Part One: The Prologue.
In 2013 and 2014, my friend Chris and I decided to drive to Chicago for Goose Island’s Black Friday celebration where they release Bourbon County Stout and there’s an afternoon tasting session at the brewpub (owned separately from AB InBev) where brewers of the beer are invited to talk about this year’s variants and provide information while we sip on the beers that are paired with various sweets. If you’re curious, you can check out my previous coverage of 2013 & 2014 Goose Island Black Friday events:
- Travel: GI’s Bourbon County Stout Release 2013 (Trip Summary)
- Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Variants 2013 (Event Recap)
- Travel: Chicago’s Bourbon County Release 2013 (Trip Recap)
- Events: Black Friday Bourbon County Stout Tasting @ Goose Island Clybourn (2014)
- Black Friday 2014 Photo Gallery
Now that we’re all caught up, I’ve learned quite a bit since taking those two trips and thought I’d lay them out here but I best most of my readers are already clued in to how this Goose Island thing works:
- InBev bought Goose Island a few years ago but the Goose Island Brewpub (Clybourn) is still operated independently and licenses the name and such from InBev. They make their own beer and occasionally serve BCS on draft at special events. You can see all of the non-InBev beers here on RateBeer.
- Over the years, InBev and Bourbon County Stout Black Friday has become a huge deal / money maker to increase hype around their ‘Golden Goose’ so to say. Each year more and more PR-Types are around, more Goose Island camera crews, marketing people and corporate shills show up and the pre-event marketing, promotion, etc is at a tipping point in my opinion.
- This year, Goose Island hired Good Beer Hunting to make a video series called Grit n’ Grain (YouTube). Lots of folksy guitar music and “real working Americans” were featured because nothing appeals to Blue-Collar people more than $60 bottles of beer. I don’t know if GI / InBev was trying to make BCS Appeal to blue collar people or if it was intended to make hipsters feel like they’re as close to “working man” as they can get without literally chopping down a tree or welding or something like that
- Every year, the volume of Bourbon County Stout and its variants increase by double digit percentages but every year, BCS is available in more states, more stores and more bars so finding BCS today is as hard as it was finding it a few years ago if you’re in a metro area. There is also more awareness of the brand. When Imperial Stouts are selling on eBay for 4-10x the MSRP, the wrong people are involved hunting down bottles like its Pappy van Winkle for the total reason of flipping the bottle for cash.
- I think Bourbon County Stout is excellent but I do think it is the only beer that is keeping Goose Island cool. A lot of the beers are brewed at InBev factories now. An event like Rare Day couldn’t take place without BCS. I don’t think anyone would line up for 312 or Honker’s Ale
- Rare Day was the first of many events to come where the focus is taken off Black Friday and away from the brewpub and I don’t see this as a bad thing
Part Two: What is Rare Day 2015?
Rare Day took place on November 13th at Goose Island’s Fulton location (for bottle sales) and at their new Barrel Warehouse for the drinking and entertainment portion of the event. The event is named after the 2nd edition of Bourbon Count Rare, a beer last released in 2010 which now sells regularly on secondary markets for $350 a bottle despite it’s $50 a bottle price just 5 years ago. The new price of the smaller 2015 edition is $60 a bottle despite being 6 ounces less beer than the 2010 version. It does come in this fancy wooden box though…just look at that box!
The details of Rare Day were simple. Bourbon County Stout will still be released on Black Friday (although some retailers have already sold their allocation so they don’t have to deal with all of the phone calls from beer geeks) but if you enter the Rare Day Lottery, get picked, pay $40 a person and travel to Chicago, you could buy three bottles of BCS Rare on the 13th and taste all* of the 2014 and 2015 BCS variants side by side. That asterisk next to “all” is because the variants were only ones bottled, not all of the one-off BCS variants that show up at events. Seriously, there are dozens that get brought out in keg form that are not sold commercially. I really want to try Neapolitan one day!
