18 April 2009

KOTBR #70 - Founders Great Expectations

KOTBR #70 was a special occasion. Special in that we gathered up (perhaps) more beer than we've ever reviewed in one sitting before. Special because we were joined by Cari, the Kahn's Beer Queen. And special because we're all fans of Founders Brewing, the Michigan powerhouse of tasty brewed treats.

The question I put forth to my fellow Knights was this (in many many more words):
"Is Founder's KBS (formerly Kentucky Breakfast Stout) really Founders' best beer?"
What I was really getting at was the question of hype versus taste. Is KBS' reputation built on the fact that it's not an easily acquired beer? How often does an obsessed-over beer reward that obsession?

We're probably as guilty as anyone at overhyping how good a beer can be - so in this review we ask the question - Do these beers meet expectations? And we'll admit that might be a snobby question to ask.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all beers are not created equal, that they are endowed by their Brewer with certain unalienable qualities, that among these are malt, hops and the possible infusion of coffee, chocolate, bourbon, and other flavors.
Yes, he wrote that. It was part of the Declaration of Beer Dependence that he wrote when he was part of Colonial Beer Geek. He later adapted the text for some statement that was sent to the King of England.

Jefferson was a polymath. And like many of his contemporaries, one of his interests was the production and consumption of beer. Don't believe me? Here's proof.

While little is known about what sort of beers were brewed at Monticello, I think it is a safe bet that none of them were like any of the Founders beers that we sampled.

PorterExceeds expectations: Sometimes, I find porters to be lacking. Often, the mouthfeel is too watery to fully carry the flavors. This is not the case. The fullness and creaminess of this porter easily carries the chocolate and coffee maltiness.

Backwoods BastardExceeds expectations: Bourbon and stouts have always played well together. But Wee Heavy ales and bourbon may end up being BFF’s. The caramel and buttery components of bourbon and the roasted caramel malts of the Wee Heavy create a wonderful concoction that is best described as butterscotch candy in inebriating liquid form.

Double TroubleDoes not meet expectations: With a name like Double Trouble, you really expect to get the hop-shit slapped out of you. And based on the smell, I was preparing myself for a punch. While it had a sweet taste and a clean mouth, it was too light for a double IPA. The only trouble I found was in the enjoyable bit of spice left in the back of my throat.

Does not meet expectations: 9.3% ABV. Old Ale. The name. All reasons why I had high hopes for this beer. But, I found this to be a weak beer in comparison to the other Founders beers I have consumed. Not a bad beer by any means, but left me wanting more.

Breakfast StoutExceeds expectations: The mouthfeel of the Breakfast Stout was lighter than expected, but this coffee stout is very enjoyable with its big coffee flavor highlighted by hints of bitter chocolate. A mocha frappucino in beer form.

Imperial Stout
Exceeds expectations: The words chocolate and coffee and caramel and malty have been thrown around a lot when talking about stouts. This one exceeds them all. It is a big, sugary explosion of a stout. In short: fantastic!

Kentucky Breakfast StoutDoes not meet expectations: It’s funny to say that a beer I rated at 4.7 mugs was disappointing. I like bourbon. A lot. And I feel that the latest KBS is not as bourbon-infused as last year’s. It is still, however, extremely tasty.

PORTER - Exceeds Expectations: This porter is incredibly robust with huge chocolate flavor with hints of coffee, molasses, and toasted almonds. The kind of flavors you'd expect to find in an Imperial Stout but with the body and ABV of a Porter. I would gladly order this at any bar.

- Exceeds Expectations: When this was fresh, it fell a bit short. The flavors were all right but it had a lot of alcohol burn in the nose and the swallow. Now that it's six months old, the alcohol has mellowed and the bourbon flavor is even better. If you like bourbon you HAVE to try this. The nose of oak, vanilla, caramelized banana, and toasted coconut alone is enough to sell me on this.

DOUBLE TROUBLE - Does Not Meet Expectations: You know, I really liked this beer. They shouldn't call it a double IPA, though. Maybe an Extra IPA (that's a hot trend currently). Devil Dancer is a tough suit to follow, and even though it was dubbed a "triple" IPA, it did set a precedent for any "double" IPAs coming out of Founders. The lighter body on this was refreshing, and the grapefruit and lemon zest from the hops had a nice bitterness, but this was a really good IPA, not a double IPA.

CURMUDGEON - Does Not Meet Expectations: I had high expectations for this one. Founders is great at bold flavors and barleywines are a perfect match for this. For some reason, Old Curmudgeon came across fairly light in this department. Easily drinkable, tasty, but not the barleywine I wanted it to be. I did appreciate the coconut notes in the flavor, though.

