'13 vs '14 Bourbon County Barleywine

December 02 2014 - 4:16 PM

So this is the second year that InBev is in charge of Goose Island’s blue-chip Bourbon County Stout line. The one non-stout in the mix is their Bourbon County Barleywine. It’s a very sweet and strong ale that they age in Bourbon County Stout barrels and it was a spectacular beer last year. It’s also the only bottle I could find this year, 2014, so I happily opened a 2013 alongside to see how the vintages compare.

Last week at a release party I had a glass of the barleywine on tap and it was a bit thin and very bright for a brew that I expected to be dense with caramel and oakey sugars. It didn’t jibe with my memory of last year’s BCBW, or the 2013 bottles I periodically crack open. That 2014 on tap created my interest in this side-by-side.

It also bears mentioning that I’ve been sitting on some 2013 bottles for about a year. This aging tends to mellow out any alcohol burn and somewhat lessen some of the sharper flavors, leading to a softer rounder flavor.

So the bottom line here is that they do taste different. There is an unmistakable dusty chocolate finish on the ’13 that I miss on the ’14. The ’14 also has that brighter, more ale-like, flavor… it’s not the spun-sugary front end that I would expect. I would assume much of the variance is due to the age on the bottles. I do have to say that last year I was really into the barleywine and either I’ve been spoiled by a year’s worth of aged bottles or that this year is a bit thinner than I hoped, but just a bit.  In any case it’s still a great beer. I did a side by side with King Henry this past year as well and I’ll just say that wasn’t quite a fair comparison. The King is very much still the king. For an accessible beer from this line, it’s spot on and you won’t be disappointed, even at $25-$30 a 4-pack.