Here are full details from the Goose Island Rare Day site in case one day that site goes offline:
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2015
GOOSE ISLAND’S FULTON STREET BREWERY TAPROOM
TICKETS ARE $40.00 AND INCLUDES:
- Option to purchase up to three (3) bottles of Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout
- Goose Island tote bag
- Entry to Barrel House event
- Commemorative Snifter
- 6 beer tokens for (3oz.) pours of Bourbon County variant samples
Bottle Release – 11:00am – 2:00pm
Barrel House Event – 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Bottle Release – 4:00pm – 7:00pm
Barrel House Event – 6:00pm – 9:00pm
BARREL HOUSE CELEBRATION
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2015 – IMMEDIATELY AFTER BOTTLE PICK UP
- 1 hour live performance of the Black Oil Brothers (Chicago Bluegrass Band in our new Grit & Grain video series)
- 1 hour “Barrel to Bottle” presentation by Goose Island’s Jared Jankoski and Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller on the Rare Project and the life of Bourbon County Stout
- Food trucks (Food not included in ticket)
- Self guided tour of our Barrel House
- Over 12 different Bourbon County variants on tap with other Goose Island beers
- Merchandise booth full of Bourbon County and Goose Island gear
- Premiere of Grit & Grain Chapter 9 (Rare Episode) one week before it’s release
- Photo Gallery of behind the scenes of Grit & Grain with Michael Kiser from Good Beer Hunting
- Enter Goose Island filmmakers will be on hand to talk to about making Grit & Grain.
Heather and I both entered the lottery for Rare Day and she won a chance to buy 2 tickets. We looked at flights and after last year’s trip to Chicago, we as a group (Heather, Chris and I) decided not to drive this year or fly there and drive one way back with all of our beer. Driving to Chicago both ways within 72 hours is brutal. Upon checking flights, it was cheaper to fly to Chicago for Rare Day than on Black Friday and people who I could crash with would be in town instead of in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving so going for this event was much cheaper than Black Friday where I’d have to wait in line all day and maybe get 1 bottle of each variant and one bottle of Rare along with $75 for the tasting at the brew pub that was 2 ounces of each 2015 variant.
Rare day on the other hand is 3 bottles of Rare and all you can drink of 2014 & 2015 variants plus no 8 hours of sitting in the cold in front of Binny’s. It was pretty responsible to do Rare Day over Black Friday this year so we bought plane tickets.
Parth Three: The Event (Photos & Thoughts)
I often forget what city-life is like. I remember in SF, if you wanted to eat breakfast on Sunday, you’d have to wait for an hour to be seated. One of my biggest complaints about Chicago and Rare Day is there was never a time where you didn’t have to wait in line. Consider it a personal city tax I guess. You want to have cool stuff at your fingertips, there’s going to be a long line.
We arrived at 2:45 at the Goose Island Fulton Street Brewery and there were 125 people ahead of us. The line started to get insanely long by the time we actually started moving which was around 4PM. There was an issue with credit card transactions as banks got suspicious of Goose Island charging way more than any brewery ever should to beer-geek’s plastic and cars were getting blocked left and right which held things up considerably. We were out of there by 4:45 and on a bus to the Barrel Warehouse
Goose Island insisted there was no parking at the warehouse so we took this bus ride which took about 15 minutes only to be told on the bus there were no return shuttles so we’d have to take an Uber home and they gave us a $5 Uber voucher. Little did we know there was loads of street parking at the barrel warehouse. Oh well. We get off the shuttle, walk in and there are 200 beer geeks snaked in a line. We were let in the doors at 6PM on the dot. So far, I’d been standing in lines for a while. I heard there were 750 people in Session A and I would have assumed around 450 in Session B.
As we entered the barrel warehouse, a live band was playing and we were welcomed as 15 Goose Island employees provided Rare Day glasses full of Bourbon County Rare 2015 with very generous 4+ ounce pours.