BREAKFAST STOUT - Meets Expectations: This beer has a huge following and a tremendous amount of praise. It's hard to exceed that, but it certainly lives up to all the positive things that are said about it. The coffee flavors are balanced by a nice sweetness and there's even some chocolate and smoke in there. This is the stuff that sets the high standards for all of Founders' beers.

IMPERIAL STOUT - Does Not Meet Expectations: With how impressive the Breakfast Stout and Porter are, I had really high hopes for this one. Unfortunately it came across as a standard Imperial Stout. Cacao nibs, molasses, and lactose are in there, and it's well-balanced, but when you slap the "Imperial" brand on a Founders beer, I'm expecting something so strongly flavored that I'm going to have to sip it. If they called this Founders Stout I would probably be a lot happier with it.

KBS - Does Not Meet Expectations: But just for the 2009 batch. I don't know what they did to this, but it's much lighter than previous years. The whiskey flavor is incredibly faint with flavors of chocolate, caramel, and even raisins coming out more prominently. This is more chocolate than whiskey. And that's about as mean as I can be here because despite my disappointment in the 2009 batch, it's still a damn good beer and I'm glad I got some this year.

Overall - I think Founders is probably slightly over-hyped in the beer world, but then again, most good breweries are. Founders is easily one of the best breweries in the Midwest and we are incredibly lucky to be able to buy all of their stuff with relative ease (obviously with the exception of KBS). They are a world-class brewery and are doing exactly the kind of thing that makes American craft beer so great. I hope they continue along these lines for many years to come.

Porter - Did not meet. It was chocolate and cherry with a frothy, creamy head. I was expecting this to have a little less of the chocolate and coffee notes and to be more of a brown ale.

Backwoods Bastard - Extremely Exceeded Expectations. This was bourbon-barrel-aged beer at its finest with hints of cherry vanilla and vanilla sugar. It was mellow and easy to drink. I also appreciate the coconut notes on the finish.

Double Trouble - Exceeded Expectations. The nose is pure hoppy goodness. It's yellow and golden (quite light in color) with acetone, floral, and herbs. It's citrusy and piney all in one beer. It's not a true DIPA, but I enjoy it for being a bold IPA that could get me in a lot of trouble the next morning.

- Met Expectations. It had a big malty taste with lots of barleywine flavor. It also has a hop flavor that enhances the beer and gives it a little something extra to set it apart. I enjoyed the lighter flavor and how it was less syrupy than other barleywines.

Breakfast Stout - Met Expectations. This was quite delicious and reminded me of the Peppy Grill in a bottle. It had hints of chocolate, tobacco, coffee, and cigarette smoke. The only letdown was the weak mouthfeel. It felt quite light on the tongue and didn't coat the glass. I would recommend this to someone who is looking for that diner experience and they don't want to come home smelling like smoke.

Imperial Stout
- Exceeded Expectations. I had sampled this at Shallos on tap and wasn't really looking forward to the bottle version. I was pleasantly surprised when I was met with roasted malt, chocolate syrup, and coffee notes all in the first sip. It was followed with that creamy, sugary milky stout taste and had a great heavy mouthfeel. This is a very soothing beer that I would recommend picking up without hesitation.

KBS - Did Not Meet. Now while I wouldn't hesitate to have my fair share of this rare beverage, it wasn't quite as good as what I remembered. It was a chocolaty, woody experience that had too much hot alcohol burn. I wished that it had more of the whiskey barrel taste that I had grown to love with previous KBS years and this disappointed. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but it wasn't what I remembered. It was like waking up Christmas morning and finding out that there wasn't a Santa Claus but I still got presents. I do eagerly await next year's KBS - maybe they went back to the vanilla?

PORTER - Exceeds Expectations: One of my favorite examples of the style. It must be warmed to near cellar temp though because I always get a bit of a chalk flavor when this beer is too cold. Once it has warmed I get wonderful flavors of roasted coffee and chocolate with a silky smooth mouthfeel.

BACKWOODS BASTARD - Meets Expectations: I thought this beer was terrible when it first came out. The alcohol was very hot and the vanilla and bourbon flavors overtook everything, but put a little bit of age on this beer and it rounded itself out into a very nice beer. I get flavors of vanilla and pepper with a touch of oakiness and bourbon. I also get some sweet caramel coming in on the back of the palate.

DOUBLE TROUBLE - Meets Expectations: This is the clearest DIPA I've ever seen, but the flavor profile packs a big grapefruit punch with a a little bit of sticky pine as well. I would have liked more of a malt body on this beer, but there is a bit of malt that tries to compliment, but the hops are to powerful for it. I also don't think I would have more than one pint of this beer in a sitting.

CURMUDGEON - Neither Satisfied or Unsatisfied: Dark fruits and caramel render a flavor profile that is lacking of much of a "wow" factor. I am not offended by this beer, but I wouldn't seek it out either.

