Last night Goose Island Toronto, the downtown brewpub of the international chain, held a tasting of 2021 Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) and two older examples. It is hard to believe the annual release is almost 30 years running.
“Goose” put bourbon barrel-aged “impy” on the map. The annual release still commands much interest. For me, attending is more an obeisance to tradition, or sign of respect, than seeking extraordinary flavours.
That is, while BCBS is the exemplar, most whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout tastes largely the same, unless flavoured or spiced (as some Goose BCBS is)* or made off-piste in some other way. At least I think so, and I’ve had a few, since the genre began.
The whiskey barrel has such an overwhelming influence that most examples taste of worn leather, heady liquor, vanilla, and tar/roast grain/coffee.**
That said, ritual has its place even in the ever-changing, multi-faceted beer world of 2021, and I was glad to attend. The profile of the beers matched well to the pretzel, cheese, and chocolate served, so that was a nice fillip.
The older BCBS were a little different to the 2021, with extra notes of soy and old leather, but that will be true for most extra-aged imperial stout. The 2019 had a fruity note that was interesting, but I preferred the current release, which after all is already aged, in a matrix of bourbon barrels.
At my sitting, the first of two that night, no introduction was made of the beers which I thought odd. The servers certainly were knowledgeable but as a guest at my table noted, one had to make the point to ask.
Even a video presentation out of Chicago, with a historical précis and run-down of the new release, would have been helpful.
Still, I have always been a fan of Goose Island Toronto. The c. 1900 wood-and-brick building has lots of charm. The glass and gleaming German brew kit somehow fit well, or maybe the years have made it so.
The regular beers are always good or superlative, and change from time to time. Goose Island Toronto adds its stamp to the beer scene here, and I always drop by when I can.
*See Ashok Selvam’s 2021 BCBS canvass in Chicago Eater.
**I would never claim each is identical. Some will have more vanillin, more oak, more roast, etc. But the differences are comparatively minor imo.