will each offer our initial takes and completely arbitrary rankings of these beers that we haven’t even tried yet. We don’t claim to be experts on anything, but we have been critically drinking Bourbon County for nine years with the podcast, so we’d like to think we have some ground to stand on. But of course our tastes and preferences are personal and nit-picky. And we sincerely hope that all of these beers turn out even better than our expectations because I always prefer to see people happy with the money they spend on special releases.
Craig’s Ranking: 4 out of 7
While Goose Island sometimes goes overboard on either the adjuncts or aging time, the original still delivers every year. It may never reach the top of our rankings in these lists, but it’s definitely the standard by which all are judged. Two years ago, Goose Island released each barrel of the Bourbon County blend – Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey – as separate bottles as an Easter Egg for the Chicago market, informing everyone of the typical Bourbon County stout blend. The 2022 Bourbon County adds some Four Roses barrels to the mix. (NOTE: I don’t know if they are doing the Easter Eggs again. Most likely not.) While the range of outcomes on the variants can swing wildly, usually the worst thing I say about the OG is that it’s too hot. Buy with confidence.
Ryan’s Ranking: 6 out of 7
This beer has really been locked into a groove in the last few years, unlike earlier days when it really varied from year-to-year. These two things are true: it’s still an excellent beer, and it’s still jarring to see a stack of cases at the big box liquor store well into summer of the next year. Expect a big roasted malt and chocolate-forward beer with a moderate bourbon-barrel oak and vanillin heat keeping things from getting too sweet. Set your watch to it.
Craig’s Ranking: 1 out of 7
Announced in 2017, the original two-year barleywine (Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Reserve technically) featured a barleywine aged for two years in barrels that held 2015 Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. After a total of four years with beer liquid in barrels (and 35 years before beer was added) something went awry and the Barleywine Reserve got pulled, although some bottles got out and other people have tried it. (Heard from a friend that worked for AB InBev that it was amazing.) So not only is this a return to a two-year aged barleywine, it’s also the first time the Bourbon County Brand Barleywine is getting released since 2017 (something must’ve happened that year I guess?). Yes, Goose Island released the Coffee Barleywine in 2018, but it wasn’t just the straight barleywine. Unfortunately, this recipe doesn’t mimic the first two barleywine releases in 2013 and 2014 as third use barrels (bourbon, stout, barleywine). Instead, Goose Island obtained some Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond Decanter Series barrels and aged the barleywine for two years in them. Featuring a blend of 14-, 16- and 17-year barrels, this is what gets me excited about new Bourbon County beers – extended aging and unique or sometimes hard-to-get barrels. Hoping the price isn’t a killer because this one has potential to be top notch.
Ryan’s Ranking: 2 out of 7
The only reason I’m skeptical about this one finishing first in the lineup is that Revolution Brewing already exists. In the last few years, Revolution has refined what a barrel-aged barleywine should taste like – and they’ve even mastered the long-aged barleywine to a degree that may not be easy to approach. So as much as I expect this beer to be stellar, I’m skeptical that it’ll stand up to something like V.S.O.J. or even the exceptional standard Straight Jacket from Revolution. But am I excited about trying this one? Without a doubt. I hope it’s good enough to guarantee a barleywine in this lineup every year.
Craig’s Ranking: 2 out of 7
While not aged as long or in as many barrels as some recent special variants, 30th anniversary combines two things Goose Island does well – the OG Bourbon County and access to special barrels. Meant to mimic the first batch of Bourbon County ever released, Goose Island secured some Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbon Collection barrels, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. This will be the closest most of us will come to trying the original batch of Bourbon County fresh, although this will feature a blend of barrels as opposed to a single one. Very excited for this one as it showcases both Goose Island’s ability to get unique barrels and their ability to do what they do best – the original Bourbon County.
Ryan’s Ranking: 1 out of 7
This might have more to do with me than Goose, but I always gravitate towards the most interesting barrel treatment for my annual favorite in the lineup. We’ve often said that Goose should lean harder into their ability to procure the best barrels around, and last year it seemed like that was the plan. In 2021, the Blanton’s and Double Barrel Toasted were the undeniable stars for us, but the 150 was something of a surprise miss. Even the relatively tame Cherry Wood was a standout. So it’s something of a surprise that they put out more adjuncted beers than not this year. This beer gets to carry all the weight of expectation that I have when it comes to beers labeled Reserve in this series. If this one misses, I’ll be shocked. Between this one, the coffee, and the barleywine, it’ll be interesting to see which one actually disappears from the shelves first. (Assuming some of them will.) Also waiting to see the packaging for this one. They’ve done boxes, tubes, and bags – maybe this one will be suspended in some sort of goo? One can only hope.
Craig’s Ranking: 5 out of 7
I’ve only had and am familiar with one biscotti beer – Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break. That beer came about well before the Pastry Renaissance in craft beer so I’m excited to see Goose’s take on it. No adjuncts were explicitly listed, but all the chocolate and vanilla from the base Bourbon County should play nicely with the cinnamon and (presumably) nuts that they’ll add. Low adjunct count and something that makes sense with the base beer while being different? Might be a home run.
