Category Archives: Beer Articles

Bourbon County Stout: Surviving Black Friday

By Dan Berger – NOV-14-14


Beer Line

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:

Tweet Pic 1

Almost immediately, people started tweeting back with questions and hostage demands, promising the exchange of loved-ones for beer. The response:

Tweet Pic 2

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.

Be Prepared

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:

  1. Halia
  2. Gillian
  3. Juliet
  4. Lolita
  5. Madame Rose
  6. Bourbon County Regular
  7. Bourbon County Coffee
  8. Bourbon County Barleywine
  9. Bourbon County Vanilla
  10. Bourbon County Proprietors
  11. Bourbon County Barleywine (2 year old)
  12. Bourbon County Regular (2 year old Temple)
  13. Bourbon County Barleywine (run through a coffee Randall)
  14. 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 You can find more information about FoBAB, as well as all things Illinois Beer, at the Illinois Craft Brewers’ Guild website: Also be sure to check out Binny’s Beverage Depot on-line at


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 You can read more of his ramblings about liquid bread at



Post-GABF 2014 Analysis: California Wins Again. And Again. And Again…

Written by Dan Berger

It’s the Friday after the Great American Beer Festival (aka GABF, as if you didn’t know already). By now the thousands of brewers, beer enthusiasts, and industry journalists who spent last weekend in Denver living all things beer have dragged their collective asses back home to sleep off the aftereffects of the festivities. Sadly, I was not one of them.

Like many of us, I spent last weekend watching GABF from afar through my Twitter feed and the GABF website. It was a little like being on antibiotics; forced to sip water while watching someone at the table next to me enjoying a well-aged gueuze. Then I made the mistake of looking up the top medal winners by state to see how my beloved Illinois measured up. Fair warning; unless you are from California, Colorado, or maybe Oregon, looking up the top medalists is not exactly a confidence booster:

Top Ten States in Medals at GABF 2014

• California – 46 Medals: Gold-15, Silver-13, Bronze-18
• Colorado – 39 Medals: Gold-10, Silver-18, Bronze-11
• Oregon – 22 Medals: Gold-7, Silver-8, Bronze-7
• Texas – 16 Medals: Gold-6, Silver-5, Bronze-5
• Pennsylvania – 12 Medals: Gold-5, Silver-2, Bronze-5
• Washington – 9 Medals: Gold-5, Silver-3, Bronze-1
• Illinois – 9 Medals: Gold-3, Silver-5, Bronze-1
• New Mexico – 8 Medals: Gold-5, Silver-1, Bronze-2
• Virginia – 7 Medals: Gold-2, Silver-3, Bronze-2
• Montana – 6 Medals: Gold-3, Silver-2, Bronze-1

That’s right, of the 271 medals issued at GABF this year, 39% went to the top three winningest states. California alone scooped up 17% of the awards, which is nothing new to those of you following GABF for a while now. Fortunately, Illinois made it into the Top 10 States without breaking a sweat by placing #7 with 9 medals. That’s a win for Illinois by most objective standards, but Christ on a crutch—California? 46 medals? Really?

Granted, not all parts of the United States are equal when it comes to craft beer. Some states have been in the game longer than others. Some contend with state laws that are hostile to producers of alcoholic beverages by design, to discourage brewers, wineries, and distillers from spreading their devil firewater among the pious citizens of the land. But almost half of the awards going to the top three winning states at GABF is a disparity of Olympic proportions. What exactly is going on here?

To a certain extent, the obvious is going on. As Brewers Association Chief Economist Bart Watson notes in his article “GABF Medal Winners Analyzed”, states like California and Colorado succeed at GABF because their brewing communities submit the greatest number of total entries among all states, often in categories with traditionally smaller numbers of entrants. Where the race for Best Gluten-Free fielded a grand total of only 20 entrants to claim three medals, American Style India Pale Ale boasted 279 entrants battling for the bronze, silver, and gold. In short, states with more breweries sending more beers to the less congested races in style receive more medals in the end.

