Sometimes, craft breweries find success, expand wildly, eventually lose steam, and either sell out or alienate their base of serious enthusiasts and settle for a spot next to Blue Moon’s tap handle at Chili’s. Other times, they keep doing what they’ve always done on an increasingly large, but sensible, scale and bring quality beers to more and more folks across the country. I am quite happy to report that Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan falls into the latter group.
For the past few years, traveling in the U.S. has almost always meant stopping at a bottle shop or Whole Foods store to see what beers are available that I don’t have access to in Southern California. In many cities, from Austin to New Orleans to New York City, this goes hand in hand with buying Founders beer. Their bottles made their way into my suitcase (if they lasted that long) and into my heart. In fact, the first beer trade I ever did came with a bottle of Founders Imperial Stout as an extra. Just last month, I wrote about how excited I was to try Breakfast Stout while I was in London. And now, without any trading or interstate travel, I have access to their magnificent brews right here in Long Beach.
The news came to me at Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, where I can be found at least once a week on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, via a flyer showing the month’s events. Down near the bottom was the headline “Founders OC Launch Party” and that was enough to sell me on coming back the following Thursday. It wasn’t until the day of the event that I realized they would have not only Breakfast Stout on tap, but also Kentucky Breakfast Stout (the famed “KBS” as it is known in beer circles) and Blushing Monk, a raspberry bonanza of a beer. That night, I slipped in through the back door to find a packed house in the bar area. Looking at the board of current taps, I saw that nearly half of them were occupied by Grand Rapids’ finest. I couldn’t wait another minute and got myself ten ounces of KBS.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout is a bourbon barrel aged version of Breakfast Stout, which includes coffee and chocolate, and it quickly became apparent why this had been hailed as one of the world’s best beers for the last ten years. It’s a decadent and flavorful beer that’s incredibly easy to drink and reminiscent of a dark chocolate lava cake. Less than halfway through my glass, Mike, a representative from Founders who was there for the release, introduced me to their brewmaster, Jeremy. With my small beer notebook in tow, I asked Jeremy all sorts of specific questions about KBS and geeked out at his answers. Did you know KBS is aged in Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Jim Beam barrels that range in age from four to twenty years? You do now! Jeremy then pointed me towards Project Pam, a beer I hadn’t but admittedly should have been familiar with. This Black IPA was aged in bourbon barrels that had most recently held maple syrup from a Michiganian hero who ages maple syrup in bourbon barrels for what I imagine is the single greatest thing that has ever happened to a pancake. The resulting brew is complex without seeming muddled or busy.
After a few tastes of beers that were being passed around among friends (Blushing Monk might have come through two or three times because its raspberry goodness is too great not to be shared), I finished the Founders OC Launch Party with a glass of Backwoods Bastard, a bourbon barrel aged edition of their scotch ale. Unsurprisingly, it was another fantastic beer that matches the malt sweetness inherent to the style with the sweetness of bourbon, along with notes of oak and dark fruit. It was an apt finish to a night full of beers that fell on the heavy and sweet side of the spectrum. Overall, I am thrilled that Founders has distribution in Southern California now and have already picked up a six-pack of their Azacca IPA and bottles of Backwoods Bastard and their Imperial Stout to add to my cellar. As you see them creep into stores and onto taplists, make a point to start trying beers from Founders. And when KBS hits shelves in a few weeks, you have my permission to freak out—I know I will.
Have you had Founders in Southern California yet? Lucky to live somewhere that it’s been available for awhile? Let me know!