Ryan’s Ranking: 4 out of 7
The ingredients here have the best chance of seamlessly integrating into the base beer. In the early days of imperial stouts, an anise/licorice character was expected and welcome. With the pastry-fication of everything, it seems like the anise/licorice flavors have been frosted over. I’m intrigued how that aspect and the nuttiness will work with the already roasty base stout. I’m hopeful for something reminiscent of actual coffee-dipped biscotti with a “throwback stout” collage of roasty and bitter flavors.
Craig’s Ranking: 3 out of 7
Rejoice! After a five year hiatus, BCBCS is back! After small batches were released at the Goose Island Fulton taproom over the last year, a large-scale release will happen in 2022. Collaborating with Intelligentsia again, Goose Island chose the Turihamwe bean for this year’s Coffee, promising chocolate, coffee and caramel notes, indicating it’s not one of the fruitier coffee beans. It’s honestly just great to have Coffee back in the line-up and there’s a certain set of drinkers that have never tried it fresh that will get to for the first time. It’s telling that only a special barrel release and the return of a “ghost whale” (I guess) top it.
Ryan’s Ranking: 3 out of 7
It’s been years since a straight BCBCS – the original variant – showed up in this lineup. With the coffee changing each year, older BCBCS bottles were hit-and-miss, with a few tasting like straight green peppers. But I suspect they took the time off of releasing this variant to fine-tune the elements and escape any previous comparisons. This one has to be a hit. They’re teamed up again with Intelligentsia coffee, and this year’s Burundi-based bean is hopefully just the right amount of sweet to go along with the roast.
Craig’s Ranking: 6 out of 7
This and Biscotti were close but my personal preference does not lie with Fig Newtons. Thankfully none were harmed in the making of this beer. While the adjunct count of one rubs me right there, it’s figs. I can see it working well with the Bourbon County oak, chocolate, vanilla, leather, and tobacco but I’m not a fig fan. I will concede that I could be completely wrong on this and it could be a standout if pulled off. But figs!
Ryan’s Ranking: 5 out of 7
Unlike Craig, I love Fig Newtons and associate them with nothing but positive childhood memories. So even though I might be more nostalgically-predisposed to liking this one, I worry it’s going to be an unbalanced mix of fig and the sweeter notes from the base stout. This could be a sleeper hit, and I hope the barrel helps keep the fig and graham cracker from becoming overbearing. I’m also hoping this is the beer that changes Craig’s tune on figs, but I won’t bet my lunch on it.
Craig’s Ranking: 7 out of 7
I don’t even know where to start here. The fruity cocktail inspiration for a chocolatey barrel-aged stout? The four adjuncts? I’ve never had the jungle bird cocktail it’s modeled after, but my mixologist wife has, and she gave an “Ew,” reaction to this. Lime really didn’t wow me in the Cola variant from last year (I was stoked for that one and it really let me down), coconut and banana have worked exceedingly well in Bourbon County before, while pineapple surfs in as the wild card here. I fear the tropical melange will work against everything that Bourbon County does best, but we’ll see. But still no Mexican Chocolate variant?
Ryan’s Ranking: 7 out of 7
Oh Proprietor’s. 2019 might have been the last year that was pretty universally enjoyed, though according to our People’s Choice survey from 2020, 2017 might have been the last highly desired bottle in this series. The 2014 is the true bonafide hit of all the Props, with 2013 slightly behind. That’s four out of nine that are still talked about glowingly, while the others seem to have some scattered defenders (except for the infected 2015 batch, obviously). This is the wildest swing that Proprietor’s has taken, and maybe that will work in its favor. The Bananas Foster variant in 2017 sounded like a potential flop on paper, but it worked so well that it ended up inspiring many barrel-aged banana stout imitators. So will we see an influx of tropical jungle bird-inspired barrel-aged stouts in the coming years? I’m more than a little skeptical this one will work, but I’ll be blown away if it does.
Our BCBS 2022 Speculative Arbitrary Rankings Recap:
1. Two-Year Barleywine Reserve
2. 30th Anniversary Reserve Stout
3. Bourbon County Coffee Stout
4. Bourbon County Stout
5. Bourbon County Biscotti Stout
6. Bourbon County Sir Isaac’s Stout
7. Bourbon County Proprietor’s Stout
1. 30th Anniversary Reserve Stout
2. Two-Year Barleywine Reserve
3. Bourbon County Coffee Stout
4. Bourbon County Biscotti Stout
5. Bourbon County Sir Isaac’s Stout
6. Bourbon County Stout
7. Bourbon County Proprietor’s Stout
Check out all years of our Bourbon County reviews on the podcast:
Episode 307 – Bourbon County 2019 (w/Ryan Tracy)
Episode 225 – Halfway to Black Friday (w/ Josh Noel)
Episode 97 – Bourbon County 2015 (w/ Dennis Lee)
Lost Episode #1 – BCBS 2013 (Patreon only)