Imbibe Hour

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Goose Island Migration Event comes full circle for me, or how I finally slayed the green dragon and the journey to get there.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout being served
I haven't written anything in some time and I was wondering if there would be a good opportunity to talk about drink having been busy writing and doing more reviews of beer and other drinks online than actually just blogging.  However, an unforeseen event event came to town recently that provided me a real good opportunity.  Sure there have been a myriad of beer events that I have been to in the past several years, but this event hearkened back to reminders and desires of when I first really started taking beer more seriously and started noticing that there was truly something special going on.

I received an email mentioning an event called Goose Island Migration week that was to take place in Washington D.C. from the well known Goose Island brewery.  Long story short, a few local places and favorite beer stomping grounds of mine such as Churchkey and Meridian Pint were going to have some nice Goose Island beers to be purchased, including many that are highly rated, coveted, and no longer being made. 

I have been lucky to have had many of these beers from Goose Island, a combination of diligent hunting, willful spending, and to some degree just plain dumb luck.  Many of them have also been featured on my YouTube ImbibeHour Channel.

I always loved beer but 3 years ago, a discovery of Bourbon County Brand Stout changed my life.  There was this brewery taking one of my favorite spirits (bourbon) and making beer from it's barrels, and the results shocked me.  More so, they made a beer that would become an iconic piece of history, a barrel aged bourbon barrel beer from 23yr old bourbon barrels that used to hold Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey.  It was simply called Rare Bourbon County Stout.


Here is where the story flashes back.  Before the advent of so called "craft" beer, and the explosion it has taken since then, Rare was a beer that was only on a few enthusiasts minds.  Since that time, craft beer and beers like Rare have exploded in popularity.  In short Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout has become an iconic legend.  I remember that while I didn't seek it out at its release, I thought $40 dollars for a bottle of it seemed ridiculous at the time, around the time I made the video above.  Forty dollars?  Heck I could buy actual real good bourbon for that much, maybe even a couple of Weller's.

Fast forward to now nearly 2000 reviewed beers since, I still thought of this beer.  Even with all the great ones that came before it to this day, I kicked myself in the head thinking I really missed out on a great opportunity.  Could a, should a, would a, done it.. grabbed that iconic green bottle when I had a chance.  I even realized that 40 or so dollars for that beer, was in my opinion, an insane bargain.

I felt this was one of those multitude of beers I would never get a chance to have then out of nowhere Goose Island came to town..

Bourbon Count Brand Vanilla Stout 2010.
Nestled in the back of my head was a trip down memory lane.  The Goose Island brewery came to town bring gifts of lore,  King Henry, non existent versions of regular Vanilla Bourbon County Stout.  Other beers showed up, along with Cherry Rye, and other classics including Matilda, even a brett version of Matilda. 

The other popular mainstays were also here, and you could easily try them.

2010 Vanilla had to be first for myself, having missed it in the past along with Rare. The classic bourbon county brand stout flavors still remained, thick and lush, with a nice creamy texutre.  Molasses, chocolate, coffee, oak, and warmth, all the classic notes of a well aged barrel aged beer were here.  However, it did seem like the vanilla was muted on the nose, and missing quite a bit in the taste.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout
At this point I was already pretty darn happy about what I was experiencing.  Other beer fans I knew were at the event and we basically were all enjoying ourselves quite a bit, but there was the buzz that we all knew that Rare had to be around the corner.  Indeed it was, more of an afterthought than a surprise as most of us saw the staff while waiting out in line with a box of Rare being carried into the bar.

There was no way I was going to be able to have an entire bottle for myself, although if I could, believe me.. I would.  Small pours were handed out by the staff so that at least everyone who came, could get a taste.  So what's the verdict?

A mixed bag.  The nose is exquisite unlike any other whiskey barrel aged brew I've had.  The nose screams of toasty oak and large tobacco notes, with the woody angles going from cedar, to barrel char, and with the woody sensations giving a cigar box quality.  It's one of the most perfect examples of a whiskey barrel aged beer I've had.  Then the taste follows nicely on all the right places, but then on first quaff, my mind raced with the library of hundreds of other beers I had before this one for comparison and one thing became obvious.  Even while getting to enjoy the delicacy of this beer, I felt I was still too late to the party.  In short, Rare felt past its prime, and I had missed it's pinnacle, but at least I got to slay the green dragon as I liked to call it.

I thought I would take some time out and talk about what it takes to get to this point, and more importantly the advice on going after best desirable beers, since this event really reminded me how much I've changed over the years, and the beers that have followed since then.  Taking these points into consideration will make your experience truly more enjoyable.

Seek and enjoy the chase.

The experience of tasting beer over a long time is a fascinating journey, and it is full of many highs and lows, but the vast majority of the results are very positive.  Everything comes around full circle, and there was no perfect example of this than my 3-4 years of wanting to try and eventually taste Rare Bourbon County. The desire for the ultimate beer, or the perfect tasting beer, is never ending.  Often it's the anticipation of what will might happen that is even more exciting than the actual taste.  Some feel that this beer or that beer is the perfect beer, end of story.  But it should never be that simple.  If it was why would you want to bother with any other beer?  You could just drink that one all the time?  Perhaps that's how you do feel and that's fine, but there's a very big world out there worth exploring.  I've also met others on this journey who have had way more beers than I have, such as upwards of 10,000.  They're still out there looking, and believe me they aren't stopping anytime soon.  They, like me, are having too much fun.

