When I first came back to New Orleans after a 2 year hiatus in Italy, North Carolina, and California, there were certain people I hoped to see back in Cork & Bottle. And as they came in week after week, hearing I had returned, we shared alot of hugs, memories, and laughter. When friends Mark and Liz walked into the shop a month or so ago, my face lit up. I had not seen these guys in years, since right after ‘the Storm’. (read: Hurricane Katrina). We had been neighbors in the lower Garden District, (my apartment on Napoleon had been completely destroyed) and had partied our patooties off at Mardi Gras. Daytime revelry is so much fun.
I was telling them about my beer challenge, and Mark said, almost slyly, “I bet you would like to try a few beers you can’t get here in New Orleans…” My immediate answer was a clear proclamation, “YES!” In fact, readers, it has been an epic challenge in itself locating 100 stouts and porters that I could get my hands on. Immense thanks to Joe in California, Stacia in Chicago, Jake and Mom in North Carolina, and Ross here in New Orleans for bringing me beers I could not have accessed otherwise!
So he gives me a big smile, and says, “You know my daughter, Stacia works at Goose Island.” To this, I am grinning ear to ear, but holding my breath. “How would you like to do the Bourbon County Stout for your challenge?” “Yes, yes, yes!” was my exclamation. A few weeks later, his daughter Stacia arrived with the precious cargo in hand.
So I dive in to an informal interview, because I am FASCINATED by what she does. As we sip on a wine, we talk about beer. What a great Friday afternoon…
Stacia laughingly calls herself “Head Nerd”, which if you see how lovely she is, you have a little giggle. She has been there for 3 years, working with the yeast bank and yeast propagation, as well as analytical and biological testing. She is so tuned into the beer and yeasts, that she can tell immediately when something is off. Wow. My favorite part? She manages the sensory panel. Now THAT I would be good at! The other aspects are WAY over my head, but nonetheless, I am absolutely enthralled.
How did she get into the brewing business? She majored in biology, and started doing fermentation in a microlab. And one day, she decided to apply at Goose Island, and three years later, she is as happy as can be, in a lab 3 times its size in 2006. Now that, people, if you are a biology major, and into beer, is an inspirational story!
So what about this amazing Bourbon County Stout? Well, at Goose Island there is a special brew for every 1000 batch. The Bourbon County was the very 1st. It starts out at 30 Plato, which for those of you unfamiliar with that term, is NOT the amount of philosophy you will spout after drinking this beer (although with this ABV, its bloody likely), but refers to the concentration of dissolvable solids and fermentable materials(sugars) in the wort. It is related to specific gravity, but is WAY too complicated to get into here. For you wine lovers, think of it as similar to Brix (Brix determines alcohol content in wine).
So Bourbon County starts out at 30 Plato, which Stacia describes as “pretty much mud.” This ferments to 10-13% ABV, hefty beer to say the least! When completed, its color rating is a whopping 100, which is the highest you can possibly achieve on the scale. Pure opacity. And I tell you guys, that’s no lie. You aren’t seeing through that sucker. The brew is then aged in bourbon barrels, originally those from Rip Van Winkle, and now from Heaven Hills Distillery, the producers of Elijah Craig. They vintage the beer, just as you would with wine, but may pull from several different previous years and blend. So the 2008 contains beer from 2007 and earlier, giving the beer even MORE complexity and depth from various maturation stages. Brilliant!
And guys, I got a little inside scoop: There is a Bourbon Coffee Stout in the works!!! Hello breakfast! (or afternoon snack…)
Thank you so very much Stacia. You are just fantastic.