With Increased Scrutiny, Goose Island Holds Back Highly Anticipated BCS Variant

Austin Ray
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Two years removed from a massive recall of infected product, Goose Island has again run into unforeseen troubles with its vaunted Bourbon County lineup.

The company announced Thursday that, contrary its original plan, it won’t end up releasing Reserve Barleywine as part of the renowned brand family released annually on Black Friday. The reason? “As it turns out, it doesn’t taste like what we wanted it to,” writes brewmaster Jared Jankowski on the company’s blog.

“We noticed before release, so it won’t be shipping out this year,” Jankowski adds. “And before you ask, we’ve done extensive tasting and testing of the other variants and those beers are solid. They check out by both our quality testing program and our validated taste panel, i.e. people who are very good at tasting beer and do it a lot.”

The latest concern comes two years after the company recalled four Bourbon County brand beers after they became infected with Lactobacillus Acetotolerans, a relatively unknown souring agent in the beer world that imparted the beers with off-flavors. The Chicago Tribune notes this week that Reserve Barleywine, which was aged for two years in bourbon barrels and represented what the company called one of its “most ambitious barrel projects to date,” was actually brewed and barreled at the same time as the affected product of 2015. The company has not specified whether this latest issue is related to past troubles, however. But it’s most certainly a result of increased vigilance for the bacteria that’s associated with the production of rice vinegars. In 2016, Goose had to partner with AB InBev for additional resources to isolate, grow the culture, and determine its effect on the beer as no existing lab procedures for the bacteria existed in brewing.

No less, the planned lineup of seven beers—which would’ve been the largest Bourbon County release slate to date—will now hit stores as a gang of six. “Believe me, we’re as bummed as you are. Well. More,” Jankowski continues. “But don’t worry—this year’s Bourbon County line-up will still give you plenty to ponder and appreciate with friends and loved ones.”

In the wake of the 2015 issue, the company implemented a number of new controls to prevent future issues, including imposing new, strict limits on where it accepts barrels from, how long it would allow “from the time of whiskey extraction to when they arrive here for filling,” and it also purchased a flash pasteurizer, which it says is “helpful for wood aged beers where barrels we use can be inconsistent.”

It would have been easy to silently not release the beer as most brewers do, and the issue would have maybe never been known. But because of the heightened awareness for the BCS brand, and bloggers around the country awaiting label approval announcements in order to see what will be released each year, every variant builds anticipation. So for it to suddenly disappear from the potential lineup, the questions would have quickly been raised. This announcement seems to anticipate that.

In 2016, Jankowski joined the GBHype podcast to share insights regarding what the company had learned following the infection and subsequent recall. In the episode, he described the learning experience as both “frustrating” and “painful” but also “fascinating” (brewing is science, after all).

“There’s an adage that I think is very wise and I know that all good brewers have in the backs of their minds,” he said at the time. “And that’s if you have an environment that could support non-beer-spoiling bacteria, you have an environment that, in time, may well support beer-spoiling bacteria.”

—Dave Eisenberg