Everybody is Different

I know that not everyone likes the same things as I do.  Some people at the event I know said they were floored, others agreed with me and felt the beer was past prime.  Others commented they felt the texture was sublime, where I felt that was one of the beers weakest qualities.  That's the thing about opinions, nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  We all like and get different things.  Take this into consideration and find out what you like, which leads me to the next point.

Listen to Yourself

There I said it.  I know.. contradictory right?  You're reading this article, and I was tempted to say dont listen to anybody, when I .. am TELLING you what to do.  What I am getting at is you have to be your own judge and be honest with yourself and your palate.  Really just pay attention and not be influenced by others, or ratings.  Places like BeerAdvocate and the like are great, I use them all the time and as I mentioned I am a supporter, but they are not the be all end all to what are the best beers.  You should look at my channel and places like BeerAdvocate as guides. Some you will find more useful than others.  They point you along the way and give you directions, but it's up to you to decide which way to go.

Do your homework

There is a wealth of information about beer and what it is on the Internet, but you need to cycle out the noise from what are legitimate reputable and reliable sources.  Understand beer more than just hops, malt, water, yeast.  Look at true beer organizations, and what criteria they have.  Taste a variety of different beers.  On average I personaly review 2-3 new beers every day that I have never had before.  It keeps me on my toes and I look forward to it.  It's fun. In fact I don't even consider that work, it's pure playtime.  Don't just randomly go on to some website and say what are the best IPAs I should have?  It's never that easy.  So do your homework, beacuse homework is rarely this fun!

Baby steps

This sort of follows the previous point.  You are going to enjoy beers like Rare, and other big important beers more, if you go out and try easier to access beers of the same type, or preferably simpler but just good beers like it and many of them.  The simple reason why is you will have a bigger background to draw your experiences from, and the experience will become richer.  Seek a great opportunity sure if you have the chance, but build yourself up for the big dance.  Start off slowly and work your way up.

Live in a good beer region/town/city

Yeah I know, it sort of smacks of a bit of bias and uprooting but there are some huge advantages if you live in a region that has a lot of good beer because of either great shops and/or breweries.  Variety is the spice of life, and living somewhere where there is a lot of choice in great beer is going to make you appreciate it, and diversify your palate.  Also you will run into other people like you at breweries and bars that share your same passion and make connections.  If you don't feel you live in a good region, plan a weekend trip to one, or take a vacation.  Do whatever it takes.  Homebrewing is also a good alternative.  Can't find beer you like often?  Make your own.

Get to know people in the industry

For this one, it will really help in your journey to appreciating good beer.  Visit breweries that you like and strike up conversations with the staff, and the brewer.  If you have a favorite place to shop in, get to know the staff even outside of beers you want to taste.  Find a decent bar and frequent it often and know the people who work there (and tip well!).  All these industry types will lead you to better beer and give you tips on where to find or access it.

Embrace luck

I don't know how else to say this but the enjoyment of rare beers is just sometimes dumb luck.  I don't know why or how but it just happens.  You will find yourself in search of beers you think you'll never find, and then somehow it just shows up in your lap.  A perfect example was that at the Goose Island event, some guy sitting next to me didn't even know it was going on.  He just walked in and showed up to go to a bar for a drink.  I've just randomly been in some of my favorite bars, and then suddenly on the menu was a gem.  It just happens.

Don't beat yourself up

The one thing I've discovered so far on this journey into great beer is that there is a lot of good beer to go around.  In fact the reality is there is TOO MUCH good beer around.  I hear lots of complaints online from people who said they can't get the latest hyped up beer release, or couldn't get to a bar event when the keg kicked.  Understand that there is always a next time, and there's always another beer out there.  Don't get angry, and be patient.  It took me 3 to 4 years to just even try Rare, and anybody who knows me knows.. patience is not my strong suit.  For others that night at Churchkey it might have been even their first big beer, and that's nothing to get angry about.  Plenty of people I know have had beers that I have desired for a long time.  You don't deserve it more than the next guy.  There is always another beer out there .  You'll be ready.  So order/grab something else and move on. 


Sharing a beer with Goose Island Brewer Dave Tohtz
Being back to seeing Rare again brought back a lot of memories.  The experience was truly unforgettable, more so because it just completed a long cycle.  It was also really amazing to know that for some people, this might have been the very first important beer they ever tried at this event, and they just might be starting on a new journey I know far to well.  I hope they'll have just as much fun as I am having, and enjoy the ride.


The Goose Island Migration Event is touring other cities, look out for it and make sure you go.
  • Philadelphia | Sept 24-27
  • San Francisco | Oct 1-4
  • St. Louis | Oct. 15-18
  • Austin | Oct. 29-Nov 1