Every 2022 Goose Island Bourbon County Variant, Ranked

Every November (since 1992), Chicago-based brewery Goose Island releases its limited Bourbon County lineup of barrel-aged beers, and every year, beer nerds go wild to grab each and every bottle. It's an autumn ritual as old as — well, not time, but about as old as Miley Cyrus. And this year is a humdinger even by Goose Island standards; we know, because we got our hands on some early, and reviewed them to help you pick which one to order — although, with demand for these being what it is, you might take whatever you can find on their Black Friday release, with no fear of regret.

Here's the Goose Island 2022 Bourbon County Stout collection ranked from least-great to best — since worst is quite a contextual term, considering these brews are worth their premium. You don't drink these when you're thirsty, you open them when you want to take your tastebuds on an adventure. These seven beers (down from last year's eight) are carefully concocted to lead you along very different paths. This release is something worth getting excited about, as there are no duds here, only different types of success.

7. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

That name isn't just branding. While the actual Bourbon County, Kentucky has never really recovered from Prohibition, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout is an actual tour of Kentucky limestone via the dream team of Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace. Passing through barrels that have housed some of the most sought-after labels in whiskey, the 2022 Bourbon County Stout tastes like a candy sampler of chocolate, black licorice, cherry, and — it's not candy, but always welcome — coffee.

Chocolate and cherry are all but guaranteed flavors when you're dealing with a barrel-aged stout. High malt, high ABV (Goose Island Bourbon County Stout clocks in at 14.3% ABV in its original inception). So let's consider those the base for all the other flavors in this lineup. It's also why we have to qualify "worst" out of the gate: this is a terrific stout that's somewhat the victim of its own influence. Because there are no failed experiments here, to a certain extent, this beer's placement feels inevitable. The Two-Year Barleywine, Coffee, and 30th Anniversary are even more developed iterations of this template, while the Sir Isaac's, Biscotti, and Proprietor's use it as a launchpad to explore wild tangents. So no, this isn't the "worst" stout, it's just the basis of what all the others should develop from. You won't regret picking it up if you spot it — and you might have to fight off some folks to do so.

6. Goose Island Bourbon County Sir Isaac's Stout

If we're being completely fair and honest, Goose Island Bourbon County Sir Isaac's Stout and the standard BCS are probably on equal footing; it's more a question of whether you the beer-drinker are more of a traditionalist or prefer to chase after novel experiences. We tend to gravitate towards the latter, which is why we've put this Fig Newton (get it?) –inspired flavor above its parent. Creating a completely new flavor of beer, bringing it home for a three-point landing, and still preserving what's great about its base recipe is an implicitly more complex and challenging project. There are some who might esteem this one even higher up on the list, as dessert beers are practically their own category. (But stand by, because another member of this lineup comes in even higher to dominate that field.)

There's a deep Maillard taste here, not smoky so much as seared. The aroma doesn't foretell the subtle fig flavor, which is particularly noticeable as the mouthful thins out on your tongue. In fact, despite the fig-and-shortbread profile, this is in many ways the most typical barrel stout in the family this year: It's very sweet, and we mean very sweet. People who love these small-pour grenades will probably rank it higher, while you hopping mad pale ale lovers will run from the cloying side of Goose Island Bourbon County Sir Isaac's Stout. 

5. Goose Island Bourbon County Two-Year Barleywine Reserve

The 2022 Bourbon County Two-Year Barleywine Reserve has an aroma that resides somewhere between the original Bourbon County Stout and the 30th Anniversary, with less cocoa than the former and more fruit than the latter. If you're partial to some synesthesia with your beer, we'd describe the Two-Year Barleywine Reserve as tasting purple, although that may be because you're going to have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head after popping the top on this barleywine. It's competing only with the Sir Isaac for sweetest quaff, and beaten only by the 30th Anniversary for highest alcohol content. You've got to love your beers rich to esteem this one higher, although if you do, you'll see this less as a niche and more as a triumph.

Like the 30th and the Proprietor's, Goose Island Bourbon County Two-Year Barleywine comes in absolutely gorgeous packaging that's a testament to the pride and love that Goose Island puts into this series. Does it affect the taste? Not at all, unless you can't bear to break open the cardboard, and stare it at on the shelf for so long that it becomes more objet d'art than beverage. But it is a promise that the brewers behind these beers are as enthusiastic as the true fans who are their target with this annual release. Every aspect matters, and here it's a salute to the Old Fitzgerald bottled-in-bond barrels that housed the Two-Year while it strengthened its character.

