Review: Goose Island Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout - The Whiskey Wash

Review: Goose Island Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout

While brewers and distillers collaborating and sharing elements of each other’s products is hardly new, it might be tough to find a partnership as long lasting as that between Knob Creek and Goose Island.

The concept began, according to Food & Wine, at a tasting of bourbon, beer, and cigars in the early ’90s when the creative minds behind the two companies – Booker Noe, grandson of Jim Beam and master distiller of Knob Creek, and Greg Hall, Goose Island brewmaster – met and began chatting about how Hall wanted to do something special for the 1,000th batch at the Clybourn facility.

During their conversation that evening, Noe pledged four Knob Creek Bourbon barrels to Goose Island, kicking off the brewery’s first Bourbon County Brand Stout and its now decades old tradition of aging beer in whiskey barrels.

With Knob Creek reaching its 25th anniversary since its 1992 debut, the two companies have entered into a special collaboration to put together “a toast to the chance encounter” that spawned a bourbon barrel beer empire: Goose Island Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout.

While the regular stout is aged for 8-12 months in barrels that contained whiskey for an average of eight years , according to Goose Island’s website, the reserve is specifically aged in 11-year-old Knob Creek Bourbon barrels. 

It’s made with Millenium hops as well as a range of malts including 2-Row, Black Malt, Caramel, Chocolate, Munich, and Roast Barley, according to Goose Island’s website. The final product comes in at 14.8% ABV with 60 IBUs.

While a letter from Knob Creek Master Distiller Fred Noe (son of Booker Noe) indicates that Goose Island plans to make the reserve part of its annual collection, the small batch made this year will only be available in the collaborators’ home bases: Chicago and throughout Kentucky.

I sat down with a bottle of Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Goose Island Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout to see if I could taste the impact. While I won’t be rating this stout like I would for a whiskey, I should still mention that I prefer anything but a stout when I go for a pint. So keep my bias in mind when deciding whether to pick up a bottle for yourself.

Tasting notes: Goose Island Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout

Vital stats: Imperial Stout aged for 8-12 months in 11-year-old Knob Creek Bourbon barrels. Stout is made with Millenium hops and an array of malts including 2-Row, Black Malt, Caramel, Chocolate, Munich, and Roast Barley. It’s 14.8% ABV with 60 IBUs in pint-sized bottles. The price is unclear, but it’s only available around Chicago and throughout Kentucky.

Appearance: Both a glass of Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon and a glass of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout are pretty much what you’d expect in a whiskey and a stout, respectively. The former is a  fairly typical golden amber (maybe a bit more of coppery hue than normal) and the latter is opaque and very dark brown to the point of nearly black, almost like petroleum

Nose: The nose of the whiskey starts off with a rich, sweet caramel scent with a bit of a sweet citrusy tang of orange and a touch of smoky oak. That mellows toward the rich and smoky elements as it gains a bit a nutmeg spice to it as well. The stout is a whole different animal, as you might expect. It has a very rich, creamy chocolate aroma to it with a touch of chocolate and coffee.

Palate: A sip of Knob Creek hits the tongue like a middle-of-the-road caramel (not overly sweet, rich or complex) and builds in relatively mild notes of spices like pepper, clove and nutmeg as it sits on the tongue. Swallowing leaves an assertive dose of those spices in the back of the mouth before fading back to the slightly spicy caramel – a smooth, simple, well-rounded, and predictable dram. The stout leans more toward chocolate as its base flavor with a sweetened condensed milk element that giving it an very rich, creamy flavor. That’s complemented by touches of vanilla, nutmeg, espresso, and oatmeal. A creamy, smokey, and woody vanilla takes comes to the fore after swallowing and remains the dominant flavor as the taste lingers in the mouth.

The Takeaway: Stouts aren’t generally my pint of choice because they are a little too sweet for me – and Bourbon County Brand Stout is intensely so. While that rich, creamy chocolate and vanilla flavor is nice, at least at the beginning, the rich intensity of that sweetness tends to overshadow the whiskey attributes that may have been imbued by aging it in Knob Creek bourbon barrels.

About the author

Aaron Knapp