I (like so, so many people) get insanely excited for a beer release like Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. The down side to that is living in a location where it’s hard to even go to a bar where you can get a taste of it after it’s released. This past December I waited patiently for 4 hours just to hopefully get a chance of buying a single bottle of it. I managed to be one of the lucky ones to walk away with a bottle (and through a great stroke of luck was informed about a bar that still carried some of the ’14 Bourbon County Stout and Barleywine, so I snagged that too), however a great many people all across the country weren’t quite as lucky. We’ve all been excited for a big beer release and we’ve all unfortunately missed out on getting a taste. However, a great alternative exists, and it may be even closer to home than you realize. Enter your local craft brewery.
Small-scale, local craft breweries have been stepping up their game big time over the past few years: from crazy hop-forward, juicy IPA’s to sours to amazing barrel-aged beers of all varieties. Now I am quite fortunate to have the opportunity to live in downtown Pittsburgh with about 10 craft breweries within a 30 minute drive, but this is becoming the case for many cities throughout the US, and they are all going big with their beers now. Tonight I headed over to Spoonwood Brewing in Bethel Park (a small suburb of Pittsburgh) for their 1 year anniversary. They’ve been hosting different events every night this week, but tonight was a special one: the release of their bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, Undead Goon (aged in Woodford Reserve barrels).
Ever since the first time I tasted New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk I’ve been a huge fan of bourbon barrel aged beers. I must admit, I’ve never been a particular fan of bourbon (I mean the stuff tends to bring out the worst in us all, right?), but a bourbon barrel aged beer… that’s something wonderful. The rich complexity of these beers is astounding: from vibrant vanilla flavors to earthy, woody, leathery, tobacco-esque, boozy happiness. These beers aren’t ones to slam. They’re sippers. It takes the brewer a significant amount of time to make these beers. After the brewing, they usually spend several months sitting in a barrel soaking up all of those delicious bourbon-esque flavors. Just acquiring the right barrels to age the beer in can be a lengthy process for many breweries, hence the cult-like following some of these big breweries like Goose Island get for their beers like Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS).
Don’t get me wrong, my BCBS is a cherished member of my cellar collection. I haven’t even tried the 2015 yet, only the ’14. The downside to this beer is that it’s so hard for me to get in Western PA that I don’t even want to drink it. I’ll probably just try to collect several different years to eventually (hopefully) do a vertical taste comparison of it. The 2014 was a masterpiece: a true icon of the style and one of my favorite bourbon barrel aged beers of all time; however, if you aren’t a fan of this style of beer and just want it for the hype, you may find yourself a little turned off by the powerful and bold flavors. It’s got a big booze burn to it, the leathery, tobacco-y notes are overpowering. If you aren’t prepared for that and aren’t a fan of it, it could be perceived as being over the top. From a snifter it almost overwhelms your sense of smell and completely floods the palate. And don’t forget, this is a beer that you will wait hours just to get a single bottle of in certain parts of the country. This brings us back to the Undead Goon.
Rich chocolate, complex maltiness, slightly sweet, balanced beautifully by the slight whiskey bite. Truly an easy drinker, whether sipping or tossing back, a mildly terrifying thought considering it clocks in at 9.2%. The best part is, I didn’t have to stalk the brewer’s website, nag distributors and bottle shops for months, try to set up trades on bottle sharing websites, or buy tickets to a release event and wait in line for hours to get one bottle. I drove to a nearby brewery, walked in and got a table, and ordered it on draft. I got to celebrate the one year anniversary of a local business with them, drink their phenomenal beer, one that rivals some of the best examples of the style I’ve ever encountered, relax, and enjoy a delicious meal (yes, local breweries can be havens for phenomenal food). So maybe you weren’t able to get a bottle of that big beer release that everyone on the internet is going crazy over, but relax. All is well. Just head over to your local brewery, and be ready to be blown away by the big things they are doing.
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