Bits & Brews 003: Bourbon County Brand Stout & Mega Man II

Beer: Bourbon County Brand Stout 14.2% ABV, 60 IBUs

Damn! That's some classy shit.

Bourbon County Brand Stout is my favorite beer. It is a beer that I look forward to every Black Friday and one that I cherish every sip of. That being said, it is not a beer that I can drink every day. It is not a "fridge beer. " Bourbon County is an every now and again thing. It was originally brewed as a celebration of the 1000th batch of beer produced at the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub in Chicago, IL. This was in 1992 and barrel aged beers were the definition of novelty. No one was aging their beer (no, Budweiser beachwood doesn't count) especially not in anything that contained bourbon previously. Bourbon County was dismissed by the judges at the Great American Beer Festival as being too weird, too off the beaten path. Goose Island persisted though. They knew that this beer would become something special. Now, everyone has a barrel aged something or other. Goose Island set the trend and created what would be their company defining beer.

The beer itself is, according to brewmaster Brett Porter, a rather unremarkable, unbalanced stout brewed specifically for aging. Other breweries usually use their regular stout and just age that. Goose Island intentionally brews a beer that will age well. The brewery uses spent barrels from a variety of bourbon makers, most specifically Heaven Hill if possible, and ages the stout for a year. It is within these barrels that the beer becomes something truly special. Over time the beer begins to blend and take on characteristics of the barrel. It gains roasty caramel notes, vanilla, sweetness, smoke, char, tobacco, and oak. It begins to blend together into a wonderful whole. Once it is bottled, it continues blending and changing. The brewery states right on the label that the beer will age and mature for up to five additional years. It's a 14% ABV beer so it has the backbone to stand the test of time. Pouring a glass of bourbon county is met with an intense aroma of bourbon, vanilla, chocolate, oak, and roastiness. It is completely black and has a mocha colored head. Each sip hits you with a blast of strong, rich flavor. This beer is not subtle in the slightest. The taste is very similar to the aroma with some added burn from the alcohol. It's thick and coats your mouth. As it warms, the sweetness becomes more prevalent. This is of course from a fresh bottle. Aged an additional year, the flavors blend together even more creating a rich, almost decadent experience. The heat subsides considerably as the beer ages making it an overall smoother beer. It's remarkable to see what time does to this beer.

Game: Mega Man II Capcom 1989, NES

This is what it looks like in my mind. (credit)

The argument between which game is better, Mega Man II or III, has long been fought in the geek community. For my money, the addition of the slide in III notwithstanding, Mega Man II has always been the superior game. Originally released in 1989 for the NES, Mega Man II took everything about the first game that was great, concept/design/music/aesthetic, and improved upon it. It then took everything wrong with the first game, point system/balance/difficulty, and fixed it. They created a game that would go on to define a generation and a company.

Mega Man II is absolutely brilliant in terms of game design. Each stage flows beautifully from screen to screen with enemy placement never being cheap and obstacles never being unfairly placed. Mega Man controls perfectly allowing for precise movement and platforming, except for the intentional slipperiness of Flash Man's stage though even that is carefully balanced, and makes playing the game an absolute joy. It's a good thing too as the bosses are much more fun to play against when you can master their patterns and dance through their attacks. The bosses themselves are more creative in this game than the previous iteration and their power ups better integrated into the overall experience. Some of my favorite bosses from the entire series come from this game and some of my fondest memories came from figuring out which weapon to use against which robot master. The music as well has become some of the most identifiable in all of videogames and has inspired tons of interpretations easily found on youtube (see banjoguyollie, smoothmcgroove, and brentalfloss). The story is simple enough, Dr. Wily is again trying to take over the world and Mega Man must stop him. What else do you need?

So why these two together? The simple answer is time. Beers like Bourbon County get better with age. They change and mature. Your appreciation, your perception of them changes. You pick up different things as the beer ages, as you change as a beer drinker. Your palate gives you a different experience as it matures and things you never noticed before become your favorite aspect of the beer. It is a malleable give and take between you and the beer. And what's quite beautiful about it is that your experience with Bourbon County may be entirely different than mine. Your palate may perceive different things in different intensities and you may pick up different flavors than I do. That's awesome and makes revisiting the beer over time a wholly pleasurable experience. So too with Mega Man II. What I loved about the game as a ten year old, it was cool, is not what I love about it today. I wasn't able to communicate why it was so good, I simply knew it was. With time though, as I changed as a gamer, I began to pick up different things about the game. The way it lead me through each stage, the way the weapon power ups changed the experience and balanced the difficulty became more apparent to me. I grew to appreciate the work put into crafting this game and the overall experience it gives. And just like with Bourbon County, your love of Mega Man II may be entirely different. Perhaps you are a Crash Man fan, or Bubble Man, or Air Man. Maybe you appreciate the backgrounds more than I do. Regardless of what it may be, your experience with Mega Man II as an adult is wholly different than your experience with it as a child. That give and take is there. You have grown, and it has too. 

If you're really good, you can finish Mega Man II in about 45 minutes. (the world record is 29 minutes and 28 seconds btw, closest I ever got was right around 31 minutes) I would recommend taking your time though. Savor the experience. Pour a glass of Bourbon County and sip it as you play. Pay attention to the differences in each sip and each level. Learn to appreciate time and all that it changes.