THE WORLD’S BEST barrel-aged stout is a debate for eternity. The style’s nuances are virtually limitless, and even the flavor profile of a single brand can change with each new vintage (to say nothing of how it ages). The question will never be settled, nor should it be. But if there’s no accounting for taste then perhaps at least one other sense can be settled—smell. Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout has one of the most instantly recognizable and intoxicating aromas of any beer, anywhere, anytime. Its decadent bouquet of coffee, cocoa, bourbon, roasted malts, and virtually tactile barrel warmth is a stamp as recognizable as the bold contrast on its label.
Beers of this strength (ca. 15% ABV) usually require some aging to reach their potential, and past iterations of BCBS have at times been rather hairy when tasted too young. But 2013’s vintage is an immediate winner. Oily black in the glass, it has a deep tan head with fine bubbles that are in no hurry to dispel–particularly impressive for its ABV. An initial sparkle of carbonation to keep flavors separate on the palate, but eventually they coalesce in a decadent, silky wash of alcohol, vanilla bean, light charcoal, roasted malts, and a faint bit of pine hops. It’s unapologetically boozy and sticky, but not hot, being barrel-aged enough to taste mature from the tap. Relatively speaking. It’s a full-bodied beer of massive textures, but still elegant and poised enough not to taste like an overstuffed dessert. Take your time.
It may be tiresome for any regularly-produced beer to inspire such manic calculating, scalping, and prospecting as this—but BCBS is a legend for a reason. It’s unforgettable.
Served: On tap (Beer Hoptacular, Chicago)