It is difficult to overestimate California’s craft brewing dominance, even beyond the halls of the GABF. The Golden State anchors the beer aisles of most liquor stores as well as taps at bars serving craft beer across the entire nation. According to Watson, California contributed approximately 19% of the 15.6 million barrels of beer produced by craft brewers in the United States in 2013. He estimates that a similar percentage of beer finds its way onto store shelves nationwide. The accuracy of his estimate is supported locally by Ken Habenicht, a beer buyer for Binny’s Buffalo Grove, IL location, who reports that California beers occupy approximately 15-20% of the shelf space in his craft beer aisle.

By comparison, the vast majority of Illinois’s craft brewers only produce enough beer to serve markets local to the breweries themselves and, sometimes, the Chicago metro area. The lack of production impacts Illinois’s footprint on the national craft beer scene, as well as the competitive market forces that shape beer in subtle ways on the national stage. “Illinois is thirsty for local product,” said Larry Bloom, owner and brewer of ZümBier in Waukegan, IL. “Our nanobreweries are so small that they have to focus on serving the immediate area first.” If Illinois brewers face challenges making enough beer to serve the Chicago metro area, you can bet that Illinois beers on the whole are relative unknowns to the rest of the country’s craft beer drinkers. “We won’t cross the Illinois borders with our beer anytime soon,” said Bloom, “but new capacity is coming on every day.”

Larry and company at GABFPhoto taken by Talea Bloom: On left, ZümBier owner & Brewer, Larry Bloom celebrating with volunteer pourers.

There are reasons why California beer is everywhere already. First and foremost, the state produces a lot of really good beer. According to the Brewers’ Association website, California ranked #1 in both number of craft breweries in the US with 381 and production in barrels per year at 2,948,895 in 2013. By comparison, Illinois ranked 11th in number of craft breweries with 83 and a paltry 22nd in production at 136,999 barrels per year. With California producing that much beer and that many producers throwing darts at the GABF medals dart board, you’re naturally going to get more hits with the medals. You’re probably going to have more hits among craft beer drinkers at large as well.

The fact that Illinois’s GABF performance surpassed other regional craft brewing powerhouses such as Michigan (5th in number of breweries), Ohio (4th in annual beer production), and Wisconsin (10th in number of breweries and 9th in production) in spite of its lagging national distribution presence is impressive, but makes even more murky the question of why such huge disparities among the states persist. How is craft brewing in the US growing not only in terms of new breweries and increased production, but as regional centers of brewing excellence and stylistic distinctiveness? What is driving growth in the aesthetics of beer?

Population can help determine the strength of a state’s brewing culture, but does not correlate perfectly with success at GABF or the craft beer world in general. Compare the list of Top Ten States by Population as of the 2000 census with the Top Ten 2014 GABF most winning states:

Top 10 US States by Population (2000 census) vs. Top Ten States in Medals at GABF 2014

1. California 37,253,956 1. California – 46 Medals
2. Texas 25,145,561 2. Colorado – 39 Medals
3. New York 19,378,102 3. Oregon – 22 Medals
4. Florida 18,801,310 4. Texas – 16 Medals
5. Illinois 12,830,632 5. Pennsylvania – 12 Medals
6. Pennsylvania 12,702,379 6. Washington – 9 Medals
7. Ohio 11,536,504 7. Illinois – 9 Medals
8. Michigan 9,883,640 8. New Mexico – 8 Medals
9. Georgia 9,687,653 9. Virginia – 7 Medals
10. North Carolina 9,535,483 10. Montana – 6 Medals

Only four states appear on both lists, and only California manages to show up at the same ranking on each. Colorado serves as the other untouchable brewing powerhouse with well-balanced strengths in both number of breweries (4th) and beer production (3rd), but with a population ranked 22nd in the nation at 5,029,196, it is difficult to credit the size of a state’s population as an indicator of craft brewing success. Is the secret to dominance statistical? Intangible? Historical? Geographical? Political? A formula brewed from all of the above?

Maybe the only real way to know is by heading out to Denver to find an answer in the sampling booths at the Great American Beer Festival itself. There are worse ways to seek wisdom. For the sake of science, I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and find out.

