The Thrill of the Bourbon County Chase!

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It’s an annual event for us Stout lovers….the Black Friday release of Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout along with the variants that accompany it.  This year, Chicago based Goose released the original basic stout (BCBS),  a coffee variant (BCBCS), a Barleywine, and the Chicago only release of Proprietor’s Stout.  There was a Maple Rye variant that was deemed not ready – not sure if it will ever be released but it sounds wonderful!

The 2016 chase was a lot harder than in years past.  The story making the rounds is that Goose Island had to pour a significant amount of BCBS down the drain due to quality issues.  Now I’m not on the inside but something had to have happened because the North Carolina market received only BCBS and the word is that NC only received 40 cases to cover the entire state!!  This is significantly below past allocations so I would not be surprised if they disposed of some BCBS that wasn’t worthy of release.  What I do find interesting are the stories within North Carolina about the differing and varied releases by bars and bottleshops ranging from early releases of BCBS the week prior to Black Friday all the way to being able to reserve/buy entire cases of BCBS.  Those examples are certainly the exception as the usual distribution method was either first come, first serve or a raffle.

In the Raleigh-Durham area, there were three “official” release events, meaning there would be representatives from Goose Island and the local distributor on hand.  Many other bars and bottleshops made the decision to not participate in a BCBS release and instead focused on other local Stout releases.  They felt that having a single case allocation of BCBS would disappoint more patrons than not, so they chose to have “alternate 2016-11-23_17-02-14_879programming” on Black Friday.   Back to Bourbon County…. the first event was a pre-release party on Wednesday, November 23 at The Player’s Retreat in Raleigh.  Tyler, the local Goose Island rep and Joe, the local R.A. Jeffreys rep were on hand to host and welcome everyone.  They were gracious and happy to talk about the Bourbon County line and helped to raffle off bottles of BCBS, some T-Shirts and Bourbon County tulip glasses.  Mrs. Stoutwhisperer and I attended and I was able to enjoy a side by side tasting of 2015 and 2016 BCBS!  While we 2016-11-23_17-07-36_642-2016-11-27t19_28_53-802weren’t fortunate enough to win anything in the raffle, I was happy to be able to start the chase with that tasting.   As an aside, we both really enjoyed the meal at The Player’s Retreat and Mrs. S. said that her burger was one of the best she has ever had!!  The Player’s Retreat is highly recommended!

Thanksgiving gave us a chance to rest, recover and be thankful for all that we have….and to plan for Black Friday, when the other two “official” events at The Glass Jug in Durham and at Wine and Beer 101 in Raleigh would be held.

As we were out on our annual tradition of early morning Black Friday shopping, I stopped by Total Wine to see if I could pick up a quick bottle of BCBS.  As would be the case in most places, only one case (12 bottles) would be available.  TW did the first come, first serve process and we weren’t one of the first 12 to receive bottles when the store opened at 9am so we quickly left.  After that, the oldest son of Stoutwhisperer traveled with me to The Glass Jug in Durham to see if we could win a bottle of BCBS.  Tyler from Goose Island was there 2016-11-25_11-49-22_901again to welcome everyone. There were about 200 or so people there in line when the doors opened at noon and we all had the chance to get 2014, 2015, and 2016 BCBS on tap.  Many sampled a flight of all three….so many that they ran out of clean flight glasses!  I had the chance to taste the 2014 and 2016 vintages while the raffle took place.  Unfortunately, we didn’t win a bottle (only 12 bottles were raffled), but we did win a BCBS Tulip Glass that I am adding to the glassware collection.

Later on Friday, both sons of the Stoutwhisperer accompanied me to Wine and Beer 101 in Raleigh to try one last time to win a bottle in their raffle.  While there were three of us and a lot less people than at The Glass Jug, we still didn’t win any black gold….but I did get one last opportunity for the day to sample 2016 2016-11-25_17-39-41_966BCBS on tap.  Tyler and Joe were there again representing Goose Island and R.A. Jeffreys respectively, and while it may have seemed I was stalking them,  I was only stalking the elusive Bourbon County Brand Stout!

While I may have struck out for the day, all was not lost.  In anticipation of not winning anything, I was working my backchannels and I was able to secure one bottle of BCBS from my good friends at House of Hops and I hopefully will be able to get another bottle soon from the team at BrewPublik!  On top of that, I am working the beer trading circuit and am very close to a deal for BCBCS and a Prop!!  I can promise you that once I complete the deal, you will see them on my Instagram and Twitter accounts (@stoutwhisperer)!

