Goose Island has announced this year’s line of Bourbon County brand Stouts, the popular family of barrel-aged beers that draw long lines of whale hunters at liquor stores every year on the morning of Black Friday. But the company pre-empted the message with the new steps put in place to avoid a repeat of last year’s infection. In 2015, four of the six Bourbon County batches suffered from a bacterial contamination that imparted the liquid with an unwelcome sour twist. In turn, the company offered widespread refunds, while message-board truthers perniciously blamed the whole thing on its parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev.
WHY IT MATTERS
Writing for the company’s blog, Goose brewmaster Jared Jankowski assures that, “This year has been an incredible learning process and one that has made us a better brewery with a better barrel-aging program.” As one of the leading breweries in the country when it comes to playing in barrels, this “learning process” is decidedly one the rest of the industry should be kept abreast of. This is particularly true as more and more breweries release barrel-aged and sour beer—and subsequently deal with their own infection issues.
Jankowski outlines two things specifically the company did to avoid another lactic intrusion. The big one: They bought a flash pasteurizer, and for the first time, are pasteurizing their beer. “The key benefit is microbiological stabilization, which is helpful for wood aged beers where the barrels we use can be inconsistent,” writes Jankowski. “Most importantly, there is no discernible flavor impact.” In other words, it kills bacteria without muffing up the taste.
The move to pasteurize echoes a step taken by Deschutes a few years ago after a number of bottles of The Abyss 2009 were found to contain an unwelcome dose of brettanomyces. At the time, the company wrote on its blog that it would begin pasteurizing barreled beer, thereby “killing the brettanomyces,” before blending it with non-pasteurized beer from tanks.
Goose Island’s decision to now flash pasteurize represents not only a quality check, but also a genuine change in brewing philosophy. There is some debate (or at the very least, a lack of clarity in some corners) surrounding the practice with regards to whether it impacts beer flavor. Without directly addressing the existence of that “debate,” Jankowski does his part to assuage any concern one might have. “Thus far, many teams of trained sensory panelists have participated in blind triangle tastings and been unable to determine which beer had been flash pasteurized and which had not,” he writes. “As one extremely experienced taster noted, “it’s the only test you want to fail.’”
Pasteurization isn’t the only new step in place, though. Additionally, Jankowski writes that the company has set new “very strict limits” restricting where it would accept barrels from and for how long it would “allow from the time of whiskey extraction to when they arrive here for filling.” This, writes Jankowski, ensures that the barrels used for BCS are freshly emptied.
Brewmaster Jared Jankowski on 2016 Bourbon County Stout [Goose Island]