BREAKFAST STOUT - Exceeds Expectations: I just flat out love this beer, and am very happy that Indiana got what seems like a 1000% increase of it over last year. I get plenty of coffee, chocolate, and espresso in the flavor profile and a wonderful nose to match. The oatmeal in the grain bill also makes this have one of the most velvety smooth mouthfeels going down, but still has an thick and almost chewy mouthfeel.

- Exceeds Expectations: I am always blown away with every bottle of this beer that I open, and I've been through at least six four-packs of this beer. I find it to be one of the best Russian Imperial stouts right out of the bottle. I hate that I have to age so many RIS's, but I don't have to with this beer. I love the blast of bitter hops upfront with an even stronger bitter roasted malt flavor that is filled with anise, smoke, dark fruit, and molasses. I also find this beer to have an amazing mouthfeel that coats the tongue and goes down very smoothly for a high ABV beer. Bless you Founders for making a RIS in a 12 oz. bottle!

KBS - Does Not Meet Expectations: I say that with a grain of salt. I was so looking forward to the 2009 KBS, but it didn't live up to how good previous versions were. They changed the recipe this year. The chocolate is very prominent in the flavor profile and takes away from the bourbon and vanilla flavors that I've loved so much in previous years. Having said that, I still really liked this beer. Had I never had any other year of this beer, I would have found it pretty amazing, but it was almost like an old friend wasn't there to greet me at the airport, but he sent a pretty good substitute instead.

Porter - Met expectations. Had one when Founders released it. Liked it then, and I like it now. Hint of berries and chocolate in the nose. Creamy mouthfeel, flavor full of chocolate and coffee and a touch of vanilla. An excellent representation of the Porter style, which is a style that I've grown to love over the last year.

Backwoods Bastard - Did not meet expectations. Bourbon nose, heavy bourbon flavor, watery mouthfeel. Bourbon is not my bag, yet I do enjoy many of the bourbon-barrel-aged beers that I've tried (e.g., BBC Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout). Still, I expected better from Founders with this beer. I prefer a hint of bourbon in the taste, not a full-on bourbon flavor like this beer had.

Double Trouble
- Exceeded expectations. Very pale color for a DIPA. Looked like a lager. Pineapple nose, crisp and dry pineapple flavor. A nice, dry alternative to the malty sweet DIPAs offered by other brewers. You done good on this one, Founders.

Curmudgeon - Exceeded expectations. Old Ales and Barleywines don't trip my trigger, so I expected not to like this too much. Despite this, I appreciated what Founders is shooting for with this beer. Had a pleasant bready nose with a bit of bourbon in the back. Flavor followed suit, along with a touch of sweetness.

Breakfast Stout
- Met expectations. Bought a four-pack when Founders released this year's batch, so I knew what I was getting into. This is a good coffee stout, but not my favorite (that honor belongs to Schlafly's Coffee Stout). What to say about it? Nose: coffee, coffee, coffee, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Taste: ultra-black coffee, along with a hint of sweetness and cream.

Imperial Stout
- Exceeded expectations. Many Imperial Stouts are a little too heavy with the cherry profile in nose and flavor for my particular taste. This one was not in that category. Founders Imperial was tilted more toward the chocolate, vanilla, and cream realm. Some coffee character as well. On top of that, the mouthfeel on this beer was phenomenal.

KBS - Did not meet expectations. I expected this vaunted beer to completely blow away all of its Founders companions. It simply did not do that, primarily because I think it is too green at this point, as evidence by the alcohol burn it produced. Still, the bourbon, vanilla, coffee, and chocolate characteristics that you'd expect from a bourbon-barrel-aged stout were there in spades. An excellent bourbon-barrel-aged beer.

Porter - Met Expectations. A very nice porter. Probably would have rated this higher but just a little something odd was lingering in my mouth. Matt said "chalky" and I immediately knew that's what was hanging around.

Backwoods Bastard
- Does Not Meet Expectations. I feel like I'm drinking bourbon. It burns. Bourbon, bourbon, bourbon. Either you like it or you don't. I don't.

Double Trouble - Exceeds Expectations. An absolutely amazing, crystal-clear DIPA. Had one bottle when this first came out, but it really GRABBED me this time. Surprisingly easy drinking, with a light body and great citrusy, grapefruity hopiness.

Curmudgeon - Does Not Meet Expectations. Actually, I'm not sure what my expectations were -- Old Ale is kind of an odd style. Very malty, but not dark and smokey like stout. Hopped, but not as much as barleywine. Lots of caramel sweetness and dark fruit with a touch of spice. I'd have it again, but I'm not running to the store.

Breakfast Stout
- Exceeds Expectations. Creamy, chocolately, wonderful coating mouthfeel with huge coffee notes helping to provide some additional bitterness to balance out the malt. This is a great all-around stout.

