By Dan Berger – NOV-14-14
For many beer enthusiasts, the annual release of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout is like an early Christmas for beer geeks. Once upon a time, the standard BCS alone was cause for excitement. Now craft beer die-hards around the nation shake off their lingering turkey comas and stand outside of liquor stores on Black Friday to pursue a full line-up of BCS variants. This year will feature Bourbon County Brand Coffee stout brewed with Intelligentsia coffee, the sophomore edition of Bourbon County Brand Barley Wine, Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout made with vanilla beans and aged in rye whiskey barrels, and 2014’s rarest of the rare; a Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout brewed with cassia bark (basically cinnamon), cocoa nibs, and a syrup made from coconut water and Mexican panela sugar. This year’s Proprietor’s base beer is a version of BCS brewed with rye grain, with the resulting mix of specialty ingredients aged in rye whiskey barrels. Proprietor’s will once again be limited to sales in the Chicago area.
Goose Island first produced Bourbon County Brand Stout in 1992 to celebrate the brewery’s 1,000th batch of beer. Since then, the legend of this rich, obsidian-colored Russian imperial stout has grown along with its expanding production and distribution across the United States. Growth in this case is a relative term. According to Philip Montoro at the Chicago Reader, the 2012 production of BCS filled a modest 1,000 spent bourbon barrels, while the standard Bourbon County Brand Stout release accounted for at least 1,400 of approximately 2,500 barrels dedicated to the entire 2013 BCS line and its variants. Considering that Goose Island’s total 2013 brewing production clocked in at 325,000 barrels, 2,500 barrels was just a drop in the brew kettle. The addition of Goose Island’s new 143,000 barrel warehouse this year is estimated to increase future BCS production by 15-20%. Goose Island Communications Development Manager Samantha Catalina notes that 2014 numbers, “…are currently out-pacing last year’s production,” both overall and within the BCS line of beers, but you can be certain that Bourbon County Stout will remain a tough nut to crack when it hits stores on November 28th. The drama of acquiring BCS will only be enhanced by the fact that it is released on Black Friday.
I hate Black Friday. I despise lines and crowds and parking nightmares and people killing each other to snag $500 televisions for $29.99. There is something ironic, and kind of creepy, about staying up late on the day we celebrate life’s blessings so we can drive out to a mall at 12:01am and grab as much bargain-priced crap as we can stuff into a U-Haul trailer.
That’s gratitude for you.
But, Black Friday is what it is and BCS is one of the attractions. With a little careful planning, it can almost be enjoyable. This is the story of how I survived the 2013 Bourbon County Stout release and lived to tell about it, and a few helpful hints about how you can survive the 2014 release.
Bracing for Impact
Every great adventure begins with a plan. Or a happy accident. My adventures usually start as happy accidents that morph into something like a plan. Last year’s BCS Odyssey began on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, at Binny’s in Buffalo Grove, IL. I was picking up an American strong ale for this blog’s Whatcha Drinking show when I saw craft beer majordomo Ken Habenicht on my way out the door. I asked if he any details about the annual BCS blitz. “I should know later today,” he said. “I’ll send a tweet when I find out.”
Later that same day:
Almost immediately, people started tweeting back with questions and hostage demands, promising the exchange of loved-ones for beer. The response:
The gauntlet was thrown. Did I really want to stand in line for who knows how long, freezing my ass off just to buy a few bottles of beer?
One thing I knew for sure: dealing with the secondary market was not an option. There is no shortage of “entrepreneurs” who will turn around and re-sell rare beer at Super Bowl ticket prices on eBay and internet beer forums the minute they get back to their cars, bottles in hand. I have no patience for people like that. Brewers are not overly fond of them either, for obvious reasons. Special release brews should go to people who appreciate the beer. I decided to take my chances with the lines and hope for the best.
Hurry Up and Wait
Queuing for concert tickets, restrooms at Wrigley Field, and limited release beers is a lot like comedy—timing is everything. I settled on the highly scientific time of 8:30am to get in line at Binny’s on Black Friday. That seemed late enough to avoid a long wait with the 6am crowd shouting “I want all of the special beer things!” but early enough to get in line ahead of the folks thinking, “I really want some of this cool beer, but I refuse to look like a desperate alcoholic in the process.”