The Bourbon County brand has certainly become a very contentious topic since Goose Island was bought by AB InBev and especially since last year’s infection of certain bottling dates of BCBS and BCBCS.   My perspective is that a good stout is a good stout and that BCBS is an excellent stout and that I will continue to seek out their offerings.  I was fortunate to not have been impacted by last year’s infection and my 2015 BCBS were very tasty.  I was interested in tasting the 2016 vintage to see if it would hold its own…..and it does and then some!

My thanks go out to The Player’s Retreat, The Glass Jug, and Wine and Beer 101 for hosting these events and especially to Tyler from Goose Island and Joe from R.A. Jeffreys for their hospitality and willingness to chat about Bourbon County.  I hope to tap into their knowledge and learn more about the behind the scenes planning and logistics for the annual Bourbon County release on Black Friday and plan to make that a blog post sometime soon.

Lastly, a big shout out to Gabriela at House of Hops and Charlie at BrewPublik for covering my back for BCBS and to Patrick in Illinois for the BCBCS/Prop trade!!

While I’m glad to have been able to get my hands on at least one bottle of BCBS, I just as much enjoyed the journey…..meeting good people, sampling good Stouts, and enjoying the holiday and the search with my family.

Do you have any stories about your quests for that elusive beer?  Feel free to share your stories with us!

 

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Aviator Brewing Night Jump release

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For North Carolina locals, Aviator Brewing Company is one of the “older” breweries in the Raleigh area – they’ve been around for about 8 years!  Last year they released a bourbon barrel aged (13% abv) Stout called Night Jump.  Oh, and the other thing about Aviator is that they are a can only brewery, so a 13% barrel aged stout in a can is not your normal 2016-11-19_17-38-44_784release.  Oh, and the other, most important thing?  It tasted great!  Once word started getting around about this amazing stout, Night Jump disappeared off the shelves.   I have a feeling that the interest and demand for Night Jump took Aviator by surprise – obviously in a good way.

Once word started to spread that Aviator was releasing the 2016 vintage of Night Jump, I made a mental note to make my way out to Fuquay-Varina for the release.  Once the release event was announced for November 19, I circled the date on the calendar…..and then I found out that the wife of a fellow board member for a local non-profit I’m privileged to be associated with works at Aviator and could arrange for tickets for me and Mrs. Stoutwhisperer – thanks John and Michelle!!

Aviator called the event the Night-Night party – it was a dual release of Night Jump and Devil’s Nightmare, a 15% abv Belgium Imperial Tripel Ale!   Yesterday was a beautiful day – probably the last beautiful day of the year – so Aviator must be doing something right!  Aviator is located in a rural industrial park (like so many other breweries) and it took us about 45 minutes to get to Fuquay from Raleigh, but it was a pleasant drive.  They timed their tickets in order to avoid lines and Mrs. S. and I showed up around 2:30pm or so (it started at 12:00 noon).   As we were walking in, we were welcomed by John and Michelle who gave us the rundown for the day.  We circled around to the back lot and as we checked in (no 2016-11-19_14-49-44_648lines), we were handed our Night-Night goblet for the day and we were introduced to Buddy the CFO and were welcomed again!  There was a band playing, a couple of food trucks open for business,  some intense cornhole contests going on, and taps galore with the entire line of Aviator’s drafts were flowing.

Mrs. S. opted for Mad Beach, a tasty wheat ale.  Not unexpectedly, I made a beeline for the Night Jump tap and had my goblet filled with the pitch black elixir.  About the only constructive comment I will make about the entire day is right here – and it’s not specific to Aviator – everyone serves Stouts on tap TOO COLD!!   Stouts should be served around 50-60 degrees which allows the complex flavors and tastes to emerge.  Serve a stout too cold and those flavors stay hidden forever.  2016-11-19_14-43-37_72713% Stouts are to be sipped and savored and shouldn’t be in the same category as a 5% Ale, which should be served cold.  OK, enough of my ongoing quest for warmer draft Stouts!!  I spent about 10 minutes cupping my Night Jump trying to warm it up a bit, which helped.
The flavors I didn’t taste when I first sipped it started to come out….the sweet flavors of chocolate and vanilla from the cocoa nibs and bourbon barrel aging and the smoothness on the swallow.  That was the Night Jump I remember from last year – in fact, perhaps even better!!

