Some Black Friday shopping goals are filled with foam and fermentation.
Each year since 2010, beer lovers have lined up – some even camped out – at beer sellers around the U.S. on the day after Thanksgiving to snatch up the Chicago-based Goose Island Beer Co.’s bourbon-barrel aged original Bourbon County Brand Stout and additional flavored beers.
“As far as we know, it started the whole craze of people enjoying lining up to buy beer,” said Goose Island president Todd Ahsmann. “Now you can find people lining up pretty much any weekend all over the country for different beer releases, but back then it was really novel.”
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Just as traditional stores plan to monitor and modify Black Friday crowd flow stressing online shopping and curbside pickup, Goose Island has asked retailers to take safety measures to prevent any unneeded crowd gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. Some stores have already held lotteries and others will have special processes to pre-purchase the beer and have select times to pick it up. (Check local retailers.)
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“We are all in this together and ask that you respect social distancing measures put in place and be patient with us and your local retailer or bottle shop,” the brewery said in a blog post last month. “While the process of purchasing this year’s BCS lineup may be a little different, what’s in the bottle is what it’s all about … and we promise it’ll be worth it.”
Those who’ve gotten an early taste of the seven beers being released Friday say this year’s batch of Bourbon County Stouts is exceptional. “It is one of the best lineups Goose Island has done in a long time,” said Josh Noel, a beer writer at the Chicago Tribune, who surveyed several beer writers about the brews.
What’s the big deal about Bourbon County Stout, which pour out inky smooth and have a boozy richness? “What attracts me is how layered and flavorful it is,” said Noel, who is also the author of “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business.” Anheuser-Busch set off a wave of big beer company acquisitions of independent regional breweries by buying Goose Island in 2011.
“When one of these beers is at its best there is a lot of interesting stuff going on. You will get oak and bourbon, chocolate and vanilla and coconut and berry and char and tobacco and leather,” Noel said. “All these really interesting flavors mingled together can just make for an absolutely wonderful beer drinking experience.”
The basic beer, Bourbon County Stout (14.3% or 14.6% alcohol by volume), is aged for at least one year in bourbon barrels from distilleries such as Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey. If you are new to chasing Bourbon County Stout, most suggest buying at least two bottles – one to drink now and another to store, as it gains flavor in additional bottle aging.
Typically sold for $13 or more, this stout will be the most readily available at stores, and it serves as the base for five other imperial stouts including Birthday Bourbon County Stout (14.6% ABV), which was aged in Old Forester Birthday Bourbon barrels, and Anniversary Bourbon County Stout (15.2% ABV), aged two years in Weller 12 Year barrels.
Availability of these two beers will be more limited, so if you are a beer and/or whiskey aficionado, you will want to snatch these up if you find them. Pricing will be higher than the standard Bourbon County; all prices are determined by retailers. And these two earned the top two spots in Noel’s Chicago Tribune rankings.
Three other beers will be more widely available: Bourbon County Special #4 Stout (13.3% ABV), an oatmeal stout made with Intelligentsia Coffee beans and bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, Bourbon County Kentucky Fog Stout (14.1% ABV), made with honey and Earl Grey and Black teas, and the more opaque Bourbon County Caramella Ale (14.6% ABV), a wheatwine aged in Larceny Wheated Bourbon barrels and enhanced with apple, cinnamon, and natural caramel flavor. (Think apple pie.)
Lastly, the Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout (14.2% ABV), created by Goose Island brewer Emily Kosmal as a tribute to spumoni, is made with pistachios, cacao nibs, candied cherries, and natural vanilla flavors. (This will only be available in the Chicago area.)
If you can’t get ahold of Bourbon County beers, think about supporting local breweries, Noel suggests.
“There is so much excellent barrel-aged stout no matter where you are you can walk into a local beer store and ask for a recommendation on a barrel-aged stout,” he said, “and the person behind the counter is almost certain to point you to something that is really good.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black Friday beer run: Breaking down the 2020 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout lineup