I finished my review via audio notes and went up to spend my hard-earned tokens and I learned that every single bottle Bourbon County beer from 2014 & 2015 were available to choose from! Heather and I had 12 tokens between ourselves so we started with ’14 & ’15 Coffee, then ’14 & ’15 Proprietors followed by Regal Rye and Vanilla Rye.
It was at this point, we got in line for the “mystery barrel” which was a decently smart idea from Goose Island that left me very disappointed. You approach the barrel, put your glass in the left or right hole and the faceless person gives you beer. The mystery started with 2010 Bourbon County Vanilla or 2012 Bourbon County Cherry Rye. Eventually, Vanilla ran out and was replaced by BCS Templeton Rye (the base for all of the Rye variants). I’ve had it twice before and continue to find it unimpressive compared to regular BCS so I ended up getting that and Heather got to rate Cherry Rye which is something she never has had before.
My problem with the mystery barrel is really self-inflicted. I chose to wait in a line that took just over 1 hour to get through compared to the wait of any of the 2014 / 2015 variants which never exceed 75 seconds just to get a glass of Templeton Rye or Cherry Rye. Not sure what else I expected? Maybe my insane fascination with finally getting to try Neapolitan got the best of me and caused me to wait in a Disney – World sized line for a blended Rye barrel BCS w/ no adjuncts. My biggest regret of the time in Chicago was that line waiting. I brought this pain on myself. So many regrets.
As we were in the line, employees were pouring Proprietors 2014 and 2015 so I snagged an additional pour of each. After just 2 hours, I was at a place in my intoxication that I knew I shouldn’t keep drinking. It was more than just feeling buzzed, it was a sugar high of all of the imperial stouts side by side. My mouth was candy-coated, my stomach hurt and I basically just didn’t want anything sweet going forward. That 312 Urban Wheat keg looked really appealing but not so appealing that I actually got a pour.
Before people freak out about drinking and driving, I blew way under the legal limit before I left Goose Island and didn’t drive for a while after the event ended and long after I had a full meal of Chicago deep dish pizza leftovers from that afternoon.
Back to the event, there was a merchandise table setup with bottle openers, glassware, coffee cups and posters. I grabbed 2 of the crystal glasses to go with my other 3-4 BCS snifters and in true Adam style, I immediately broke one of my glasses and the staff graciously replaced it for me.
The food trucks were good but there wasn’t a lot of choice, Gyros, American and BBQ food trucks and of course I went with the pulled pork sandwich. Another observation was I saw lots of women drinking Urban Wheat while their BF/Husbands used the rest of the tokens for “all the BCS!” and I assume the women drove the dudes home that night. Another sort of thinking out loud moment for me is around mules and people having their spouses come just to get extra bottles of BCS Rare. Don’t underestimate beer geeks but assuming you won the Rare Day lottery, it’s $80 for 2 people to go and $180 for 3 bottles of Rare. If your GF is only going for you to get extra Rare, that’s $440 you spent for 6 bottles of Rare with a night of drinking Imperial Stouts. Minus the waiting in line and that’s just insane. I guess I spent as much money as I flew to Chicago but Heather isn’t muling for me. Those are her bottles just like the BTAC and Pappy she gets are her bottles. She may share her bottles sometimes but they’re hers and she loves bourbon and stouts as much as I do. I want to assume every wife there loves Bourbon County but mostly I think these are beer traders getting as much “currency” as they can put on their AMEX and accumulating a lot of credit card debt in the process.
Overall, I loved Rare Day. It was better than sitting in front of Binny’s for 8 hours to buy 2-3 bottles of BCS and 1-2 variants and then forking over $75 to have 2 ounce pours @ the brewpub with paired brownie / cookies and it was nice because going to Chicago when it’s not Thanksgiving means there’s so much more to do and see! It just helps that the flights were cheap enough to make this work
I hope Goose Island makes an event like this a yearly occurrence. Rare or not, I’d love to buy 3 BCS variants and drink everything with good music for an evening and spend Thanksgiving playing video games instead.
