When I went on the hunt for this Goose Island limited release a couple weeks ago, the liquor stores that hadn’t already sold out weren’t even shelving what they had—the bottles had all been spoken for by phone. Vanilla BCS was rapturously received at the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer in November 2009 and at Goose Island’s own Stout Fest this March, where I had my first sample. At this summer’s Great Taste of the Midwest, I was waiting at the GI booth when it was tapped, and before I got to the head of the line it was gone.

Is the hype justified? In a word, yes. The beer pours almost totally black, with a fleeting cocoa-colored head. Even before the first sip it floods your nose with aromas of vanilla, bourbon, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and creamy pralines. Inhale deeply and you can feel a slight sting of booze—that’s the 13 percent alcohol content. Vanilla BCS is brewed with real vanilla beans, and John Laffler, who runs the barreling program at GI, says this batch required around 20 pounds of them. It took four days to scrape the beans out of the pods by hand, and each bourbon barrel used for aging the beer got 40 pods’ worth. Unsurprisingly vanilla leaps out first in the flavor profile, followed by rich roasted malts and whiskey. As those notes recede, the barrel oak—which sometimes imparts a taste like toasty vanilla even to beers with no actual vanilla in them—comes forward. The mouthfeel is silky, almost syrupy, and an intense aftertaste of butter toffee lingers luxuriously. This is very much a dessert beer, right down to the calorie count—like all the Bourbon County stouts, it has almost 900 in a 22-ounce bottle.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.