Last Thursday morning, beer enthusiasts awoke to an all-too-familiar announcement from Goose Island’s Brewmaster, Jared Jankoski.
“As it turns out, it doesn’t taste like what we wanted it to,” he wrote on Goose Island’s blog. He was referring to this year’s Reserve Barleywine, a beer slated for release in the upcoming Bourbon County series.
Back in 2015, Bourbon County was riding high. Just two year prior, in 2013, Goose Island added Barleywine as a regular variant (#BIL) and introduced the beer world to a new annual variant, Proprietor’s. The next year, the company introduced a new Proprietor’s blend, as well as a beer that’d become become a fan favorite: Vanilla Rye. Then, in 2015, Goose released a maple variant and recreated Bourbon County Rare.
Goose Island could do no wrong. They disproved the naysayers of their 2011 AB InBev buyout and showed that they could make a great product.
Then they slipped.
In early 2016, Goose Island announced recalls of batches of Bourbon County Coffee and Bourbon County Barleywine, then Bourbon County Brand Stout and Proprietor’s Bourbon County. The news took the beer world by storm. I remember opening a bottle of Barleywine and tasting overwhelming tartness, a sure sign of a bacterial infection. A series that had been such a sure thing was no more.
The 2016 release didn’t leave beer fans confident that Bourbon County series was fully back to normal. In fact, two variants — Scotch and Maple Rye — had been nixed from the release; Jankoski told me this was to allow additional time for aging, as the beers didn’t develop into exactly what Goose Island was looking for.
Then came this year’s news that barleywine was, again, infected. Like many, King Henry — an English-style Barleywine that aged in barrels that previously held 2010 Bourbon County Rare — is my favorite in the series; Reserve Barleywine had been billed as King Henry’s second coming. Throughout the summer leading up to this year’s release, I’d been monitoring chatter from those lucky to try Reserve Barleywine, who said that the beer not only lived up to its hype, but surpassed it. It was the beer for which I’d been waiting since the first iteration of the Barleywine variant in 2013.
And then, just like that, it was gone.
I hold hope that Goose Island has done everything in their power to course correct. That the remaining six variants (seven if there are any truth to recent rumors of a Double Barrel variant that only exists in kegs) have no issues. But regardless of how people view the 2017 Bourbon County series years down the line, I think that Goose Island needs to take a breath and regroup. For years, they had the perfect formula for nationwide beer releases. More importantly, they were perhaps the only brewery ever to maintain its cult following an AB InBev buyout. While it’s certainly commendable that Goose Island was able to catch this year’s issue before a national release, and that Jankoski himself made the announcement, it’s time for fans to wonder: Are these problems unfortunate flukes, or something we should come to expect? Can a brewery trying to produce new variants each year do so on such a massive scale?
On Thursday, Jankoski noted that he and the Goose Island team had “done extensive tasting and testing of the other variants and those beers are solid.” As for how the 2017 Bourbon County Series will be remembered by fans: We’ll find out soon enough.
Jason Stein is one of our new beer nerds. Look for reviews from him in the near future on other variants in the Bourbon County series, and follow him on Instagram at @Nycbeersociety.