Once in a great while, a beer is released that changes a standard in the industry. In 2010, Goose Island did just that with the release of Rare Bourbon County Stout. It was the most expensive bottle of beer on the market. People thought it was crazy that a bottle of BEER could cost $45. There were constant mutterings about how those are prices usually reserved for wine or whiskey, not beer. It was absurd. That much for a beer!? Little did we know then that the ceiling was raised and bottle prices had a high benchmark. Now regularly seeing a bottle on the shelf for $20-$25 (or higher) isn't very shocking. After all, it's cheaper than Rare was...

I truly believe that it was the success and hype of Rare that boosted the Bourbon County craze well over the edge. Before the release of Rare, bottles of Bourbon County weren't nearly as scarce and could be found resting on shelves at random stores. My local Binnys had a stack of BCS Coffee bombers just sitting on the floor for the better part of a year. Once Rare hit, it blew  up the aftermarket craze and gained media attention, and people who weren't even into beer had a new hot ticket item that had dollar signs attached to the name. The 2011 release of Bourbon County saw people coming out of the woodwork to buy up as many bottles as they could, no matter what type it was. 

The beer itself was indeed special. It was aged for 2 years in 23 Year Pappy Van Winkle barrels that Goose Island got a hold of and wanted to do something that would take Bourbon County to a new level. The resulting stout has a character that was unlike all of the other Bourbon County beers. There was something about that extra time in those insanely old barrels that gave it a flavor profile that was hard to beat.

As with every Bourbon County release, Rare was said to develop in the bottle over the next 5 years, after which was strictly just aging with time. Because of the rarity of it, holding on to a bottle was easier than not. So after just over 5 years (Nov 2010 - Mar 2016) it was time to open a bottle and see how this beast was doing.

Jet black as it sits in the glass under a dense, dark chocolate brown head. Rare has the aroma of cocoa, roasted malts, toffee, some vanilla, oak, and a bit of leather. I'd usually expect a decent dose of dark fruits but they are absent from the smell until after some time warming and opening up.

That flavor is dominated by caramel and chocolate, but it's not cluttered with sweetness. It's very smooth and creamy with no alcohol burn. Toasted grain and some biscuit come into play about mid taste but give way to the dark fruits that were hiding in the nose. Hints of raisin and fig are accompanied by a tinge of sweet bourbon and the classic BCS oak barrel character.

When it was first released, Rare didn't taste like any other Bourbon County variant but there were still notable characteristics that traced the lineage back to the family of beer. The aggression of alcohol, abundant malt flavors, and the adequate blend of hops used to balance the bold sweetness of a crushing malt bill. None of those really exist today as Rare has developed into a wonderful blend that has evened out all of the components to make it a fantastically drinkable beer. There is absolutely no unpleasantness to it whatsoever. The stark contrast evident from the pappy barrels versus the barrel house blend of Goose Island's regular stock isn't as powerful, but the overall blended flavor stands on its own. Rare still tastes like no other Bourbon County and stands unique after all these years.


Our CELLARED series aims to explore the world of aging beer and sharing the effects of time in the bottle. Bottles have been kept away from light and at temperatures between 44-60 degrees. Individual experiences may vary depending on storage environments.

Posted on April 11, 2016 .