Thursday, October 02, 2008

Back-to-back Bourbons

Amongst my litany of shameful hobbies, one is an undying affection for the Sunday comics. An unhealthy obsession that ought to have died along with my childhood, it's a pathetic escapist addiction that the internet has resurrected, the online comics page standing in for the smudgy color print not only literally, but psychologically, cooling off and numbing a brain run feverish at the tail end of page after page of bad news [note: no links needed there, right?].

Of those back page shenanigans that have always been a draw, it's the "find six differences between these two panels" items that are stupidly, confoundingly irresistible. Typically, like most acerbic post-post-modern wannabe hipster cynics, I hide behind the satire of snarkily-written comics commentary to blanket my adolescent compulsions, but if you really want a regular dose of high vulpine drama, you need to go straight to the Slylock Fox source on a weekly basis. I'm sorry to have to admit all this. At least I'm not one of the creepy Cassandra Cat people. Anyway...

Regardless, the vertical tasting experience can be the beer lover's "find six differences" opportunity. (Keeping with the comics analogy, a horizontal tasting would be when you find yourself comparing the different artists' styles in Gil Thorp. I'll stop there.) Take for example, the extraordinarily rare opportunity afforded to me by Virgil (from a package known here as "The Gift of the Virgi") to not only get a taste of an elusive and exclusive beer that's typically unavailable on this coast - Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout - but also to have the even more rare opportunity to taste two vintages, '06 and '07, side-by-side. Since 1994, when it was originally brewed to commemorate their 1000th batch, this Midwestern take on the Imperial stout is now made as an annual special release, each batch being slightly different. Whereas in a horizontal tasting of various bourbon barrel-aged Imperial stouts, you'd be put in a position to recognize the particular traits of various brewers, a vertical tasting lets you focus on the subtleties of one brewery's specific vision, along with the effects of aging. And oh, what a beer to play this little game with...

There isn't much that I can say about Bourbon County that hasn't been duly noted by a million other writers out there over the past 13 years: It's a hugely alcoholic (the two samples we had were 11% and 13%, respectively), soot-black stout that's brewed with seven types of malt ("so big, the malt was coming out of the top of the mash tun") and aged for 100 days in castoff bourbon barrels. So rather than go through some labored poetry over its blackness, intensity, or its.. blackness, Des and I came up with some retardedly simple six differences between the two, which is much easier than trying to describe just how delicious these beers truly are:

- oh so very chocolaty
- raisiny like dark rum
- surprisingly nutty

- boozy hot fire
- charred wood
- coffee beans

So the question now of course, is will the '07 taste like the '06 when it's paired, next year, alongside the '08? Will the bourbon and alcohol fade into the background over a year's time? Or are we looking at a beer so singularly aggressive that all the brewer's attempts at consistency are shaken off this juggernaut's massive presence? Or more like Mark Trail's fist o' justice? (Had to get that last one in.)



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