Good news: Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout was more readily available in 2019, but you’ll still have to do some searching to locate the other Bourbon County releases. One of the more unique in that lot is Wheatwine Ale, the first non-Imperial Stout in the lineup since Barleywine arrived way back in 2013. It’s made with malted wheat and aged exclusively in barrels from Heaven Hill Distillery that previously held their Larceny wheated bourbon. It was well-received at its debut in 2018, although that release was aged in a mix of Heaven Hill barrels. Let’s see how the 2019 release fares.
This is a very pretty beer… if beer can be pretty. Poured into the glass, it’s a high-polished amber color, like unfiltered honey fresh from the comb, with a frothy vanilla head. On the nose, it’s yeasty, sourdough rising in the pan with trace notes of fresh grist. It’s still sweet though, with a bit of honey-wheat and ample evidence of the bourbon barrel that comes in the form of vanilla ice cream, cinnamon sugar, cocktail cherries, and a bit of applesauce. For such a high alcohol beer, it’s not very boozy, allowing all of those aromas to stand up and be noticed.
The palate is remarkable, a marriage of bourbon and beer that rarely comes across with this kind of balance and complexity. Where Bourbon County Stout, and other barrel-aged stouts like it, complement the spice and chocolate notes left behind by the whiskey, this ale seems to have channeled all the other qualities of the bourbon barrel while adding an exceptional richness and creaminess to the experience. It’s all soft, chewy caramels, the kind that annoyingly get stuck in your teeth, but you eat them anyway because they’re that good. Vanilla custard and some butterscotch are along for the ride, too. It’s well-balanced with those flavors lingering and evolving across the palate. A bit of hops hits the mid-palate with some candied lemon peel and carries into a long, silky finish of split vanilla bean and delicate baking spice.
My only criticism is that this beer is dangerously close to being too sweet and too rich, but it never actually crosses that line, instead showing the best of both bourbon and brew. Definitely one of the better barrel-aged beers of 2019.
A / $15 per 500ml bottle / gooseisland.com