Back on Black Friday, while many were waiting in line at the major retailers, craft beer lovers here got the opportunity to purchase a variety of Bourbon County bottles in local liquor stores for the very first time. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to get the bottles, all four Colorado Springs Old Chicago locations tapped Bourbon County Brand Stout just last week. I stopped by and tried a glass of this beer with so much coveted history including being aged in a variety of bourbon barrels including Elijah Craig and Pappy Van Winkle. Not once did I stop in the middle of my tulip glass full of oaky imperial stout perfection and think, “Wait, this is made by Budweiser!”
If you don’t know, almost three years ago Goose Island, who brews the Bourbon County line, sold to AB InBev. After the sale, Goose Island no longer classified as a craft brewery according to the Brewers Association. Their criteria requires craft brewers to be small, independent, and traditional. However, if you look at Goose Island’s branding, they are claiming now more than ever they are “Chicago’s Craft Beer.”
Last July several Goose Island representatives came through Denver in order to answer any uncertainties about their transition. We had the chance to sit down, sip on some Bourbon County Rare, and chat with founder John Hall and brewer Eric Ponce. Through their eyes we saw people equally passionate about their product as they would have been before the change. Eric, who focuses on barrel aged beers, was enjoying the benefits of the merger by expanding their barrel aging program tremendously. This immediately brought thoughts of New Belgium’s La Folie, especially the year when they decided to start pasteurizing and stop corking and caging each bottle. Despite many people being upset, making this transition allowed even more people throughout the country to get their hands on La Folie.
Goose Island’s change in ownership doesn’t change the fact that the same amount of science, art, and tradition is going into every single beer they brew. While I am just as much of a proponent for supporting local businesses as the next person, and I see first hand the impact of buying beer from the local brewery down the street instead of from a brewery producing a thousand times more barrels a year, the Bourbon County Brand Stout is definitely something worth checking out.