They line up hours before the doors open, hoping to grab one of the rare Black Friday specials before they’re gone. Sometimes, they wipe out a store’s entire stock in minutes.
This particular breed of Black Friday shopper isn’t after a 4K TV or a laptop, though. They’re looking for a beer—Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, to be precise.
Of all the ‘event’ beers in the brewing industry, this one remains the king. It’s an offering that may not be as rare as it once was, as Goose Island owner AB InBev has increased production in recent years. But it’s still a special event that erases the often-antagonistic lines between the craft and macro brewing worlds.
It’s a beer whose reputation has grown through the years. In Chicago, for example, 300 people lined up outside of Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago (the city Goose Island calls home) on Black Friday in 2010 to get their hands on BCBS. Three years later, that number had doubled.
Last year, over 2,000 people were waiting when the doors opened, according to AB InBev. Some fans line up as early as the day before Thanksgiving. Most show up between 3am and 4am on Black Friday.
That particular chaos isn’t repeated around the country, but beer fans do line up early at local spirits stores to grab a bottle (or more). It’s released once a year on Black Friday and when it’s gone, it’s gone until next year. (The brewer doesn’t say how many bottles it produces.) Fans happily pay anywhere from $13 to $60 a bottle, depending on the style.
This could be the biggest year yet for Bourbon County, a barrel aged beer that carries a big alcohol punch (averaging around 14.9%) and a deep, rich flavor. After releasing six variants last year, Goose Island is putting out eight in 2018.
So what can you expect if you stand in line for a BCBS? We’ve had a chance to taste three of the six that will be released this year, and we can vouch that they’re absolutely worth braving the crowds and elements to buy.
Bourbon County Reserve Brand Stout
BCBS usually rests in Heaven Hill whisky barrels, but this varietal used freshly emptied 12-year old barrels that formerly contained Elijah Craig whisky, which was named “Whisky of the Year” in 2018 by Whisky Advocate. It adds a terrific, very smooth quality to the base stout. You’ll have to hunt for this, but if you see it, grab it.
Bourbon County Brand Stout
You can’t go wrong with the original. Aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, this year’s version lacks the viscosity of a few years ago, but it’s still full of chocolate, leather and vanilla flavors. As always, it’s a prime candidate to age as well.
Bourbon County Wheatwine Ale
Making its debut this year, this barleywine/wheat beer hybrid is the first non-stout the company has offered in five years. It was worth the wait. Oozing with caramel and butterscotch notes, it’s boozy, but finishes clean. This was a gamble that paid off for the brewer.