It was in the mid-20’s when I pulled up that morning. 25-30 people already in line ahead of me. I was smart enough to bring a good jacket and a hat, but stupid enough to forget a nice warm cup of coffee. Pretty soon more cars began to drift through the empty-ish parking lot to unleash their passengers on the steadily growing line.
What I hadn’t counted on, but should have anticipated, was that some of the early line-tenders had friends showing up later in the morning. These “friends” would jump in line to join the early arrivals at their “saved” spot. What started as a fairly comfortable margin of people ahead of me began to swell to an intimidating 40-45 people.
The technical term for this phenomenon is called “complete and total bullshit.”
Eventually the doors opened and the line moved inside, inching its way towards the cashiers. I was about fifteen people away from the register when the first variant sold out. It was pins and needles after that, wondering if there would be any beer left when my turn came. In the end, I got lucky. I went home with everything except that one variant, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many line jumpers had walked away with somebody else’s chance at bringing home a rare bit of holiday cheer that morning.
All in all, my experience last year was a good one. It was fun to stand in line and chat with fellow beer geeks and get a little wound up with anticipation for a chance at a much sought-after beer. It was also agonizing to watch and wonder if our luck would hold out. Here are a few tips so that you too can better your odds and survive the annual beernanza that is the BCS Black Friday release:
DO Use Social Media: This should be a reflex for most of us in 2014. Any good liquor store will have a social media presence in place to let customers know about their recent arrivals and other beer related events. Click “like.” Keep an eye on your feeds. This should provide you with everything you need to know about when beer sales begin and any per customer purchase limits imposed by the store.
DON’T Forget to Dress for the Weather: Mornings in November can still run hot and cold here in the Midwest, but mostly cold. Even on a good week, November weather can be unpredictable. Check the weather. Dress for it.
DO Get an Early Start: The one great truth about Black Friday is that there are no guarantees when it comes to buying some BCS. The earlier you get in line, the better the chances that you will get everything that you came for. It’s that simple.
DON’T Cut in Line: I can’t believe I need to say this, but here it goes—when you get to the store on the morning of Black Friday GO TO THE BACK OF THE LINE, ASS HAT. Yes, I’m talking to you. Your distaste for waking-up early is not my problem. Please don’t make it anyone else’s problem. Thank you.
DO Bring a Warm Beverage: Morning. Coffee. You can connect the dots.
DON’T Suffer in Silence: I wouldn’t have guessed this going in, but Black Friday lines for BCS are a really cool communal experience. Go with a friend. Talk to your neighbors in line. You all have one thing in common already—you’re nuts enough to wake up early on the morning after Thanksgiving and wait in line for hours to get beer. Build on that sense of connection.
DO Hedge your Bets: Remember that November 28th will not be your only chance to taste BCS this year. Vintage BCS tappings often crop up in the months before and after each annual release, often at Goose Island’s various locations as well as specialty bars and beer festivals around the country. Goose Island will be pouring a variety of BCS and other barrel aged beers this weekend at the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (FoBAB) at the UIC Forum in Chicago, IL on November 14-15. Those fortunate enough to attend this year’s event will enjoy a long list of Goose Island beers to choose from:
- Madame Rose
- Bourbon County Regular
- Bourbon County Coffee
- Bourbon County Barleywine
- Bourbon County Vanilla
- Bourbon County Proprietors
- Bourbon County Barleywine (2 year old)
- Bourbon County Regular (2 year old Temple)
- Bourbon County Barleywine (run through a coffee Randall)
- Wild Turkey BCBS Project Bourbon County Nitro
Bottoms up. You can never be too prepared for Black Friday.
Special thanks to Samantha Catalina for her assistance in gathering information for this post. Thanks also to Ken Habenicht for being cool with the Twitter screen caps. For more information about Goose Island, visit their website at http://www.gooseisland.com/index.html. You can find more information about FoBAB, as well as all things Illinois Beer, at the Illinois Craft Brewers’ Guild website: http://www.illinoisbeer.com/. Also be sure to check out Binny’s Beverage Depot on-line at http://www.binnys.com/.
Dan Berger has been been writing about science fiction and fantasy media for ten years, but drinking beer for at least twenty. Writing about beer and brewing culture was the logical next step. Dan still gets his fix of dragons and giant killer robots at foesofreality.com. You can read more of his ramblings about liquid bread at podcaskconditioned.com.