To most folks across the country, Black Friday means stampedes of ravenous shoppers violently climbing over one another to get the best deals on flat-screen TVs, gaming consoles and the hottest new holiday items. In the craft beer community, however, the day after Thanksgiving is reserved for something far more significant: the annual release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout, the first mass-marketed, bourbon barrel–aged beer, and still one of the most coveted rare bottles around.
As popular as barrel-aged beers have become recently, it's hard to imagine that the trend can trace its origins to this single brewery just over 20 years ago. But it was as recently as 1992 when Goose Island changed the barrel-aged beer game by aging its flagship stout in casks of used Jim Beam barrels.
Geographic proximity to Kentucky's finest distilleries naturally plays a role in Goose Island's successful barrel-aging program, but the brewery's native climate is actually even more of a factor. "We let the warehouse run to Chicago temperatures," Porter explains. "That's what makes Bourbon County Stout as good as it is. It's the Chicago weather — cold winters, followed by hot humid summers — that causes the staves in our bourbon barrels to bring in and then force out liquid, and that's where the flavor comes from."
To the novice drinker, all the madness surrounding Bourbon County might seem a little much. But consider the history and heritage going into every release.