Why you should care
This big retail day is also the best day to buy limited-edition stout.
With two pieces (or was it three?) of last night’s pumpkin pie sitting in your stomach, you stand in line, shivering slightly in the early morning chill. The doors open, and a murmur of anticipation ripples through the crowd. But you aren’t here to jostle other Black Friday shoppers for a 65-inch 4K OLED TV. You’re here for beer — but not just any beer.
At a number of breweries around the U.S., Black Friday is the only day of the year you can purchase certain rare brews. The concept was born in 2010 at Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago, when about 300 people waited outside the brewery’s doors on the day after Thanksgiving to get their hands on a limited number of bottles of Bourbon County Brand Stout.
These Black Friday events are about collecting rare beers that few people will ever taste.
The event has become a red-letter day for thousands of beer aficionados, who line up outside the Goose Island taproom at Binny’s Lincoln Park in Chicago and select retailers. Over the past decade, the Black Friday release has become a tradition, says Roger Adamson, a beer marketing and education specialist at Binny’s Beverage Depot. Fans from as far as Sweden and Seoul have made the pilgrimage to Chicago to secure their barrel-aged bounty.
While waiting in line, patrons — some of whom begin camping out the day before Thanksgiving — drink coffee, eat doughnuts and discuss their favorite variants from years past, in flavor profiles ranging from cherry to coffee to orange peel. While Noah Amstadter’s family goes hunting for retail deals each year, the beer lover from Indiana sets up his camp chair outside Binny’s. “The camaraderie in line with fellow beer geeks sharing beers while waiting for the store to open is a lot of fun,” he says.
Chicago is the birthplace of bourbon barrel-aged stout, with Goose Island claiming to have brewed the first batch in 1992. You can, of course, find this kind of stout in breweries around the world, but geography matters here. Chicago’s “seasonal temperature fluctuations allow the barrel to expand and contract, forcing the beer into the staves, which mimics the process of bourbon barrel aging and helps develop the flavor,” says Keith Gabbett, brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Co. It’s an intricate process: The beer is aged for nearly a year in bourbon barrels that must be at least four years old.
This year Goose Island has eight Black Friday offerings: seven stouts and a wheatwine ale. The strongest — Bourbon County Double Barrel Stout — comes in at a heady 18 percent alcohol by volume thanks to its two-year aging process. Prices for a 16.9-ounce bottle range from $13 to $60, depending on the variant. Because barrel-aged stouts take more time and money to produce than regular stouts, they are significantly pricier. So while you can spend just $2.99 on a bottle of Guinness anytime, these Black Friday events are about collecting rare beers that few people will ever taste.
In recent years, more breweries have begun offering Black Friday releases. Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee launched its barrel-aged beer on Black Friday 2011. This year, it will offer fun variants like Fruit Cake Strong Ale and Barleywine, sold in four-packs (for a cool $80). Firestone Walker, in Paso Robles, California, joined the fray in November 2015. Its noteworthy variant is the cocktail-inspired Old Man Hattan, a blend of beers, some of which are aged in barrels previously used to mature bitters. And Atlanta’s Scofflaw Brewing, which only opened in 2015, had incorporated a Black Friday release onto its calendar by 2017.
Not a fan of stouts, or are you looking for something lighter to sip as you digest your pie? Plenty of breweries, from Nashville’s Bearded Iris to Denver’s Crooked Stave, organize special releases of everything from wild ales to double-hopped IPAs. But barrel-aged stouts remain the most sought-after offering on Black Friday. Because once they’re tapped, they’re tapped.
If a brewery near you is releasing a barrel-aged stout this Black Friday, do yourself a favor and cellar a bottle from this year’s stash so that, on some future Black Friday, you can stay home and eat more pie.