Should Goose Island Pull the Flagship Release of Bourbon County From Binny’s?

This stout season sure has been a remarkable one. Following a week of backlash in the craft beer community, Binny’s Beverage Depot has struggled to control the narrative about the botched release of Goose Island’s perennial stout juggernaut, Bourbon County Brand Stout.

In the past week, customers have been let down in droves as raffle winners have been unsuccessful at obtaining their winning allotments, directed towards less desirable “Classic” allotments without the boxed BCBS variants. While no one beyond the tinfoil conspiracy hat trolls expect that this was intentional, it’s certain to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the consumers who played their hand at the Bourbon County lottery, be a rare winner, and be provided with a less consequential prize.

This year, some BCBS winners were less thankful than others

Worth Drinking

Binny’s was initially affected by a deluge of customers posting about trying to buy their allotment days after they had been notified they had won, but before the designated date they needed to complete their purchase by. The botched release wasn’t limited to those who hadn’t completed their purchase, rather it also impacted other who were under the impression they had completed the transaction successfully.

JC ¹, a local Chicago resident was fortunate to find out on November 11th, that both he and his wife Cara¹ had won a Classic allotment of Bourbon County from the Binny’s drawing. He immediately went through the purchase process. She immediately followed using the shared credit card they both use. On November 26th, Cara alleges that her order was canceled without notice. Upon inquiring at the store level where they thought she won, they were told it was canceled due to “name, email address, or other personal information.” They surmised that Binny’s had canceled their order due to residing in the same household and using the same credit card.

Via Binny’s Black Friday Lottery, no such rule about multiple winners from the same household exists.

This wasn’t the first year a poor rollout of the Goose Island Bourbon County Binny’s Black Friday flagship release had happened. The 2017 release was marred by an inefficient process that required cashiers to individually scan items for each individual customer. Previously before, and following this release, cashiers scanned one bar code which included the inventory of the entire bundle which saved 30-60 seconds per transaction. In 2017, I personally lined up at 5:45am for the 9:00am opening and didn’t get through the checkout until after 1:00pm.

Binny's Lincoln Park location with the line of people waiting to buy theirs
Craft beer drinkers lined up at Binny’s Lincoln Park location in 2018

Fulton Street Events Take Off

Following the initial Rare Day in 2015, Goose Island continued a new tradition growing Rare Day into Prop Day, with a lottery drawing for the Chicago-only Proprietor’s Stout. Lottery winners won the ability to attend a street festival on Fulton Street at Goose Island’s Chicago production brewery. The prize typically includes 2 bottles of Proprietors, a glass, and sometimes additional variants, or the opportunity to buy additional coveted bottles that might be difficult to find. They also received tokens good for small pours of the Bourbon County lineup.

While it’s typically a cold day in the mid to low 30s, attending Prop Day has been a boon for the Goose Island brand as hundreds of winners attend, with several flying in from exotic locations to take part. After Covid-19 hit, Prop Day shifted from an event to merely a prize pickup scenario, with the staff ferrying people through a system of checkpoints to obtain their prizes.

In both these scenarios, Goose Island has proven that they can handle the preparation before the event to select an appropriate quantity of winners, utilize their resources to ensure all prizes and accoutrements are where they are need, execute multiple events within the constraints of different conditions of the day, and leave their fans and craft beer customers in general with a fulfilling experience. This is to say nothing of the other popular 312 Block Parties hosted at this site as well.

Pour stations at 2018 Prop Day
Pour stations at 2018 Prop Day

What does the future hold

I think it’s reasonable for the leadership at Goose Island to consider the idea of moving the flagship release from under Binny’s umbrella to their own. I’m not suggesting Binny’s or Jewel be cut out of the Bourbon County hoopla. They should both continue to receive inventory to provide their customers in a method of their choosing. But the typical 1000+ Reserve style allotments that have been offered at the Marcey St location of Binny’s with the overnight lines, Intelligentsia coffee, donuts and pancakes, and WGN helicopters overhead filming it all, might be better served for doing it on Goose Island’s home turf (either at Fulton Street or the Barrel Warehouse)

Black Friday is too valuable to the Goose Island brand to trust a partner to carry the weight for them. I shop at Binny’s probably twice a month and truly enjoy bringing out of towners to the Lincoln Park location for friends to awe at, with their unparalleled selection. This post is less about Binny’s release follies, and far more about the excellent track record Goose Island has had at running larger scale events and releases, and controlling their destiny.

In the early days of Goose Island, they needed a large partner like Binny’s to champion their marquee beer release. Logistically, would anyone have thought they had the ability to do it themselves going back to 2009 or earlier? This relationship likely generates untold revenue for both parties. It’s an inescapable symbiosis, so whatever the outcome, the relationship needs to be preserved at all costs.

In lieu of the flagship release, Goose Island could possibly take a page out of the suggestion book of Mike Zoller who suggested more breweries should consider doing single barrel stout picks. Give Binny’s an exclusive, maybe even similar to the BCBS 2020 Easter Egg set. I’m sure it won’t balance the loss of the big release, but it gives them a prestigious exclusive, which in itself is kind of the point of the release anyway.

All things considered it’s possible the event has outgrown it’s Black Friday Lincoln Park home, and maybe it’s time for Goose Island to retake the flagship release of Bourbon County to handle it on their own terms. There still can be Wins for both parties, and hopefully happier customers on the other side of this.

Goose Island CTA train car board
The eye catching Goose Island CTA car was out for the 2021 Black Friday event at the Fulton location

¹ Real names withheld by request, as JC fears being prohibited from taking part in future drawings

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