Nov 24, 2021 - Food and Drink
Minnesota's role in Goose Island's cult beer release
A man holds a barrel.
Black Swan's patented honeycomb-shaped planks add more wood flavor to beer. Photo courtesy of Elkins Flom

Black Friday is an unofficial beer holiday filled with special releases — including one that features the flavors of a small Minnesota barrel-maker.

What's happening: The most-anticipated releases each year are Goose Island's Bourbon County stouts, writes Axios Denver's John Frank, our resident beer geek.

  • This year, one of the variants made by the Chicago-based brewery features a stout aged using cherry wood. It's harvested in Minnesota by Park Rapids' barrel-maker Black Swan Cooperage.

Tasting notes: The Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout tastes like a cherry Tootsie Pop, John wrote in his tasting notes. Other flavors include Werther's toffee and dark fruit.

Between the lines: Bourbon County Brand Stout was the first-ever bourbon-barrel aged beer and still holds a cult following, even after the brewery was purchased by Anheuser-Busch.

How it works: The wood from a cherry tree is too soft to serve as a barrel, so Black Swan cuts it into patented honeycomb-shaped blocks.

  • The holes expose the side grain and allow the wood character to absorb into the beer eight to nine times faster than through the side grain of a barrel.
  • "It's like basically opening up a bunch of straws because you're able to extract that wood flavor that much more quickly," said Heidi Korb, who co-owns the 20-year-old business with her father, Russ Karasch.

Of note: Other unique woods Black Swan sells to brewers, winemakers and distillers include maple, hickory, and red oak — all from Minnesota — as well as pecan wood and sassafras from elsewhere.

  • "There's a lot of potential wood we can [use in beer]. It's going to be fun experimenting," Goose Island's Mike Smith told Axios.

The big picture: The Goose Island collaboration is Black Swan's largest with a brewery.

  • "We're just a tiny little cooperage in northern Minnesota … so I'm hoping this Goose Island recognition will help" spread the word, Korb said.

What to know about this year's Bourbon County lineup

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