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Your Beermonger: Hardywood Gingerbread Stout

This sponsored column is written by Todd Himes, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup.

I’m going to skip all of the after repeated mass marketed retail propaganda about this being the most wonderful time of the year, but I will say this is definitely something I look forward to every year, and has quickly become a really important tradition in my house.

Somewhere each year between late November and December 25, I am personally on the hunt for a bottle of a very special barrel-age stout. There are many that come out this time of year, and many people have their personal favorites.

In fact there was one quite large release last Friday that you may or may not have noticed was absent from the shelves here at Arrowine, Goose Island’s Bourbon County stout. I was pretty surprised to see quite a few articles and reactions coming out about the allocations of Goose Island’s Bourbon County stouts. It’s long been something talked about among many of my industry colleagues, but rarely do the details of such come out in such plain view.

What seemed to kick off most of the discussion was this article from the Chicago Tribune which interviews a number of Chicago area stores, some of whom had longer relationships with Goose Island than others, and it made for a pretty interesting read covering quite a few perspectives.

I can now say with a bit of pride that I’ve never professionally spent money on any of the Bourbon County stouts. Sure for myself I’ve bought a bottle or two here and there when it’s not been a hunt to find it. But truthfully for the times that I would have really wanted it, it was not available here on the east coast. Then by the time it was more widely available, many of the demands for big barrel-aged stouts were being met by its many imitators.

Then of course 2015 happened. If you followed along with Bourbon County stout for a while, you may remember 2015 as the year of the infected bottle that made it out, the subsequent recall/buyback programs and the forever altering decision to begin pasteurizing the bottles before they left, which would increase the stability of the beer, but take away some of its aging potential as a living product. Some of you may remember from my little love letter to Orval that a bottle with the ability to completely change over time and become unpredictable is certainly not the worst thing in this beermonger’s book.

However, 2015 was the first time I got my hands on a bottle of Hardywood’s Kentucky Christmas morning, and I tell you the morning of December 25 has never been the same.

Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout first was released in 2011, and shortly thereafter began collecting many well-deserved accolades (100 points from Beer Advocate Magazine for instance), and spun off a number of different gingerbread variants (Bourbon GBS came first in 2012). There continue to be new variants added each year with varying degrees of availability.

Some releases are allocated for retail and bars, and some of them are available only directly from the brewery. There have also been changes in the format of availability over the years; currently the non-barrel aged variants of the gingerbread family are available in 16 oz cans. This year for the first time barrel-aged versions have been made available in 12 oz stubby glass bottles.

2015 also marked my first holiday season behind the cheese counter at Arrowine. Kentucky Christmas Morning came out in December that year, so I had already made it through Thanksgiving, and my first giant wave of hungry cheese customers. I was looking forward to the rush and excitement of the holidays for sure, just not looking forward to it on my day off when I got up early to go into work and wait around for the delivery truck.

There was just one case coming, and we weren’t going to hold a bottle for one of the employees, so I showed up and got myself a slip of paper with a red 9 written on it. Being that this was the week before Christmas, and we had but one monger behind the counter in the morning, I was eventually asked to put on my apron and help out behind the counter.

It was all very worth it because I got myself the first of what became many years of tradition. That Christmas morning while getting together to open presents my now-wife, I opened that first bottle of the bourbon barrel aged gingerbread stout with coffee added to sip alongside the homemade cinnamon rolls she had baked. To say it was a hit would be an understatement. Thus began a tradition of waiting for this beer to be released.

Even when I left Arrowine to work in D.C., I still came back to wait around for that truck. The last time that happened was 2019, right after the shop had reopened following its new cheese counter and growler station installs. I got to make my trip for two reasons, but the truth was I needed that KCM bottle or else there might not be anything for me under the tree that year.

Anybody else out there have a favorite Christmas beer they track down every year? I miss that little bit of the hunt myself, so it’s almost a part of the season for me, the way some people might look for the perfect tree.

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