The first beer blogged in 2015 is the last beer drank in 2014. It is also technically the first beer consumed this year, having stretched over two nights into the early hours of the 1st of January. That's how potent the beer is, both in alcohol and flavour.
The beer is Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout. As the name suggests, it's an imperial stout aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels atop whole vanilla pods, produced as a once off in 2010. At just over four years old, I thought it was about time I did the deed.
In the glass it's pitch black with brown and red tints on the surface, and loses its tiny head almost straight away. With some contemplative swirling the glass stains yellow and leaves behind long alcohol legs.
The bourbon hit on the nose comes instantly; before the bottlecap has hit the table the air is filled with molasses and woodsmoke, as well as an alcoholic toffee booziness akin to illicit poitín. It's almost a bit harsh on the nose, though not because of the 13% ABV, but because of the power of that bourbon barrel character. This is underpinned by chocolate, coffee and a vanilla sweetness, the overall effect being aggressively malty.
There's bourbon on the palate too; for me, it comes first. It also dominates proceedings initially before warmer, rounder yet still sticky notes of caramelised biscuit, maple syrup, toffee chocolate, Tootsie Roll(R) and a fantastic salty, savoury turn at the finish smooth things out. It starts as big as you'd expect but reveals surprising complexities thereafter, with enough participants from the nutty/chocolatey/biscuity/grainy/fruity categories to avoid any sense of cloying or brutishness. Extra points for some satisfying umami stuff at the end.
The 650ml bottle was enough for two nights, and the beer is unlikely to be around; Goose Island brew a different version of this every year as a once-off, as far as I can tell. Nevertheless, if you see it or any of its stablemates, buy it.