Below are the 2014 GABF results for each state, broken down by region as they were grouped at the festival. You can find a comprehensive list of medalists by style at the Great American Beer Festival’s website. Cheers!

2014 GABF Medals by State and Region

Note: Each state is followed by the total number of medals won, then the total number of each type of medal won (G-Gold, S-Silver, B-Bronze). Each type of medal was assigned a point value (G-3 points, S-2 points, B- 1 point), which were then tallied at the end of each entry, with the total appearing in parenthesis.

New England Region
Number of States: 6

Connecticut – 0
Maine – 1: S-1 (2)
Massachusetts – 3: G-2, B-1 (7)
New Hampshire – 0
Rhode Island – 0
Vermont – 2: G-1, S-1 (5)

Totals: 6: G-3, S-2, B-1 (14)

Mid-Atlantic Region
Number of States: 8

Delaware – 3: S-3 (6)
District of Columbia – 1: S-1 (2)
Maryland – 5: G-1, S-2, B-2 (9)
New Jersey – 3: G-2, S-1 (8)
New York – 4: G-1, S-3 (9)
Pennsylvania – 12: G-5, S-2, B-5 (24)
Virginia – 7: G-2, S-3, B-2 (14)
West Virginia – 0

Totals – 35: G-11, S-15, B-9 (72)

Southeast Region
Number of States: 10

Alabama – 0 SE
Arkansas – 0 SE
Florida – 3: G-1, B-2 (5) SE
Georgia – 3: G-1, B-2 (5) SE
Kentucky – 1: B-1 (1) SE
Louisiana – 1: B-1 (1) SE
Mississippi – 0 SE
North Carolina – 6: G-3, S-2, B-1 (14) SE
South Carolina – 1: B-1 (1) SE
Tennessee – 3: G-1, B-2 (5) SE

Totals – 18: G-6, S-2, B-10 (32)

Great Lakes Region
Number of States: 6

Illinois – 9: G-3, S-5, B-1 (20)
Indiana – 4: G-2, S-2 (10)
Michigan – 6: G-1, S-3, B-2 (11)
Minnesota – 6: G-2, S-1, B-3 (11)
Ohio – 5: G-2, S-1, B-2 (10)
Wisconsin – 7: G-2, S-1, B-4 (12)

Totals – 37: G-12, S-13, B-12 (74)

Midwest Region
Number of States: 7

Iowa – 2: G-2 (6)
Kansas – 1: G-1 (3)
Missouri – 4: G-1, S-1, B-2 (7)
Nebraska – 0
North Dakota – 0
Oklahoma – 0
South Dakota – 0

Totals – 7: G-4, S-1, B-2 (16)

Southwest Region
Number of States: 3

Arizona – 1: B-1 (1) SW
New Mexico – 8: G-5, S-1, B-2 (19) SW
Texas – 16: G-6, S-5, B-5 (33) SW

Totals – 25: G-11, S-6, B-8 (53)

Mountain Region
Number of States: 6

Colorado – 39: G-10, S-18, B-11 (77) Mountain
Idaho – 3: S-1, B-2 (4) Mountain
Montana – 6: G-3, S-2, B-1 (14) Mountain
Nevada – 3: G-1, B-2 (5) Mountain
Utah – 5: G-1, S-2, B-2 (9) Mountain
Wyoming – 4: S-3, B-1 (7) Mountain

Totals – 60: G-15, S-26, B-19 (116)

Pacific Northwest Region
Number of States: 3

Alaska – 2: B-2 (2) PNW
Oregon – 22: G-7, S-8, B-7 (44) PNW
Washington – 9: G-5, S-3, B-1 (22) PNW

Totals – 33: G-12, S-11, B-10 (68)

Pacific Region
Number of States: 2

California – 46: G-15, S-13, B-18 (89) Pacific
Hawaii – 1: B-1 (1) Pacific

Totals – 47: G-15, S-13, B-19 (90)

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 You can read more of his ramblings about liquid bread at

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