12% ABV bottled
You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I used to think that Founders Brewing Co. was, gasp…overrated. The first two Founders brews I ever got my grubby little mitts on, oddly enough, happened to be their two most famous brews, Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, long-time Beer Advocate top 20 beers in the world*. I was psyched to acquire these rare-to-me grown up sodas, so eager to suck ‘em down in all their glory, that when I tried them and didn’t spontaneously combust into knickers, I thought, “Ah, I see, another overrated brewery.” Don’t get me wrong, I gave both those beers A’s at the time, I simply wasn’t OMFG floored.
So, whereas I tried my first two Founders beers with overly lofty expectations, I’ve tried my last dozen or more Founders efforts expecting nothing special. But, damn, if those Grands Rapids boys haven’t won me over, and then some. It started with their wet-hopped Harvest Ale, one of the most eye-opening drinking experience I’ve had in the last 365 days and a beer I’d put near #1 in the uber-hopped beer category. I already can’t wait for the next release of it.
Every since that Harvest Ale, damn if every Founders beers hasn’t tasted absolutely glorious to me. From their double and “triple” IPAs, Double Trouble (mind-blowing fresh on tap) and Devil Dancer, to their old ale Curmudgeon**, to countless more of some of the most disparate styles around. They don’t knock everything out of the park–who does?–but they surely have a better slugging percentage than even a juiced-up Barry Bonds.
I’ve probably tried more different and new-to-me beer from Founders recently than from any other brewery and, now, my expectation levels are appropriate. I now expect a good to great beer and I always get a good to great beer. And since they seem to have a never-ending stream of releases, there’s always another Founders beer to try that I haven’t yet. The only problem being that they don’t distribute in NYC at the moment. Good thing I got good friends in Virginia, Minnesota, and other places who can hook me up.
My most exciting Founders acquisition of recent was their limited Nemesis release, the first in a new series. I’d never had a wheatwine before, but as a barleywine nut, I was certain to like this effort. And I did. Probably not the most “normal” example of the style, Nemesis 2009 is maple bourbon barrel-aged using bourbon barrels which were once used to age local maple syrup. The beer poured lighter for me than expected, much lighter than a copper barley wine, more the color of a golden ale of some sort. The smell is straight boozy, just like I like it, with the flavor a combination of boozy bourbon, vanilla, oak, sweet syrup, and of course wheat. Surprisingly more drinkable and less syrupy than I expected, this is a truly interesting creation. I only wish I had another bottle!
Founders Imperial Stout
10.5% ABV bottled
It’s heartening to try a delicious imperial stout that can actually be bought on store shelves! That isn’t a limited release! And more things to add exclamation points to!!! This effort from Founders stacks up with the best of the style, limited release or not. Amazingly complex and rich, with a mild roasted bitterness and a nice chocolaty booziness on the back end. This beer is just so silky, I loved to let it dance on my tongue and gargle in the back of my throat. Arguably the best on-the-shelves, non-barreled stout in the market today. Though, unfortunately, not my market. Come on, let’s get Founders in NYC!
6.5% ABV bottled
As I’ve mentioned a lot recently, the porter has become one of my favorite styles, even though I’m still not quite sure what differentiates them from stouts. Kinda like how I can’t tell a real blond from a bottle blond. I don’t ask and just enjoy them both. This is a great effort with another great label–besides making great brews, Founders is in the running for best labels in the biz too and I love their squat little bottles for even more plaudits! Rich and tingly, a strong-roasted flavor with next-to-no sweetness, smokey and earthy. Full-bodied yet drinkable, quite enjoyable. This is a no-frills beer, but there’s nothing wrong with that sometimes.
Now that I’ve fallen in love with Founders, now that it’s become one of my favorite brewers in America, in my mind one of the best in America, I’ve even gone back and tried those two famous beers, Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, with my now acceptable level of Founders expectations, and realized those two are truly glorious beers, some of the best of their styles.
In a world of such scrutiny nowadays, things aren’t overrated or underrated. They are, for the most part, rated correctly. It’s you, or me, that simply hasn’t encountered enough of the sample size to know that. I know that now. All hail Founders.
*Son of a bitch, why can I still not get a taste of Canadian Breakfast Stout?!?!?!?
**Or another old ale, Black Biscuit, for that matter?!?