In recent years, Goose Island Beer Company has expanded their famous Bourbon County Stout series. This year, they’ve expanded the roster even further. The lineup now consists of: their flagship Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine, Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout, Proprietors’ Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, and Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout, which was aged for two years in 35-year-old Heaven Hill whiskey barrels.
“The variations are purely a way for our brewers to play with the flavors of bourbon and find new ways to push them out,” says Mike Siegel, Goose Island’s Brewery Innovations Manager.
Regardless of the final product, all of the five Bourbon County beers undergo a fairly similar process. A total of 3,000 barrels from six distilleries—including Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Knob Creek—are filled over the course of ten months. Siegel says because the brewing and barrel filling takes so long, brewing has to be spaced out over those months. Them, the beer usually ages for a year.
Though Goose Island recently opened a new warehouse for it’s barrel-aging program, it keeps the Bourbon County barrels under a loose climate control, letting temperature changes open and close the pores of the oak, extracting more flavor.
The brewers started early this year with a series of blind cuppings, to exclude the effects of compelling back stories. Once they picked the coffee, Intelligentsia set aside 1,800 pounds of green beans to be roasted and brewed only when the beer was ready. The Goose Island crew ended up with almost 1,200 gallons of double-strength cold brew, which they added to the stout after it had already come out of the bourbon barrels.
With the change in coffee comes a change in the flavor profile, making each release truly unique from the previous years. The 2015 incarnation features Intelligentsia Coffee’s Nicaragua Los Delirios.
Nicaragua Los Delirios
Los Delirios is a former Cup of Excellence winning farm that was the life’s work and vision of Señor Daniel Canales. After winning the inaugural COE held in Nicaragua, Sr. Canales and his three sons garnered international acclaim, and were true pioneers in the cultivation of specialty coffee in Nicaragua. As their production expanded, they were able to re-invest in modern equipment for farming and washing purposes. The family was also one of the first organic certified farms in Nicaragua, due to their unwavering belief in preservation of land, plants and wildlife.
Now the three brothers each have inherited their own micro lots and have begun to experiment on their own with the results all being outstanding individual lots with their own unique flavor profiles. We are very excited to bring micro-lots, Los Monos and El Paraiso to our customers, and in building a long and sustainable relationship with these innovative and visionary producers who will continue being at the forefront of specialty coffee production in Nicaragua.
The newest lots at Los Delirios, the estate of Nicaragua’s first Cup of Excellence Award winner Don Daniel Canales, are named for his father Don Pio, who was himself the founder and first owner of the farm. In honour of his father, Don Daniel continues the work of coffee cultivation, and the Caturra Estrella varietal grown at the estate remains, as it did in his father’s day, second to none. Along with all the advantages of growing Caturra at elevations above 1300 metres, utlilizing raised African beds and demanding that all coffee produced meet a strict zero-defect SHG standard, Don Daniel adds his own flourish to the processing, as is the case with honey-wash process. This process of allowing the beans to remain in contact with the ripe pulp of the coffee cherry – under tightly controlled conditions – accentuates the sweet and flowery notes of the coffee while maintaining great body and complexity.*
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the 2015 Bourbon County Coffee Stout—a collaboration between Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company and Intelligentsia Coffee. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Pueblo Nuevo, Esteli, Nicaragua
farm: Los Delirios (Los Angeles, Ojo de Agua, La Maquina, Las Guatuzas, Las Termopilas, La Florida microlots)
producer: Milton, Daniel and Eddy Canales
elevation: 1350 – 1450 meters above sea level
cultivars: Caturra, Bourbon
process: fully washed, patio dried
style: Imperial Stout, aged in Bourbon barrels
alcohol by volume: 13.4%
international bitterness units: 60
ingredients: Coffee, Willamette Hops, 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black
The beer pours into my tulip a deep, dark black and it’s topped by a thick, foamy, dark tan head that dissipates almost immediately. It has decent retention, though, maintaining a thin ring around the perimeter of the tulip and moderate lacing, with tiny bubbles that cling to the glass.
This beer features a massive, intense aroma which bursts out as soon as I crack open the bottle. It has a huge roasted coffee presence, obviously, that is bolstered up by strong scents of chocolate malt, caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, black licorice, oak, and a light booziness.
Taking a few sips from the glass, the flavor is intensely complex. The beer is full-bodied, very creamy, and completely envelops the tongue with its thick, sticky, creamy mouthfeel. The initial flavors the beer presents are directly attributed to the coffee component—really great red berry, anise, citrus, cherry, hazelnut, and raisin flavors, with a presence of something vegetal—like green pepper and grass—that works against all of the beer’s better flavors. The beer’s base is a combination of heavy chocolate malt, vanilla, toffee, and salted caramel flavors—almost like a dark chocolate bar with caramel filling. It finishes with a slight boozy, charred oak and black pepper burn, particularly as the beer warms, and the roasted coffee rounds out the glass with a bit of a bitter finish.
Full body; creamy mouthfeel; carbonic acidity; clean finish.
Last year, Goose Island and Intelligentsia created one of the best coffee-infused beers I had ever tasted. Their 2014 BCCS was nothing short of a revelation—a beer that had just as much as thought and effort put into the coffee component as the base beer; one that proved there was room for innovation within a traditional style.
Goose Island’s 2015 Bourbon County Coffee Stout was further experimentation within the style, going with a coffee that featured a lighter profile than its 2014 predecessor. In 2014, this beer used a Rwandan coffee—one that featured a full body and heavy flavors (like dark chocolate and dark berries); this year’s BCCS used a Nicaraguan coffee that had a bit of a lighter body and flavors (caramel, nuts, and red berries).
Another way the 2015 Bourbon County Coffee Stout separates itself from its predecessor is its complexity, which the 2014 release didn’t really have. Last year’s release was all about sugary sweetness and toasted malts—pretty standard for a coffee stout; the 2015 BCCS is more nuanced (not just with its toffee/caramel and red berry flavors, but also with those herbal and vegetal notes that just aren’t often found in stouts; especially not coffee stouts).
Having said all that, it is now time for me to speak my final piece. I’m normally a huge fan of this beer; I am not a fan of this beer. It’s way too peppery, and that is not something I’m looking for in a stout, and especially not in this stout. The 2015 BCCS tastes like a diluted version of the base BCBS and is a huge step backwards from last year’s release (which might well be the best coffee stout I’ve ever tasted).
(EDITOR’S NOTE: After reading the many negative reviews regarding the 2015 BCCS, Goose Island is now offering refunds. I’m guessing I won’t get refunded the full $25 I spent on this bottle, though. Turns out the beer wasn’t supposed to taste like green peppers after all—who’d have thunk it. This makes me wonder if Intelligentsia accidentally sent them a Pacamara instead of the Bourbons and Caturras from Los Delirios.)
*content provided by Green Haven Imports
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.