A couple of weeks ago, one of my old day-drunk buddies brought another of our kind into the bar. That was notable, because we don't get a lot of new blood, not even the kind of new blood that is basically the same old blood wrapped up in a different bag of scum and bones.
This guy was named Joe, as they so often are, and he was a semi-retired electrician (ditto). The unusual thing about Joe is that he asked a lot of personal questions.
Now, I've had the good fortune to ingratiate myself into several different circles of daylight drinkers through the years, and they tend to share a few basic traits beyond name and occupation. They all flaunt their unhealthy lifestyles as a way of maintaining mortal agency, on account of these days everything kills ya, so ya might as well enjoy yourself, no sense being like their legions of teetotalling brothers-in-law who got hit by busses while training for marathons. They usually remember when the bar was called something else, back when Tall Bob and Sticky Jim worked there, and beer was only a buck. And they betray mercifully little concern with what goes on in your life the 22 hours a day you're wasting on other, lesser pursuits.
But this Joe, he was an investigative day-drinker, and he somehow weaseled the truth out of me, and now he and whoever was in earshot knows that I get paid to write about beer and sports. He made it very clear that he does not consider this real work, but his disdain caused no friction, because I know he's right, and I harbor no shame over having beaten the system.
The only small downside to this racket is that when you flip over the "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life" coin, the other side says "But then again, once you turn your hobbies into jobs, you're always working." So woe was me Friday morning, when I woke up with a crippling hangover and the knowledge that I had to spend the day waiting in liquor-store lines so I could fulfill my professional obligation to write about Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout.
Every year, Goose releases a few different barrel-aged behemoths the day after Thanksgiving. They hype this Black Friday event for several months beforehand, and though my editor generally has the good sense to avoid the Beer Internet, I was afraid he might get wind of this stoutkakke, so I figured I had to break my personal no-waiting-for-beer rule in case he asked why the rest of the Internet was talking about Goose Island BCBS while I was still talking about my cat.
But then the damndest thing happened: I went back to bed and stayed there until Saturday morning. As I drank my coffee and checked my sources 24 hours after the magic beers hit the shelf, it seemed clear that I was out of luck. BCBS was listed on Craigslist for between $400 and $1,000 a case, people were offering single bottles in trade for firstborns and Plinys, and it seemed like I'd missed my chance. I started working out my "True cool guys don't get caught up in hype, so here's another thing about Schlitz" post and headed to Amherst, Mass., for a relaxing weekend of recreational drinking and professional negligence.
But lo: Our first stop in Amherst was my all-time favorite liquor store, the Spirit Haus, which had a good dozen bottles of the BCBS Barleywine hiding in plain sight of the Four Loko cooler and the discount pumpkin-beer display. That's good fortune, friends. It meant I got to try a beer I was curious about while also allowing me to write about an important beer happening.
Soon, my wife and I went to the Hangar, the chicken-wing place where we had one of our first dates watching Butler almost beat Duke in the 2010 National Championship game. And I lucked out again: The Hangar had hosted a Black Wednesday tap takeover, and since the weather was shitty and most of the students were out of town, they still had BCBS Coffee on tap.
This is a dangerous reinforcement of my slothful ways: I slept through the biggest beer-shopping day of the year only to be rewarded by stumbling upon two of the five prized BCBS beers during a weekend spent ostensibly shirking my responsibilities. I can't really give the full review of the BCBS Coffee here, because I'd been beering all day and I didn't have my notebook, but let me say this about it: HOLY SHIT.
It's black as night, with a gorgeous tan head, and I highly recommend you drop everything and run to your local chicken wingery to try some (an unorthodox tactic, sure, but it's never failed me). Sometimes I find additional coffee—or any flavoring—to be superfluous in an imperial stout, especially a barrel-aged one. Roasted malt and whiskey barrels bring plenty of their own thunder, so you don't need to go augmenting the flavor with coffee, which is naturally present in a good stout to begin with. But everything about this beer works perfectly, including the Rwandan coffee from Intelligentsia and the bourbon-barrel aging. The coffee is present but not overwhelming, with good dark chocolate and vanilla-coated caramel holding more than their own.
I wasn't sure about cracking the barleywine, since I've been told it comes together a little better after six months or a year of bottle-aging, but ultimately decided that if a beer's ready to be sold, it should be ready to be judged, so here's that:
It pours nearly black, with minimal head and a surprisingly demure nose of dried fruit, chocolate, and vanilla. The barrels are third-use: They originally held bourbon, then aged a batch of the standard BCBS Stout, and then housed this year's barleywine, so while they certainly added some whiskey character, it wasn't overpowering. But if the aroma was relatively gentle, the flavor definitely revealed a high-octane (12.3 percent ABV) beer that might need a bit of bottle time to settle down. It was a very good drinking experience that suggested a truly exceptional beer will emerge down the road a ways, once the hot alcohol heat smooths out with time.
Is Goose Island BCBS worth setting your alarm for, to say nothing of waiting in line for on a cold day, or sending some profiteering Craigslist weirdo a few weeks' rent? Hey man, that's your call. But if you find some lying around a college-town beer mart or a chicken place, well then yes, you should snap it right up.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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