In recent years, Goose Island Beer Company’s famous Bourbon County Brand has expanded to five beers: their flagship Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine, Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout, Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, and the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.
“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 coffee variant accounts for about 230 barrels of the total output. From the beginning, Goose Island has worked with Intelligentsia for this beer, and the 2014 coffee is a Rwandan variety called Zirikana.
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.
The coffee element of this stout is Intelligentsia Coffee’s Zirikana, Rwanda—a single estate Rwandan coffee grown by Nshimiyimana Gaspard.
“Rwandan coffee growers are rarely recognized by face or name. The coffee is usually picked in the morning and delivered to the washing station for a cash payment in the evening. Most of the country’s 500,000 coffee farming families only grow an average of 300 kilos of cherry each year—miniscule compared to large estates elsewhere in the world. In fact, rather than measure their plots in acres or hectares, most count their scale by the number of trees they own.” – Chris Kornman, Quality Control Manager / Green Coffee Buyer
So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that coffee from this three-hectare farm even made it to the cupping table, let alone in one of the most highly-anticipated coffee releases of the year!
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the the 2014 Bourbon County Coffee Stout—a collaboration between Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company and Intelligentsia Coffee. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Gikongoro, Nyamagabe District, Southern Province, Rwanda
farm: Nshimiyimana Gaspard’s Farm / Nyarusiza Washing Station
producer: Nshimiyimana Gaspard
elevation: 1950 meters above sea level
process: fully washed, raised bed dried
- Style: Imperial Coffee Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels
- Alcohol by Volume: 13.4%
- International Bitterness Units: 60
- Color: Midnight
- Hops: Willamette
- Malts: 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black
Upon pouring the bottle’s contents into my great-grandfather’s century-old brandy snifters, the stout’s aroma is warm and inviting: a somewhat sweet, spicy smokiness, vanilla, oak, bourbon, and roasted malts. I’m actually surprised at how potent the coffee aroma is, too—it really pops out of the murkiness of the beer with a fresh and lively vibrancy; chocolate and mixed berries.
Visually, the beer is a deep, velvety black with a small, thin tan head.
Taking my first few sips from the snifter, I have to admit that I’m struck by how sweet this stout is. It has a deeply velvety texture, akin to a chocolate malt both in terms of flavor and mouthfeel and, despite its whopping 13.4% ABV, doesn’t taste very alcoholic at all. This is a beverage that could its imbiber into a lot of trouble really quickly as it tastes much less like a very alcoholic beer and much more like a sugary confection.
The flavors this coffee stout are presenting me with are bittersweet dark chocolate, vanilla, oak cask, bourbon, roasted malts, fudge, brown sugar oatmeal, caramel, fig, toffee, and black walnut. The coffee component of the beer really shines, too, with flavors of blackberry, black cherry, raisin, and raspberry.
Full body; velvety mouthfeel; berry acidity; clean finish.
2014’s Bourbon County Coffee Stout is nothing short of a revelation.
As delicious as the beer is, what impressed me most about this beer was this: how remarkably well the coffee component complemented the beer and how both components came together to create the overall profile.
I think 2014 marked a sea change in how craft breweries approached the way they create coffee beers. Before 2014, it seems that breweries weren’t really looking for coffee profiles that complemented their beers; they were just looking for nuances of “that generic coffee flavor” as an individual note in their beer and, really, we tasted coffee predominately being used in stouts and porters. In 2014, though, craft breweries and craft coffee roasters teamed up for a wide variety of beer styles—even IPAs!
While this is obviously a coffee stout, its profile shows there’s plenty of room to innovate in the style and a definite shift in the way coffee stouts are approached. It really speaks to the consideration that went into the collaboration between coffee and beer.
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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.