Goose Island's "Migration Week" Kicks Off with Rare Brews

        The iconic Goose Island emblem. | Zach Garrison
        The iconic Goose Island emblem. | Zach Garrison

Goose Island Beer Co. is going national. After Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased the Chicago-based brewery in 2011, production and distribution have kicked up several notches to meet the growing demand for the delicious brews. In order to bring its beer to more people, Goose Island chose twelve cities to visit as part of its inaugural "Migration Week," swooping in to take over taps and hold grand tastings.

Goose Island brewer Patrick Reisch says the goal of Migration Week "is to have fun and connect with our drinkers." Plus, as he points out, "it's a good way to enter the national market and get our name out there."

Kicking off the week was a special tasting held at the International Tap House (CWE), and luckily, Gut Check received an invitation.

        Goose Island's Holy Grail -- Bourbon County Stout - Rare. | Zach Garrison
        Goose Island's Holy Grail -- Bourbon County Stout - Rare. | Zach Garrison

Reisch is actually a native St. Louisan and a sixth-generation brewer who has beer coursing through his veins. He talked with us about the many fine beers he helps produce, but first, we needed a beverage. Reisch suggested the Sofie Paradisi, a barrel-aged saison with a fruity aroma. The night was off to a very good start.

Moving kegs of beer across the country means increased beer production, made possible with the help of Anheuser-Busch. The sheer power of A-B, as Reisch explains, "gives us a lot more capacity...[it] took a lot of weight off our shoulders." In addition to making traditional favorites like Honker's Ale and 312 more readily available, specialty beers like the Bourbon County Stout (BCS) will also be widely distributed and in far greater quantities.

The BCS -- 14.5 percent ABV with a creamy mixture of chocolate, vanilla and charred oak -- has long been a favorite of beer-lovers, but it was often difficult to find given its very limited release. This year promises a surge in availability, and Reisch tells us that this year's batch "is tasting good -- we just took the last out of the barrels, and it's ready to go."

At iTap, we're in for a special treat. Goose Island went above and beyond, unveiling the 2013 BCS and the Bourbon County stout -- extremely rare. Brewed in 2008 and aged for 24 months in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels (one of the rarest bourbons in the world), this behemoth was a one and done, so once the last bottle is empty, we'll never get another taste. The beer is considered a treasure by many. (Go online and check out how much cash some are willing to pay to get their hands on a bottle.) We were blessed to be given a small taste and, as expected, it was brilliant: coffee, vanilla, chocolate and oaky bourbon...there are no words.

         A delicious sample of the BCS. | Zach Garrison
        A delicious sample of the BCS. | Zach Garrison

But Goose Island encompasses far more than specialty beers. The perennial favorites are accessible and easy to drink. In fact, if you're looking for a gateway beer, Reisch suggests the aforementioned 312 Urban Wheat Ale or the Sofie Farmhouse Ale, "a little light and not quite as aggressive or invasive." Or go up a step and try one of Reisch's favorite beers, the Lolita. The Belgian-style wild ale, he explains, "is not something we make a ton of but is always my go-to." (This from a guy who spent a year apprenticing in Germany, living in a brewery. So it's probably a safe bet that the Lolita is worth checking out.)

As Migration Week continues, there will be plenty of chances to try Goose Island's full lineup. Tap invasions are planned for today at Lywelyn's-Webster Groves, from 5 to 9 p.m.; and Shamrocks, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.; and Thursday night at Three Kings, from 6 to 8 p.m. But in general, with expansion comes the likelihood of finding Goose Island in a bar or store near you, and that's definitely something to cheers to.

Gut Check is always hungry for tips. Email us!

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