Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
Last week, I took a vacation with my wife out to southern California to enjoy a few days in Los Angeles and a few days exploring the various national parks. One stop during the adventure was Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Propagator spot near Venice Beach, where I had Coconut Rye Parabola, a highly-touted imperial stout aged in Whistle Pig Rye whiskey barrels. It was one of the tastiest stouts I’ve ever had and I’m not a fan at all of stouts – to be honest, I almost never drink them. While delectable upper tier imperial stouts like Parabola do not grow on trees, it left me wanting another beer in that boozy wheelhouse, so I grabbed a slightly darker effort at the beer store, something different than what I’m always drinking – because why not venture out of your comfort zone once and a while? This week’s beer is not an imperial stout but it is darker, bourbon barrel-aged and comes from a brewery that knows how to take its time for a top-notch beer. It’s Goose Island Brewing Company’s Cooper Project Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale.
If you’re a fan of craft beer in virtually any capacity, you probably know Goose Island. Started back in 1995 by native Chicagoan John Hall, the company steadily grew for years and in 2011 it was acquired by Anheuser-Busch for a ton of cash. Some people were afraid Goose Island would sell out – and maybe it has a little with brewpubs in several cities now – but it has made their rare and desirable beers much more accessible to the casual consumer. According to the Chicago Tribune, in 2016 Goose Island produced more than 600,000 barrels of beer in the United States alone – the most of any craft brewery. And the company still continues to flex its creative muscle regularly, which is where Cooper Project comes into play.
Aged four months in bourbon barrels before being bottled, this specific single was bottled in April of 2018, which meant it was quietly becoming even more potentially delicious on the shelf. This beer was part of the Cooper Project, which was launched to emphasize how wood flavor can enhance the taste of beer, and contains 50 percent fresh scotch ale and 50 percent of the same beer, only barrel-aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Goose Island highlights it’s cherry and coconut flavor for a more complex and time-consuming beer, which cost me $4.25 per 12-ounce bottle.
The label is pretty self explanatory, as you can see in the featured photo, with a red and copper design and no real information about the beer or this particular series. In fact, it doesn’t even prominently show the ABV, instead it’s listed in tiny numbers (8.75 percent) with the bottled date. It’s kind of a classy looking label, but it’s really what’s inside that matters most.
I made sure this one was frigid before I opened it. Sure, I was drinking it in air conditioning but I knew a trip outside to enjoy the warm day was inevitable. The first thing my nose picked up on was a strong boozy aroma that was heavy in wood and bourbon. Upon further sniffs, like a complete wannabe beer snob, I noted the malt and perhaps a little caramel. The pour was what you’d want from a scotch ale, with very little off-white foam and a brownish, almost mahogany, body that had a slight haze to it. And there’s no denying it’s a full-bodied, slightly thicker, beer.
Then there was the flavor, which certainly made this much more of a beer you sip. Probably my favorite characteristic was how smooth it was, which is thanks to the wood and the bourbon. I got a little bit of a caramel flavor as well as toffee which could derive from the malts but that’s about it – as I said, I’m not super well-versed on darker variety beers. The back-end of this beer is really the only drawback, leaving an aftertaste that wasn’t great. But it is a well done effort for a brewery that has to make ridiculously large quantities to meet demand, though it would definitely be more enjoyable in like November, when there’s a crispness in the air and maybe a bonfire going. Either way, I don’t think I could drink more than two before needing to move to something else.
With 180 reviews on BeerAdvocate, the average score is 3.96. As per usual, I don’t think the people are too far off on this one because I gave it a 7.9 – it’s tasty, it’s warming, it’s ultra smooth, but I feel like there are similar, cheaper year-round options out there, offering just as much, if not more, flavor.
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.