Part Four: My Thoughts on the 2015 Variants
I only took audio notes for the beers that for me, are a new rating on RateBeer but I’d say overall, every beer this year was decent to great. Rare stole the show. Here’s an arbitrary x/10 rating for everything I tried followed by tasting notes of the 3 new variants I rated:
Bourbon County Stout (Original): 8/10
Proprietor’s 2015: 6/10
Barley wine: 8/10
Rare (2015): 10/10
Regal Rye: 5/10
I loved Rare this year. Fantastic barrel character with no adjuncts getting in the way. coffee is going to be flawless in 2-3 months. Prop and Regal were weak but may improve with time like Bramble and Cherry rye did in the past. Barleywine needs 1-2 years to shine. I’ll buy as much as I can and wait. 2013 Barleywine is perfect now.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout – Rare 2015
AROMA 9/10 APPEARANCE 5/5 TASTE 8/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 18/20
AdamChandler – Enfield, New Hampshire, USA – NOV 14, 2015
A – This was unsurprisingly pitch black with no head at all. Looked very oily with huge legs on the glass. Sticky, oil like, rich
S – The aroma is gigantic. It smells like a bar of dark chocolate with a light bitterness, fudge, very dark bourbon barrel coffee and Madagascar vanilla beans.
T – Red-Wine, Burnt oak, cigars, tobacco, a little bit of rubber with a ton of chocolate and vanilla. There’s so much chocolate in here that I can’t even. It’s really like chewing on one of those artisan chocolate bars. Vanilla is way more pronounced than other non-adjunct BCS variants.
M – This is incredibly dense, thick. The mouthfeel is heavy and oily with a chocolate and smoked wood finish but not a huge carb bomb. I am surprised there’s any carbonation in this beer at all.
O – This is a fantastic beer! It’s going to get better with time and I look forward to having it again one day.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout – Regal Rye Barrel
AROMA 8/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 7/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 14/20
AdamChandler – Enfield, New Hampshire, USA – NOV 14, 2015
A – Pitch black, dense, a 2 finger espresso colored head that faded fast w/ no lacing.
S – The aroma is pretty weak, I get a very faint raspberry aroma but it’s light with chocolate pudding and spice
T – The taste….it’s very medicinal like a berry cough syrup. I’d say raspberry and cherry dominate the taste here. The Sea Salt is barely noticeable. The Templeton Re spice is present especially @ the finish. Chocolate but a high bitterness in this beer.
M – Oily, slick, lingering rye. Not very dense.
O – This beer is probably going to be amazing in 3 years. Think Fresh Cherry Rye and Fresh Bramble. Yeah, those fresh were like cough syrup and now they’re really shining. I think this has that potential.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout – Proprietor’s 2015
AROMA 8/10 APPEARANCE 5/5 TASTE 6/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 15/20
AdamChandler – Enfield, New Hampshire, USA – NOV 14, 2015
A – …like every other BCS Variant except slightly more oil on the surface than other variants
S – Aroma is a faint maple, chocolate syrup (hershey’s) vanilla
T – Things start out incredibly sweet, thick, boozy with a maple middle taste and only a faint spice at the finish. It’s barely noticeable that there’s pepper in here. As for pecan, I eat a handful every week and grew up eating them and I honestly don’t get much nuttiness. The one problem with this is the beer is entirely too sweet.
M – Dense and very thick. The maple adds a lot of thickness here and it also is adding a ton of sweetness. I had 2 pours of this and was basically over Imperial Stouts for 24 hours.
O – Very nice, had alongside 2014 Prop and I greatly prefer that. This is a pretty weak offering compared to ’13 and ’14 but decently done. Split the bottle 10 ways.
Part Five: Chicago Thoughts
You guys in Chicago have it so good! I’m forever jealous. Here are a few additional photos: