Every year on Black Friday, lines start forming at Asheville’s bottle shops hours before the doors are scheduled to open. Veteran beer geeks and relative novices alike brave the cold for hours in hopes of snagging some coveted bottles of a particular brew, and some will get what they came for just to head across town for more.
More surprising than local drinkers’ rabid desire for this beer, however, is the fact that it’s not produced by one of Asheville’s justifiably lauded hometown breweries. This beer is from Chicago — Goose Island Beer Co.’s Bourbon County Brand Stout.
For the uninitiated, Bourbon County Brand Stout is a complex and viscous imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, nearly pitch-black in color and typically varying year to year between 13 and 14 percent alcohol by volume. It is one of the most sought-after beers in the country, and those lucky enough to have attended the brewery’s exclusive Migration Week events in Asheville in September were treated to highly limited variants and vintages.
Migration Week is an annual road trip during which Goose Island staff and brewers travel the world visiting new markets to promote consumer engagement with the brewery’s brands, and this year marked the tour’s first stop in Asheville. According to Megan Lagesse, Goose Island’s senior communications specialist, Asheville was selected due to its increasing prominence in the national craft beer scene.
“With the likes of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium investing in this small Southern city, we had to see what it was all about,” she says, adding that the brewery’s team was “really impressed with [Asheville’s] craft beer scene.”
Among the highlights of their stay in Asheville, members of the crew from Goose Island cited their time with Wicked Weed Brewing staff, including an educational discussion hosted by Goose Island brewer Patrick Reisch and Wicked Weed brewer and co-owner Walt Dickinson. The affinity between the two breweries is understandable — Wicked Weed has developed one of the most extensive barrel-aging programs in town. Goose Island was a pioneer in barrel aging among brewers, and as such, BCBS could be said to have spawned an entire subset of craft beer that has exploded in popularity in recent years around the country and in Asheville breweries.
In addition to hosting a number of special events at Asheville beer bars and bottle shops, Goose Island representatives brought some truly noteworthy variations of BCBS for local drinkers to try during Migration Week. Vintage bottles were for sale, and kegs of difficult to procure one-offs such as Bourbon County Coffee, Barleywine and Vanilla Rye were pouring around town. The most coveted beer available, however, was Proprietor’s Reserve, a BCBS beer typically only offered in Chicago.
This year’s BCBS bottle release promises to continue the trend of honoring Asheville drinkers with the brand’s most desirable and exclusive varieties. In addition to classic BCBS and the inaugural offering of Regal Rye, Goose Island has sent an extremely small amount of the most limited beer in the BCBS family: Bourbon County Rare.
No two batches of Rare have ever been alike. The last version of the beer appeared in 2010, having been aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. The 2015 Rare was aged for two years in 35-year-old Heaven Hill barrels and is likely to command a price commensurate with its scarcity.
Though the beer originated in 1992, Black Friday BCBS bottle releases have only been a regular occurrence around the country since 2010. The Asheville beer community has responded enthusiastically to this new holiday tradition, and this year’s event seems likely to be the best attended thus far. Newly redesigned bottles of Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Regal Rye and Bourbon County Rare will be available Friday, Nov. 27, at Asheville specialty retailers, with draft beer available around town as well. Check this week’s Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow column for further details including locations, sale times and availability.