Over the last decade or so, Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County Stout release has become the best part of Black Friday for craft beer fans. Every year’s version of the rich, barrel-aged stout and its accompanying variants are typically (and rightly) associated with a certain level of sophistication. They’re big, boozy, complex beers aimed at pleasing a devoted fanbase that consists largely of beer snobs and bourbon aficionados. They are not, typically, the type of beer that someone whose preferred drink is a Jack-and-Coke would reach for.
And yet the most interesting variant from the 2021 lineup is the Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout, inspired by the flavor profile of the unofficial mixed drink of college freshmen everywhere.
Cola is an extremely common flavor — we’ve all had a Coke before — but it’s difficult to replicate, especially when you’re also dealing with some of the Bourbon County base’s potentially overpowering ingredients. Somehow, though, they’ve managed to nail it: The Classic Cola Stout is brewed with more adjuncts than any other Bourbon County variant ever, but its combination of lime, orange juice and orange zest, as well as coriander, cassia bark, nutmeg, brown sugar and vanilla, adds up to a surprisingly accurate (and delicious) cola taste. (If you’re someone who likes to make a big show of sniffing your beer before you taste it, be forewarned that the nose on the Cola Stout is a little deceptive; there’s a strong chocolate scent that doesn’t carry over to the actual flavor of the beer.)
To be clear, this still tastes like a Bourbon County Stout as well. It’s actually kind of remarkable how well it manages to both taste boozy and complex on the front end but finish light and crisp like a cola. (Relatively speaking, of course. This is still a 14.1% ABV stout we’re talking about here.) I would never use the word “sessionable” to describe a beer like this — it’s very obviously meant to be savored, and it’ll have you on your ass if you’re not careful about how much of it you drink in one sitting — but the Classic Cola Stout is unexpectedly smooth and easy-drinking with a refreshing mouthfeel. It’s sweet, but not grating; the brown sugar and vanilla are well-balanced by the citrus.
Ultimately, this is a big swing by a brewery that continues to experiment with unusual, creative new variants of their most beloved product. A fancy beer that tastes like a fountain drink is a weird, risky idea, but it paid off. Goose Island not only accomplished the flavor they were aiming to replicate, they improved upon it. Classic Cola Stout tastes like an elevated whiskey-and-Coke, with some excellent beer thrown in for good measure. It’s a novelty, sure, but it’s extremely well-executed, and we have to tip our caps to the brewery for continuing to push the envelope with creative variants. Craft beer fans already know Bourbon County Stout is outstanding, but it’s fun to be reminded that it still tastes great even when it’s masquerading as something else entirely.
To find out more about the 2021 Bourbon County Stout variants, click here.
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