We were fortunate to be able to take a tour of the Aviator facility with Chris, who provided an excellent overview of the past, present, and future of Aviator!!  Some snippets:

-Mike, the founder/owner, is a pilot and started brewing in the hangar where he kept his plane….thus the Aviator 2016-11-19_14-43-58_485name and the aviation motif (their tap handles are half propellers)

-the barrels they use for aging are from Smooth Ambler, a West Virginia distillery.  Chris 2016-11-19_15-13-51_267told us a good story about how they came to get these barrels.  Seems like another brewery backed out of a deal and they stopped by Aviator and asked if they were interested in some barrels.  The rest, they say, is history.

-they recently purchased a new canning line and when it is fully operational, it will be the largest craft beer canning line on the East Coast.  It is a fully refurbished line once 2016-11-19_15-18-01_146used by RC Cola and has 72 filling heads.  I must tell you, it looks pretty impressive and I would love to see it when it comes on line!

Chris did a great job entertaining us and telling the Aviator story and was happy to spend a few extra minutes with me after the tour.  After the tour, we spent some more time walking around the premises watching some of the college football that were on the big screen TVs scattered around the taproom.  The place had a very easy going vibe – everyone was clearly having a good time!!

When we decided to leave, we found John and Michelle again.  I purchased some Night 2016-11-20_10-35-43_306Jump cans to go and also picked up a cool T-Shirt – I’ll be a walking Night Jump billboard!  We had a great time at Aviator and it won’t take us another release party to return!  Thanks to all of the good people at Aviator!  The Night-Night release party was a success!

One other note about Aviator – they have quite a presence in Fuquay-Varina.  Besides the brewery, they have a taproom/restaurant, a smokehouse, and a bottleshop all in the downtown district in Fuquay….and when we drove by, the outside patio of the taproom was packed!!  It’s amazing how craft beer breweries can impact a local economy – Aviator is a wonderful example of playing a key role in revitalizing an area.  Another example is the South Slope area of Asheville – see my previous post about our Asheville Stoutcation!

As an aside, Mrs. S. and I had dinner at City Barbecue in Cary – highly recommended!!  Go for their Brisket and their Potato Salad is fantastic as well!

What has been your favorite release event?  Leave a comment and share!

 

 

The Asheville Stoutcation!

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As I wrote about in an earlier post, the 2 sons of the Stoutwhisperer and I traveled to Asheville for a 21st birthday weekend beercation (albeit a year late!).  We even had the blessing of Mrs. Stoutwhisperer!   One son rode with me and the other met us in Asheville as he was coming from Greenville, SC.  We met at our hotel around 4pm on Friday and immediately called for Uber to take us to Oskar Blues.  We all agreed that we were going to 2016-11-04_20-24-11_000Uber all weekend; no reason to take any chances.  We took the 25 minute ride to Brevard, NC which is the east coast home of Oskar Blues Brewery.  It’s in an industrial area off the beaten path so I’m glad we were with someone who knew where it was!   We were very fortunate in our planning because it just happened to coincide with the release party for BA TENFIDY and Java BA TENFIDY!  When we got to OB, it was already buzzing and most everyone was walking around with a glass of TENFIDY, BA TENFIDY or Java BA 2016-11-04_17-25-02_553TENFIDY.  Those who didn’t have a glass were walking around carrying their take home cases of BA and Java BA.  Apparently  the no limits on take home quantities caused issues, although I really didn’t see anyone with more than 2, maybe 3 cases (36 cans).  I 2016-11-04_18-24-13_003bought 2 cases (3 sixers of Java BA and 1 sixer of BA).  We enjoyed the cool evening meeting new people, enjoying the TENFIDY and having dinner at the OB CHUBwagon.   I had a smoked pork sandwich with 2016-11-04_18-09-55_677barbecue sauce made with TENFIDY and a bread bowl of French Onion soup also made with TENFIDY!  It was a TENFIDY evening!

