Never mind its world class ratings. Never mind the events that feature its annual release, held at various spots across the country – those lucky enough to have some distributed there, that is. Never mind its status as a gold standard of barrel aged stouts. Never mind that for many, acquiring a single bottle of it means some travel, or some luck, or both. Of course, just in case you’re not familiar with this particular beer, sure, take a moment to take all those facts in. But once you soak in all the across the board scores of 100, as well as the all the clamor and deserved trumpet sounding that surrounds its release, stop there. Then, take a moment to look at the story behind how it made its way to Roanoke this year – finally – and that alone just might be all you need to know about Goose Island’s revered Bourbon County (Brand) Stout.
“A little over a year to be honest. I would say about a year and a half or year and three months ago.” A year and a half – the length of time it took for Blue 5’s manager and craft beer expert Chaz Blevins to bring Bourbon County, or BCBS, as it is affectionately known, to Roanoke. Sure, there are plenty of annually released beers that can be hard to come by. But few take a consistent effort that spans as long as fifteen to eighteen months. “I had spoken with some of our resident beer geeks about great stouts coming on here at Blue 5….and BCBS always seemed to come up as either THE favorite, or top three. So I knew I had to taste this beer”.
It’s not surprising that BCBS comes up in discussions of stouts as often as it does. Considered one of the country’s top stouts, and certainly one of the best barrel aged of the style, the beer is spoken of with the sort of respect you might imagine being used to recall legendary tall tales of heroic feats around campfires. Considering Goose Island’s history as being one of the first craft breweries to experiment with barrel aging beers, BCBS stands out as perhaps its best effort at adding such further complexity, if not the most well known. But in case you don’t have time for campfire stories, consider those scores: an overall 100 on ratebeer.com, and a 95 on beeradvocate.com. Yes, the field of barrel aged stouts is a crowded one, but ever since its inception in 1992, BCBS has permanently nailed down a spot as one of the finest.
Yet being one of the best barrel aged stouts around but also one with a limited, seasonal release status means that it can be rather difficult to acquire bottles of it, much less to put it on draft. Blevins began contacting Goose Island those many months ago, with the help of Aden Short, craft beer manager for the brewery’s Roanoke distributor, but any initial headway was tough to come by. “After both Aden and I had contacted GI several times it seemed that due to complications, finally tasting BCBS on draft was a pipe dream and was never going to happen.” But eventually, with a change in Goose Island’s area representatives over the last year, things began to move in the right direction. Blevins “pounced” on the change, and thus upon a set of fresh ears to hear his plea of bringing BCBS to Blue 5. “After Aden introduced me to Rhett (Orem, a new GI sales rep) and then after chiseling out some time with him to court the idea…” followed by admittedly “really bugging poor [Orem]”, a door began to open. “Rhett said that he loved the town, loved the bar and would do anything he could to try to help us get some BCBS.”
As Blevins says, “So here we are. A year or so later. [Perhaps] we just nagged them to the point of breaking, but this Friday, Bourbon County will be flowing from the taps at Blue 5.” In the long run, maybe the year and a half of effort it took to put BCBS on draft will mean even more than just a world class stout on tap, as folks like Blevins continue to push Roanoke towards greater craft beer prominence. But on Friday, as the viscous, dark liquid begins to pour, those delicious flavors of charred wood, vanilla, smoke, cocoa, dark fruit, and more will truly be what matters – as well as the work one craft beer fan put in to finally bring this classic beer to town.
For those of you who can attend Friday night, however – the story doesn’t exactly end there. Blue 5’s event doesn’t just include Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, but also a couple of other beers within the Bourbon County Brand line. Namely, the downtown restaurant will also be featuring on draft a new addition to the line, the Bourbon County Barleywine. For those lucky enough to already have tried BCBS, the barleywine is likely the beer those folks will be seeking. Aged in barrels which both previously held both Kentucky bourbon as well as Goose Island’s own BCBS, the barleywine indeed figures to be highly sought after.
A couple of others will be available in bottle form, including Bourbon County Coffee, an imperial coffee stout which each year since its inception has featured a different type of coffee from a Chicago based coffee roaster. Also included will be the Bourbon County “Backyard Rye” Stout, an imperial stout aged in rye whiskey barrels, then with boysenberries, marionberries, and mulberries added. Additionally, several other Goose Island beers will be on hand either in bottle or on tap form, including their imperial IPA Illinois, as well as Lolita, their well known wild ale aged in wine barrels with raspberries.