We Tasted and Ranked Every 2023 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Delicious, as always.

November 22, 2023 7:17 am
2023 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Not a bad beer in the bunch.
Goose Island

Black Friday is almost upon us, and for craft beer fans, that means it’s time to head out and try to procure as many bottles as possible of this year’s highly coveted Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Released the same time every year, the imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels has become something of a post-Thanksgiving tradition — and for those of us fortunate enough to taste the entire lineup, so has sampling and ranking each variant.

This year, there are six total Bourbon County offerings — one fewer than in years past. But it’s about quality over quantity, and as always, these are some incredibly rich, complex brews that absolutely live up to the hype. Last year was a milestone year — the 30th anniversary of Bourbon County Stout — and the Goose Island team was determined to keep the positive momentum going into 2023.

“I wanted to ensure that coming off the 30th anniversary, we had quite a bit to celebrate,” senior innovation manager Mike Siegel said during a recent tasting. “It was a really big year for us, and I wanted to go into our 31st year kind of building off of the foundation that we’ve built as architects of the style and really kind of have this intentionality of, you know, these beers are going to be released all at once, ensuring that there’s this throughline, this storyline.”

This year’s variants include everything from a Bananas Foster-inspired brew to one that absolutely nails the flavor of rice pudding, but ultimately it’s the barrel-aging process that ties them all together.

“The barrel is an integral ingredient in this beer,” senior brewmaster Daryl Hoedtke says. “[We’ll] will go down to suburban country in Kentucky, two, three, even four times a year sometimes, building relationships with distilleries, and forming partnerships to ensure that we get those highest quality barrels for us to age our beer in. We’re able to get those barrels incredibly fresh for us where we’re typically filling beer into those barrels no more than one to two weeks after they’ve been dumped.”

The result is a truly excellent lineup of beers. We gathered 10 InsideHook staffers to taste this year’s offerings and rank them. Check out the results below to find out which 2023 variants are most worth seeking out this holiday season.

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Goose Island

6. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (Original)

ABV: 14.1% or 14.6%

This year’s flagship Bourbon County — which either has a 14.1% ABV or a 14.6% ABV depending on which batch you get your hands on — was aged for at least a year in bourbon barrels from staples like Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey and Four Roses. Interestingly enough, our tasters had a harder time than usual picking up on the barrel flavor here, though they did single out hints of chocolate, coffee, cherry, vanilla, almond, caramel and even some sourdough notes. Several tasters pointed out its nice finish. As always, it’s an incredibly complex beer, one designed to get better with age, and while this year’s other variants made more of an impression, it’s still absolutely worth keeping on your shelf and revisiting.

Goose Island

5. Goose Island Bourbon County Bananas Foster Stout

ABV: 13.9%

This one might be familiar to Bourbon County enthusiasts; it uses the same recipe as the 2017 local-to-Chicago Proprietor’s Stout, which was similarly inspired by the Bananas Foster dessert. It’s brewed with banana and three different types of almonds, and while it has what one taster described as an “aggressive aroma,” nearly every one of us who tasted it found the actual banana flavor to be lacking. It’s a perfectly pleasant beer, with a creamy mouthfeel and delicious hints of dried fruit, chocolate and cinnamon, but the banana is overshadowed here.

Goose Island

4. Goose Island Bourbon County Eagle Rare 2-Year Reserve Stout

ABV: 14.5%

This variant was aged for two years in barrels that one held 10-year-old Eagle Rare bourbon, and that extra aging certainly resulted in a bolder flavor profile. We could tell even before our first sips of it that we were dealing with a heavy hitter — one taster highlighted its “incredible nose,” while another insisted it “smells like cough medicine.” Others called its flavor “deep and rich” and picked up on hints of dried fruit, fig, cherry and barrel char. “Basically an amped up version of the original,” one taster wrote. “More vanilla. More oak. I like.”

Goose Island

3. Goose Island Bourbon County Angel’s Envy 2-Year Cask Finish Stout

ABV: 15.5%

Goose Island’s first-ever Cask Finish Stout is first aged for a year in Angel’s Envy barrels. Then 60% of this year’s batch was subsequently aged in Ruby Port wine barrels for another year, while the remaining 40% spent the full two years in the Angel’s Envy barrels. At 15.5% ABV, it’s the booziest of this year’s variants, but it’s not overwhelming. “Nice and mild for what it is,” wrote one taster. Others picked up notes of dark chocolate, cherry, oak and tannin. One taster noticed that the flavor opened up the longer the beer sat out, with the taste getting drier as it warmed up.

Goose Island

2. Goose Island Bourbon County Backyard Stout

ABV: 12.9%

A spinoff of 2013’s Backyard Rye release, the Backyard Stout is aged in bourbon barrels for at least a year and then finished with mulberries, boysenberries and marionberries. At 12.9% ABV, it’s the least boozy of all this year’s variants, and the fruitiness — along with its purple-ish hue — gives it an almost wine-like quality. Most of our tasters appreciated the berry flavor, which one described as “if a beer was a Fruit Snack.” One wrote that it was “balanced, easy and goes down smooth.” However, while the majority of our tasters loved it, one hold-out docked points. “Seems like the berries are competing for flavor space here,” they explained.

Goose Island

1. Goose Island Bourbon County Proprietor’s Stout

ABV: 14.3%

As always, the Proprietor’s Stout is only available to purchase in the Chicago area. If you happen to find yourself anywhere near the Windy City this year, run, don’t walk to pick up a bottle, because this year’s Proprietor’s variant is the best of the whole Bourbon County bunch. It’s inspired by rice pudding and brewed with cassia bark, toasted rice, brown sugar and raisins, and it was the clear winner in our tasting. Seven out of our 10 tasters chose it as their favorite. Several called it “delicate” and remarked on how well the lighter flavor of the toasted rice balanced the bolder elements of the stout. As one pointed out, “The cinnamon and toasted rice really come through.” Another singled out its “cozy flavors, like a warm dessert.” It is absolutely a sweet beer — though never cloyingly so.


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