Once we decided to head back to the hotel, we found out that Uber will take us to Brevard, but there weren’t any local Uberer’s that would take us back to Asheville!   Apparently that’s a known fact that our Uber driver neglected to tell us.  We had to call a local Brevard taxi service who was more than willing to take us back to Asheville for over 4X the amount we paid to get to Brevard!  We didn’t have much of a choice so we took it and the cab driver stopped at an ATM along the way because it was cash only!  He was a real character….and I’ll bet he’s laughing all the way to the bank on people like us!    We made it back to the hotel safely and turned in for the evening knowing we had a full Saturday of fun ahead of us!

Saturday started early with an Uber ride to the South Slope district of Asheville, home to the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, Burial Beer, Green Man, Twin Leaf, and Buxton Hall BBQ and our first stop of the day, Vortex Doughnuts.  I read about Vortex as I was planning for 2016-11-05_08-49-55_314the trip and knew we had to pay a visit.  Homemade doughnuts with some creative flavors was right up our alley.  We each had a couple of doughnuts and a beverage…..very tasty and a great way to start a cool Saturday!

We had a few hours to kill before the breweries opened (11am), so we decided to walk to the River Arts district, home of some amazing artists, and a couple of breweries, Wedge and New Belgium.   The artist studios were just opening up and so we stepped in and started to look around.  We came upon one artist, Stephen Lange, who was more than happy to spend some time with us and talk about his craft.  I really thought that the time we spent with him was the surprise of the weekend!  He spoke to us about his technique, his business, and his client base.  It was really neat to hear the passion in his voice about his work.  Take a look at his website!

After the cultural portion of our weekend ended, we wandered over to New Belgium Brewery, 2016-11-05_10-50-02_912hung out by the river, and waited for them to open up.  Right at the stroke of 11, they swung their doors open and a group of about 20 of us walked in.  Each of us selected a flight of 4 tasters to sample the various New Belgium offerings.  New Belgium really doesn’t have a Stout program, so I wasn’t expecting anything to floor me.  I was wrong.  2016-11-05_11-15-16_078My 4 tasters were: Ben & Jerry Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale, 1554 Black Lager, Anne Francoise Spiced Dark Ale, and a Cherry Felix Sour.   The Ben & Jerry Ale really did smell like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough but didn’t really taste anything special, the 1554 and Anne-Francoise didn’t do much for me, and the Felix Sour…..well let’s just say that Sours are an acquired taste that I won’t be acquiring anytime soon!   Wow!  Just as others probably can’t handle Stouts, I’ll never be able to drink a Sour.  That’s the beauty of craft beer – a taste and style for everyone!    If anything, our time at New Belgium reinforced my love for Stouts!   The people at New Belgium couldn’t have been more nice and their tasting room and patio overlooking the river is a beautiful place to sit, drink, and talk.  The boys had their flights and they enjoyed sampling the different styles and tastes that New Belgium has to offer.  I plan on visiting New Belgium again, but more for the location and the people!

After New Belgium we headed back to the South Slope where we spent the rest of the day.  We went to Buxton Hall BBQ for lunch.  Buxton Hall has been recognized by Bon Appetit 2016-11-05_12-42-33_5572016-11-05_12-59-28_769magazine in their September 2016 issue as one of the top new restaurants of 2016 in the USA!  Since it is located right in the middle of the South Slope area that made our lunch decision an easy one!  All the tables were taken, so we took our seats at the bar and ordered up!  A couple of us ordered smoked pork and the birthday son ordered their other specialty, a fried chicken sandwich.  We all really enjoyed our meals and will certainly return again!  But a 1:30 brewery tour at Burial beckoned, so off we went to Burial Beer.

Burial was right around the corner from Buxton Hall and their patio was crowded with locals.  We entered the combined taproom/brewery and were pointed to a long table where the tour would start.  At 1:30, Tim our guide started the tour and it turned out 2016-11-05_14-42-47_019that we were the only ones there!  So we had a personal tour of Burial!  Now granted, it’s a rather small brewery, but Tim did a great job giving us the history of Burial, walking us around the facility, talking about the future plans of Burial, answering our many questions, and allowing us to sample the offerings that Burial had on tap that day!  We all really enjoyed the visit to Burial and we’ll definitely keep an eye out for their releases.  I was already a fan of Burial through their limited Skillet Donut Stout release but the boys are now fans as well!

