There are certain beers that hold this magical desire around them, Westvleteren, The Bruery’s Black Tuesday, Magic Rocks Unhuman Cannonball and for me Goose Island’s Bourbon County, it is that fantasy beer I had never drunk. When I first heard about Bourbon County and how people would queue up for hours just for one beer I thought it was mental, why would people set up camp for hours in hope of getting a limited release beer when so many other beers are out there. In 1992 Goose Island’s John Hall and Greg Hall wanted to celebrate their 1000th brew by brewing a really special beer at their brewpub. Greg had previously met Jim Beam’s Booker Noe, and after a chat about wanting to barrel age beer in bourbon casks they made a deal. After 100 days ageing in the Jim Beam barrels Greg Hall took the beer to the 1992 Great American Beer Festival, it was entered into the competition but after the brewers-only tasting session the night before the festival started it was disqualified for defying every category. Although at the same festival it went down a storm it wasn’t till 1995 that Bourbon County got an honourable mention in the Strong Ale category. It is debateable if Goose Island can say they were the first brewery to start barrel aging, but they certainly created the buzz around a limited barrel aged beer. I have friends that have tried it, gloated about it and said it lives up to every bit of hype it has got, which just made me itch even more to try some.
So when I got an invite to the famous Goose Islands Block Party, which was coming over to London from Chicago for the first time I jumped at the chance to get the opportunity to finally experience Bourbon County. Goose Island Block Party is a yearly celebration, with live music, food and lots of Goose Island beer that has been going for 5 years in Chicago. I had been invited to the press event and after saying hello to fellow beer buddies we are shown our way into the Vintage Taproom to listen to John Hall talk about the beers we were about to try. John told us how a trip to London many years ago was what inspired him to go back to America and start brewing, and that the Block Party being held in London was almost like a full circle. We first try a sample of a new lager brewed in collaboration with skater company Vans, it is an easy drinking lager, it doesn’t get the taste buds dancing but it certainly has enough about it to please people, I wish I had a chance to see the Vans trainers which had been also created as part of the collaboration. The beers that followed however did get the taste buds dancing, the aroma on Sofie, a 6.5% Saison, and Juliet, an 8% wild ale, was both incredible. Both beers are perfectly balanced, Juliet in particular was a great example of how delicate a sour beer can be, it didn’t blow my head off and make me pucker up a screw face, it teased with flavour and I would imagine it could open up eyes of non-beer drinkers.
Then the moment, Bourbon County 2014 and a variation, Bourbon County Templeton Rye. Just like the previous two beers the aroma jumps out of the glass and hits you with such impact you want to dive straight in. Drinking a beer with so much anticipation can easily lead to disappointment, but not with Bourbon County, it was everything I expected, big, boozy, dark, liquid joy. Vanilla, chocolate, coffee, dark stone fruits, Christmas pudding, in fact it was like liquid Christmas, so much so I could almost picture Father Christmas sitting by the fire with his bottle of Bourbon County. 2014 certainly was a good year. We moved straight into the Templeton Rye, I don’t know if it was because I enjoyed 2014 version so much that I felt the spiciness from the rye took away the overall taste or if it was slightly too cold to be able to appreciate it at its best, but for me it didn’t deliver compared to the 2014 Bourbon County.
We finish up our Bourbon County and we venture out into the day light to enjoy the rest of the party, I take in more of the surroundings then I did before, a mixture of street art and lots of Goose Island branding gives the space a funky feel. There are a few different bars, one is pouring draught beers of their classic IPA and some new beers, but to be honest it takes a while to adapt after the Bourbon County back to back show down. A large stage takes centre piece which will have live music being performed long into the night, a raised level allows drinkers to get some seats and a perfect view of the stage. There is a bottle bar sat up high above the stage where you can get away for a slightly more relaxed environment.
The food on offer was a little different than what I was used to, taking influence from surrounding Shoreditch lifestyles a lot of the food on offer was Vegan friendly, “when in Rome” I thought as I ordered a BBQ pulled jackfruit burrito from Hackney based Vegan street food company Club Mexicana. As a pure burrito connoisseur that I am I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was, weirdly feeling like pork still but much sweeter and slightly messier, not that I thought that was a problem as I wolfed the whole thing down. Hopefully I cross paths with Club Mexicana again.
To add even more branding to the event there was a merch stand selling lots of different Goose Island gear, I fought temptation and stopped myself from purchasing a Goose Island sign, if they had been selling the Goose Island tap handles however I would have certainly had a Goose companion on my journey home with me!
A brass band played their own cover versions of popular songs to a growing crowd as I reintroduced myself to a few Goose Island beers that I hadn’t had for a while, Honkers Ale and 312. It was a really fun and enjoyable day, I got to hang out with some great fellow beer blogging buddies and try some new beers, I hope they return next year for another Block Party.
As the night turned dark there was only one beer I wanted to finish the day on, back to the Bourbon County. There was talk of bringing the Bourbon County over to the UK for Black Friday, I would like to see it available here, and I hope the new releases match up to the 2014 we had at the event. If they do release it here on Black Friday I just hope it doesn’t bring the queues and mayhem it does in the US! Sipping Bourbon County was a joy, and I feel lucky to have been able to try some. It is a beer that since drinking I can’t think about it without wanting some more of it in my hand, but will it ever beat this first moment of trying it, chasing the goose so to speak. Standing under a huge piece of street art by Belgian artist ROA, drinking a beer that lived up to all the expectations, while having a laugh with some mates was a perfect way to end London’s first Goose Island Block Party.
Goose Island Twitter – @GooseIsland
Goose Island Instagram – Goose Island
Goose Island Website – www.gooseisland.com
Club Mexicana Twitter – @clubmexicana
Club Mexicana Instagram – Club Mexicana
Disclaimer – I was invited to the Block Party LDN free of charge, the drinks consumed during the press event, the food from Club Mexicana and bottles of 312 & Honkers ale were all free. There were other drinks including Bourbon County we did pay for. I don’t think this has changed my opinion on the event or the beers. Apologies for lack of photos, due to having such a good time I didn’t take many good ones…