Imperial Stout - Exceeds Expectations. Wow, I was not expecting to like this more than the Breakfast Stout. Very much exceeds expectations. Great chewy, slightly creamy mouthfeel with chocolate, coffee, and dark fruit notes. A relative bargain for the RIS style.

KBS - Does Not Meet Expectations. There is so much hype surrounding KBS that I'm not sure the beer could possibly live up to expectations. Compounding things, I think this is a little hot right now and needs to sit a while before it's really ready to drink. Still, it's an interesting, complex stout and one I'll look forward to trying again after some aging.

Founders Porter
Matt R 4.1 Mugs | Jess 3.0 Mugs | Jason 4.15 Mugs | Jim 4.1 Mugs | Rod 4.0 Mugs | Chris 4.1 Mugs | Mike 3.7 Mugs | Cari 3.9 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 3.88 Mugs

Founders Backwoods Bastard

Matt R 3.14 Mugs | Jess 4.8 Mugs | Jason 4.55 Mugs | Jim 3.25 Mugs | Rod 4.5 Mugs | Chris 2.9 Mugs | Mike 4.2 Mugs | Cari 4.0 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 3.92 Mugs

Founders Double Trouble
Matt R 4.05 Mugs | Jess 4.3 Mugs | Jason 4.4 Mugs | Jim 4.3 Mugs | Rod 3.8 Mugs | Chris 4.8 Mugs | Mike 3.5 Mugs | Cari 4.4 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 4.19 Mugs

Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale
Matt R 3.0 Mugs | Jess 3.5 Mugs | Jason 3.7 Mugs | Jim 3.9 Mugs | Rod 3.2 Mugs | Chris 3.7 Mugs | Mike 4.2 Mugs | Cari 3.8 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 3.62 Mugs

Founder Breakfast Stout
Matt R 4.35 Mugs | Jess 3.75 Mugs | Jason 4.46 Mugs | Jim 4.0 Mugs | Rod 4.3 Mugs | Chris 4.2 Mugs | Mike 3.71 Mugs | Cari 3.9 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 4.08 Mugs

Founders Imperial Stout

Matt R 4.85 Mugs | Jess 4.5 Mugs | Jason 4.7 Mugs | Jim 4.65 Mugs | Rod 3.85 Mugs | Chris 4.5 Mugs | Mike 3.72 Mugs | Cari 4.7 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 4.43 Mugs

Founders KBS (2009)
Matt R 4.4 Mugs | Jess 4.4 Mugs | Jason 4.7 Mugs | Jim 4.4 Mugs | Rod 4.35 Mugs | Chris 4.0 Mugs | Mike 3.7 Mugs | Cari 4.2 Mugs
KOTBR Score - 4.26 Mugs


  1. Chris looks a little surly in that picture.

  2. You guys should get out more. As a Founders mug club member for several years, I know just how inconsistent their beers can be. When they first put Double Trouble on tap, it was nearly undrinkable. This years Harvest Ale WAS undrinkable. They put beers on tap that are WAY too young. Trust me, you'll pay for it later. When they moved to their new, larger facility, pretty much everything started going to hell. They've taken some of their best beers off the menu. The KBS is a mere shadow of what it was four or five years ago. Overrated? Pretty much on most of the beer. Their Centennial IPA doesn't even have centennial hops in it anymore, for God sake. Their in business to make lots and lots of money. The passion for good beer is all but gone

  3. I think Chris is coming on to me.

    Also I think we should do Cerise sometime, I like that beer. Gina says Rubaeus is better. I say Cerise is. GAME ON.

  4. I thought Mike was the lover of Rubaeus?

    I just like how there's no pictures of me - I'm the ghost reviewer!

  5. I had pictures of Jess, but none of them featured her drinking beer. And I though random photos of people just sitting probably didn't make a lot of sense.

    So my advice? Drink more so I don't miss it.

  6. I think I'm holding KBS in my hand and my great expectations were just dashed.

  7. Not snobby at all...a completely legitimate question that should be asked of all brewers who have one GREAT beer but nothing else of note ;)

    Just shows you that marketing does in fact have an effect on us...Ii guess we should've figured that out over the past 20 years, huh?

  8. Went to Founders Black Party last Saturday... Some great brews on tap. Missed out on the Black IPA and Frangelic Stout (but I had that before), but enjoyed multiple pints of Canadian Breakfast, Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and 3 vintages of KBS + a Nitro version.

    Got a very informal tour of the brewery. So informal we almost were able to tap a keg of HAND OF DOOM which we found. I can't tell you what that is, but it's amazing.

    A great time until I got back to my car and some savages busted out my driver side window and stole my GPS. Oh well, at least they didn't take the hundreds of dollars of beer in my trunk and all the other valuables (including my DLD tickets).

    I also couldn't disagree more with ElGreco, who can go cry over his Bud Chelada.