After Burial, we walked around the area, stopping by Green Man and Hi-Wire.  Unfortunately, one place I wanted to go to, Twin Leaf, was closed for a private event.  So we continued across the street to Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, their hallowed location 2016-11-05_15-10-02_848for their Barrel-Aging programs.  Not surprisingly, I stayed away from their Sours, but I grabbed a sample of their Dark Arts Espresso stout.   It was much, much sweeter than I expected!  Definitely a sipping desert drink!  I also bought a couple of bottles of Dark Arts to go.   The boys wanted  to visit the “original” Wicked Weed, so we walked the half 2016-11-05_15-30-42_894mile or so to the taproom.  It was really crowded but we were able to get through the line quickly.  I got a glass of Dark Ages and was able to wash away the last remnants of my earlier Sour and quench my stout thirst and we watched college football on the multiple screens.  After that, we Ubered back to our hotel to freshen up, drop off our purchases from the day, and then took the hotel shuttle to Sierra Nevada for the evening.

Sierra Nevada is the Taj Majal of breweries in the Asheville area.  It is a huge facility near the Asheville airport and similar to New Belgium, it is their east coast brewing location.   They have a full brewing facility, a large restaurant, a 2016-11-05_17-15-51_398separate taproom, a huge ‘backyard’ with a large firepit and chairs all around, a few large conference facilities…oh, and a very large gift shop.  In short, an entertainment complex for the craft beer aficionado!

I attempted to register online for a Sierra Nevada brewery tour a couple of weeks prior to our trip but they were sold out far in advance.  Word of advice, if you are planning a visit to SN and want to tour their facility, check their online scheduler first.

Once we entered, we walked around in amazement.  The 2016-11-05_19-13-23_424copper tanks, the fire pit, everything just overwhelmed us in comparison to what we saw earlier in the day in the South Slope.  There was a Master Brewer’s conference being held there, so it was perhaps more crowded than normal.  I enjoyed (perhaps too much) a 2016-11-05_17-31-13_305-2016-11-06t23_46_59-236couple of glasses of Sierra Nevada’s signature Stout, Narwhal, and then we grabbed a great dinner there.  We then spent some time around the fire pit watching the flames flicker in the dark, and then we called the shuttle to return us to our 2016-11-05_19-40-57_110hotel.  A full day of the Asheville craft beer scene in our heads and a satisfying combination of great beer and great food in our bellies!

The next morning was an early wake up call as an English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Tottenham was on.  For the uninformed, Arsenal and Tottenham are fierce London rivals as their stadiums are very close to each other.  No matter their records, it’s always a contentious soccer match.  We were hoping to watch it at a local establishment or hook up with the local Arsenal fan club (the Asheville Gooners), but we weren’t able to find anywhere that would open for a 7am kickoff.  So we grabbed breakfast at the hotel and watched the game in our room.

Once the game finished, we checked out and headed back to Raleigh and Greenville to enjoy our Sunday afternoon and get ready for the week ahead.  Many thanks to our Uber drivers, the Clarion Inn-Asheville Airport, and our many acquaintances and new friends at the breweries and eateries we visited.  I know we had a great time in Asheville and are planning a return visit sooner than later.  If anyone is interested in learning more about our visit or would like some additional recommendations….or if you have any recommendations about our next visit,  drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to reach out to you.

Until next time……

International Stout Day!

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Today is International Stout Day. Now why it’s November 3, I can’t tell you but I can tell you that the Stout season is upon us. If you look at the various social media accounts related to craftbeer, it’s clear the tide has turned from the summer IPA season (also referred to as the “Stout Drought”) to the cooler seasonal Stout releases. Now for me, everyday is Stout Day, but I do appreciate the focus that having a day to celebrate Stouts can bring to the greater craftbeer population. Most of the local bottleshops and breweries are having some type of event to celebrate the day, from Tap Takeovers to special tappings to special releases. The only downside of the day is that it’s on a Thursday…..it’s tough to fully and appropriately celebrate International Stout Day when there is a work day right in front of you! (Note to self – take Friday off next year!). 

Take a moment today and celebrate the Stout, either by enjoying one today or delaying your enjoyment by 24 hours as you head into the weekend! I’ll be celebrating it all weekend, as I am headed to Asheville with my 2 sons to visit the best that Asheville’s brewing community has to offer……starting with the BA TENFIDY release event at Oskar Blues on Friday evening! It should be a great weekend! Watch this space for some pictures and a full write up of our journey in the coming days!!

In the meantime, Happy International Stout Day!