For this day after Christmas, I’ll be doing a special review, one that I’m sure all you craft beer fans would enjoy reading. Tonight I taste and compare and contrast two beers of the same style from the same brewery of a vintage that is one year apart. I look forward to trying Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout 2015 and comparing it to the 2014 vintage.
The idea arose out of a comment from a reader:
Frank, Beer idea. If you have some Goose Island BCBS, how about a side by side using a new one and one about a year old.
That was a great idea. I had recently scored a 2015 bottle of BCBS and I had five bottles of 2014s in the back bedroom under wraps. This would be perfect.
(On a side note: I don’t really care about products with the word “brand” in their name. It’s like saying Scotch Brand Tape or Kleenex Brand Facial Tissue. That could lead to anomalies such as FlowMaster Brand Mufflers, Pennzoil Brand Zoil, and Budweiser Brand Bud Brand Lite Beer. Ridiculous. Couldn’t we just call it Bourbon County Stout or BCS just like we used to? Someone along the way may have stepped on some toes.)
I got all of the research done and then I started to think, “What if my taste buds revolt? What if I can’t tell any difference? What if I get hammered at the keyboard and my wife finds me with my face buried in it in the morning? Would I be able to clean the sleep droll off the keyboard?”
Deep down, I knew I’d be fine. I’d tell it like it is. I’d call ‘em as I see ‘em.
For this occasion, I decided to break in my new Christmas gift of a pair of TeKu beer glasses. At first I thought they were a bit sissified by their looks until I saw a video of the 3Floyds guys sitting around drinking from them. They should funnel aromas quite nicely. Here’s a link about how the glass was developed.
It seems that Goose Island has fallen a bit out favor in the craft beer crowd. They were bought by InBev back in ’11 and today, one would think that nothing has changed. At the brewery it’s situation normal. But their flagship beers, 312 Urban Wheat and Honkers Ale are brewed at other ABInBev breweries. The remainder of their workhorse beers remain relatively unchanged. Here is an interesting article on all that. One cannot say, however, that that will remain the SOP for the brewery 3 years or five years or 10 years from now. We’ll have to wait and see.
With this new BCBS a few of things become apparent. The bottle is bigger. Instead of 12 ounces, it’s now 16.9 ounces, or 500ml. The larger bottle is missing its front label and now has raised lettering right in the glass. Also, the neck label has a “flag” sticking out, separating it from all other beers that may be beside it on the shelf.
This year, BCBS has a number of variants. Esquire has a nice pictorial.
It’s stout season and what better way to kick it off than with a comparison tasting. Let’s get crackin’.
The beer poured black as pitch and brought up a small bit of dark brown foam. I could smell the aroma from about 2 feet away. Absolutely no light shown through the glass. I think that my desk lamp got dimmer as I poured, with the beer sucking light from the surroundings like a black hole. The aroma was full of dark matter, chocolate roasted malts and my mouth watered right after that.
The first sip was almost an out-of-body experience on a fresh palate. Thick, liquid mouthfeel, tons of sweetness and then the darkness hit the back of the throat. That first sip was a bit hard to swallow and I had to closed my eyes as it went down. Then brief aromas of alcohol and dark roasted goodness.
This was a huge beer, an experience of a lifetime in a glass. One wouldn’t think it was possible to brew a beer of such magnitude.
Each successive sip had the sweetness come forward and recede and the alcohol flavors melt into the background. I caught a slight taste of dark chocolate mixed in with the roasted malts. Interestingly, the roasted aspect of the malts reminded me of wet or damp oak mixed with a bit of caramel.
The drink was smooth and well balanced. It was an imperial stout of the nth level. This beer made me want to do a side by side with Dark Lord and Surly Darkness. I’d probably need help getting to bed after that. It is no surprise that Rate Beer gives the 2015 BCBS a perfect score across the board.
The older beer had an identical pour, black with a small slick of brown foam. The aroma was less pronounced but had similarities to the previous beer. It was still the same beer but slightly different.
The first sip had the same, thick mouthfeel but the taste was slightly different. The alcohol profile was subdued and the body of the liquid tasted finer with all the elements playing in concert. The overall flavor was much more tolerable and sips went down without a rasp or hitch.
I’d say that this older version was a tad bit more laid back, as if it had a squarer jawline and a deeper but mellower voice. The newer beer is like a 21-year-old guy with a hot rod and a full tank of gas.
Alternating sips one to the other, I could immediately tell how much more refined the older beer was. It was more enjoyable, less sweet, even smoother. However, I wouldn’t pass over the 2015 beer ever because I know what it can become over time.
This was an eye-opening experience for me. I got to taste the subtle differences between two of the same beers from the same brewery and of similar ABVs. The fact that I could sort through the tons of malt flavors and pick out the differences in sweetness and dark tastes surprised me.
I can understand the need to want to drink the new one right out of the gate. But to have a new one and compare it to an older one is a wonderful experience.
Bourbon County Brand Stout is a beer of legend. You’d be wise to buy a few (if you can) and save one or two for an occasion in the future, especially where you can share with a friend or loved one. The Vikings would be jealous of this beer.
Style: Russian Imperial Stout.
Taste: Outstanding. Beer in the 4th dimension.
Smoothness: 2014 smoother than 2015.
Drinkability: Sipping beer. Dangerous beer.
Bang for the buck: Worth it for the gigantic taste.
Amount paid: 2014 – forgot, but about the same. 2015 – $9.99 for 16.9-ounce bottle.
Get it again? Oh hell yeah.
ABV: 2015 – 14.3% 2014 – 13.8%
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion:
2015 – This is really dark. (sniff) Oh it… It smells awful. (sip) Oh, it tastes bad after it hits the back of your throat. Like a licorice gone bad.
2014 – (Sip) I dunno… I don’t taste much difference. (sip) Ack!! I don’t like those dark ones. Bleah! (Hey, wait! Tell me about the differences you taste!)
Bourbon County Brand Stout [2:34]