Does 'Selling Out' Make a Difference You Can Taste?

A five year vertical of Bourbon County Brand Stout.

A five year vertical of Bourbon County Brand Stout. Older, pre-brewery sale style bottles are on the left, while the newer bottle design is on the right. Michael Neelsen (TTBOOK)

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It wasn't that long ago that buying beer meant picking up a six pack for the basement fridge, or a keg for the frat party. Hamms, Coors, Budweiser and Miller — cheap, mass market beer endorsed by celebrities. Craft brewing changed all of that — better ingredients, more alcohol, a whole new world of stouts, lagers, lambics and more. Today, if you like beer, every glass can be a new adventure. 

Steve Paulson recently went on a beer adventure of his own, with Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel as his guide. First, Steve got a primer on the hot new trends in craft beer.

Then on to the taste test. Which started as a guide to beer smelling. 

The beer on offer? Bourbon County Stout, a verifiable legend among craft beer nerds. Back in 1995, Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall had a crazy idea. What if he took an ostentatiously heavy beer – the kind originally brewed to impress Russian rulers like Catherine the Great — and aged it in Kentucky bourbon barrels for a year? 

Here’s the thing. In 2011, Goose Island Brewery sold to Anheuser-Busch. It was a shocker — one of the leaders in the underdog world of handcrafted beer, selling out to Big Beer. They were the first craft brewer to be snatched up and turned into big business, but not the last. What does that mean for people who love the beer they make? Does it change?