For most Americans Black Friday means the start of the holiday shopping season, but craft beer drinkers have better things to do than join crazy mobs at malls and big box stores to save a few bucks. Instead, Black Friday is the traditional roll out day for Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout, the Chicago-based brewer's barrel aged wonder, and it's been known to cause lines outside of bottle shops and liquor stores around the country.
That's nice; the Bourbon County Stout is a delicious beer and the winter months are the traditional time for rich, heavy high ABV dark beers, but it’s far from the only great beer around this holiday season. In fact, it's not the only great barrel-aged beer; in fact, let's go another layer, it's not the only great barrel-aged dark beer brewed in the Midwest. Let's look at three others that are on my short list of favorite brews at the moment.
Founder's Backwoods Bastard is their exceptional Scotch Ale, Dirty Bastard, matured in bourbon barrels. The Dirty Bastard is a pleasure; it's full of rich dark chocolatey and caramel overtones and deep malty finish. All those elements are present in the Backwoods, but the presence of the barrel is felt in vanilla and smoke, plus there's a smoothness that I assume is the work of the wood as oak barrels tend to buff the edge off of many a beverage ranging from California Chardonnay to beers and even tequilas. Backwoods isn't as renowned as KBS, the other barrel-aged delight from the Grand Rapids, Michigan brewer, but it deserves its due as one of the great beers of the season.
The other two beers are from the same brewery, Thirsty Dog in Akron, Ohio. Like Founder's they barrel age two superb dark beers, a stout, Siberian Night, and a Scotch ale, Wulver. Both come topped in gold foil, which makes them ideal Christmas gifts.
The Wulver has all the classic caramel notes of a wee heavy and, with the barrel maturation, its weight is a bit more than wee as it checks in at 12% ABV. The Siberian Night is one of my favorite stouts with its intense dark chocolate and coffee overtones, and the barrel lends it a bourbon aroma in the finish.
There are dozens of other fine barrel-aged beers beyond this unusual spin on Ohio State v. Michigan. And of course, there are numerous other beers being matured in bourbon barrels all over the country. A few years ago a lot of these beers might have tasted like the Kentucky version of a car bomb, but now brewers have mastered the aging process so that the wood and its previous inhabitant are welcome accents to the flavor of an already great beer.
Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.