4. Goose Island Bourbon County 30th Anniversary Reserve Stout

It's fitting that Goose Island Bourbon County 30th Anniversary Reserve Stout lands in the middle of the list, because it's the center point of Goose Island's history and this lineup in particular. Like the Two-Year Barleywine Reserve, it's aged in bourbon barrels: quite a few, in fact. Celebrating a long and happy collaborative relationship with Jim Beam, the 30th Anniversary slumbered in numerous barrels that once housed small-batch Beam labels, including Basil Hayden, Booker's, Baker's, and Knob Creek. It turns out Jim Beam, Small Batch Bourbon Collection began the same year as Goose Island's Bourbon County stout program.

For you, the thirsty customer, that means, again, this beer is extremely flavor-forward. Chocolate and nuts are here, as they were in the standard Bourbon County Stout. The back end is rippling with dried fruit flavors, notably fig and date. It very much tastes like the flagship, if less acidic. (We leave it to those of you with pH strips to test whether all of this is in our heads, or if some other flavor is evening things out.) It's also smoother than its 17% ABV domination may imply. Basically, it's as if the base Bourbon County Stout has been around the block a couple of times and is now enjoying some downtime with nothing to prove. Even a swirl around the Glencairn shows it slowly washing the sides. It's a more relaxed and refined version of what you'll enjoy throughout the 2022 generation of this family.

3. Goose Island Bourbon County Biscotti Stout

Goose Island fields suggestions from its entire team, Pixar-style, for these projects, and the inspiration for Bourbon County Biscotti Stout came from People Manager Jill Cerone after she'd enjoyed a chocolate-covered biscotti one day. This beer sought to recreate the crusty cookie meant for stirring in a cup of coffee, and there may be no better mission accomplished in novelty beer. You'd swear you're washing down dessert with a stout each time you swallow some of this wonder.

The nose is all anise, and we'd swear on a case of Goose Island Bourbon County Biscotti Stout in court that you can differentiate it from the black licorice notes of the original edition. It's not till you take a taste that the almonds come to the fold. Chocolate's harder to detect, mostly present in aroma only while you're holding a swig in your mouth, but who needs more than that? Even in the original article, it's always meant as a suggestion, an enhancement to the main acts that are evident in abundance here.

2. Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout

Have we ever had a better coffee stout than this? The ABV ekes below the Proprietor's Stout to claim the lowest alcohol content in this lineup, but that's still a substantial 13.2%. As is true throughout this year's lineup, it drinks lighter on the tongue than it does on the liver, and Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout is proof that higher alcohol can be the opponent that coffee's undisputed heavyweight title needed to excite the crowds. These two slug it out in your mouth, and it's a sweet science indeed. Caramel and wheat are the opening bout, but it's hard for other flavors to showcase here, and that's A-OK. When your thought at first contact is, "Oh my, that is nice," you don't need a walking tour of tastes. Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout is simple and intense but not overbearing, and it doesn't need to be anything more than that.

It's such a rare victory to get a coffee stout that's in the crease like this. Some are too weak, others too sweet, plenty are too rich. This one is Goldilocks. It makes you want to percolate a batch of the Intelligentsia coffee blend from Burundi that went into it (Turihamwe, if you're lucky enough to find it in the wild). Now, will some genius combine Goose Island Biscotti with this Coffee Stout to create an all-in-one beer cocktail to enjoy on an Italian veranda?

1. Goose Island Bourbon County Proprietor's Stout

This audacious beverage could have been an Icarus, mixing dark, malty stout flavors — evoking coffee, caramel, toffee, and more — with tiki flavors. Instead, it's a Daedalus, flying to lofty heights and successfully reaching an inconceivable destination. That dark and rich flavor is essential to a Jungle Bird, the cocktail that inspired the 2022 Bourbon County Proprietor's Stout. Goose Island brewers Jason Krasowski and Paul Cade followed the molasses that makes demerara sugar and blackstrap rum such tiki-drink staples, flipped the proportions, and made a standout tropical fruit stout.

The thick presence of coconut occupies so much real estate the aroma might be mistaken for a waxy vanilla. Taking a sip, the coconut never goes away but quickly yields to lime. Notes of pineapple and banana are harder to detect and are most present at the back of a sip. The entire pour is like running through a tropical jungle, and yet it's still utterly a stout — stouter than a lot of straightforward stouts, in fact. You've never had anything like this, and it works fantastically. You'll believe a stout could be your sunset sipper as you watch the sky turn to orange over the Pacific — although at 13.4% ABV it's not your midday order by the pool. Unlike the other beers on this list, Proprietor's is available via Chicago-area distribution only if you can even get it; If Goose Island's canny, they'll do a charitable batch for exclusive distribution at Three Dots and a Dash.