Daylight saving time is here, its unwelcome bags stuffed with 5 p.m. sunsets and a potential sales pitch for breweries. Dark days deserve dark beers. It’s marketing magic for imperial stouts, those boozy heavyweights swinging haymakers filled with coffee and cocoa, decadent sips for cranking our internal thermostats. And fall’s most ballyhooed bruisers are Goose Island’s Bourbon County stouts, an annual tradition that dates back to the early ’90s.
Back then, Goose Island flouted convention by aging an imperial stout in freshly emptied bourbon barrels. The spirited approach was groundbreaking then, but today it’s well-trod ground. Bourbon barrel–aged stouts are sold by breweries small and big, making it tough to stand out in the boozy darkness.
Goose Island is trying hard to differentiate in 2020. The company’s slate of Bourbon County variants numbers seven deep, starting with the flagship. It’s seasoned in assorted bourbon barrels from Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, and Heaven Hill, a fudgy vanilla treat.
It’s solid stuff, rich and delicious in all the expected metrics. But that’s table stakes for this category of beers. Breweries must consistently up the ante, be it in rarity or flavor, to attract attention and credit cards. Goose Island caters to the pay-any-price collector set with varieties aged in barrels that contained Old Forester Birthday and W.L. Weller bourbons, two of today’s more sought-after brands. On the other hand, the Proprietor’s release is inspired by spumoni and tastes like Maraschino cherries and the promise of future cavities.
My taste buds are biased, though. I care neither for sweetness nor the cinnamon, caramel, and apple flavors of the wheat wine called Caramella. I do love coffee, mainlining cold brew and cortados all morning, priming me for Special #4 and its injection of Intelligentsia Coffee and maple syrup. It was pretty good, but also pretty by the book. Coffee. Beer. It’s a match made in our expected idea of heaven.
Instead, I’d prefer to endlessly meander through the marvelous miasma of Kentucky Fog. It seeks flavor inspiration inside the London Fog, an Earl Grey–infused latté sold at Starbucks. The bourbon-barreled stout is blended with clover honey and Earl Grey and black teas. There’s a sweetly floral fragrance, bright with lemon and grapefruits and balanced by honey, a strapping stout that drinks nimble and elegant, a sumo wrestler with the ability to powerlift and pirouette.
Kentucky Fog is the dreamiest stout I’ve sipped all year, proof that darkness can be light and delightful. This variant will suit everyone to a tea.
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