For reasons discussed in previous posts, I haven’t been quite as prolific with my Tasting Note writing as I once was. Still, when a special beer dances its way across my palate, I’m not about to let the experience go unreported. Last night, I was finally able to sample the nigh-mythical Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. It was very good. Not life-changing. Not awe-inspiring. But certainly worthy of a Tasting Note…
Alehead Nation is well aware of the esteem in which our site holds the Founders Brewing Company. The Grand Rapids, MI-based ale factory is generally considered one of the best (if not THE best) American craft brewery. They do everything well. From beautiful IPAs like the Centennial, scorching DIPAs like the Devil Dancer, best-in-class Scotch Ales like the Dirty Bastard, and as-good-as-it-gets Imperial Stouts like the Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), the Founders brewers haven’t met a style they can’t master.
In recent years, they’ve offered a draft version of their award-winning Breakfast Stout that they call the Canadian Breakfast Stout (or CBS). The “breakfast” terminology comes from the inclusion of coffee (also a big part of the standard Breakfast Stout and KBS). In the case of the CBS, they also include imported chocolates in the brewing process and then they age the resulting beer in spent bourbon barrels that were formerly used to age Michigan maple syrup (hence the Canadian prefix). An Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, chocolate, maple syrup, and bourbon? Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?
If you said yes, you’re not alone. This year, Founders finally decided to make the CBS part of their “Backstage Series” where they bottle some of their most sought-after draft offerings for their adoring public. The CBS has always been the sasquatch of the Founders line-up…a beer with a legendary reputation that was impossible to get your hands on. So when the announcement was made, package stores across the country began getting calls. The release, earlier this month, was pandemonium. Some entire states only got allocated a couple dozen bottles and lots of folks were left in the cold. I think it’s fair to call the CBS the most sought-after bottled beer in the craft beer world right now. Bottles of the brew were selling for $100 on eBay and some sites noted that there were close to $10,000 in secondary market sales of the brew. To put it mildly, the CBS was kind of a big deal.
So where did that leave ol’ Barley? Well, since I’m livin’ the dream in ‘Bama, I figured my chances of getting to sample some CBS were slim to none. You can’t even buy Founders in the Yellowhammer State, so that was that. Or so I thought…
Two weeks ago, Red Flanders and Cask Beerouac informed me that Founders had just decided to distribute in ‘Bama and that the CBS might actually be making its way to our fine state. Not in bottles, of course (since Alabama is the ONLY state in the country where you can’t buy a bomber or 750). But word on the street was that a single keg of the beer would be tapped at the J. Clyde on an undetermined date. Finally, Matt Kilpatrick, the Speciality Beer Manager for Alabev (the distributor that will be carrying Founders) confirmed that the keg would be at the Clyde on Wednesday, October 26th. Last night.
The CBS began pouring at 4:15pm…it was gone by 4:50pm (like I said, the CBS has become a bit of an event). Fortunately, yours truly decided to duck out of the office a little early and got there in time to grab a glass. Woe be to those who left work at 5pm expecting a taste of the brew. As it was, I beat the kicking of the keg by a matter of minutes. But enough about my dumb luck in finally sampling the legendary beast…you came here to know about the beer. So here it is:
NOTES: Draft at J. Clyde in Birmingham
STYLE: Imperial Stout
APPEARANCE: Ebony. Onyx. Obsidian. Take your pick…
HEAD: Short, tight, dark brown. Faded quickly into a cappuccino-colored ring.
LACING: Oily and sparse.
NOSE: Massive, overwhelming aroma. Very sweet and shockingly boozy (at least relative to its brother brews, the Breakfast Stout and KBS). I got much more chocolate than maple syrup, but there’s plenty of coffee shining through as well. A faint whisp of vanilla and a definite alcohol nose-burn at the end of each whiff. A lot going on here, but it really is a wonderful-smelling beer.
TASTE: It’s great. Truly. But it’s not quite the world-beater I had been led to believe. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess, but with so many incredible flavors, it can afford to be. I found the CBS to be far too sweet…the maple syrup I couldn’t really distinguish in the nose comes out in full, sugary force in the taste. There’s a ton of molasses and chocolate in the middle of the sip and a massive hit of whiskey-flavored booze in the finish. This isn’t a balanced beer by any stretch of the imagination, but again, when the flavors you’re dealing with are chocolate, bourbon, coffee, and maple syrup, who really cares?
MOUTHFEEL: Rich, viscous, and silky-smooth. This is a true knife-and-fork brew.
DRINKABILITY: Minimal to say the least. The overwhelming sweetness and huge alcohol finish make this a (delicious) one-and-done (OK, fine…I had two) brew. My friend Eric wisely brought a Breakfast Stout and KBS to the bar for the sake of comparison and he very generously allowed me to do a side-by-side for the sake of this tasting. The KBS was the hands-down, unanimous winner. It’s just as complex and bold as the CBS but with far better balance and incorporation of the alcohol. Amusingly, the standard Breakfast Stout tasted practically like Guinness compared to its acronymed brethren (though in a vacuum, it’s a phenomenal brew)…
RATING: Well, I understand the hype. This is a big, brash beer with a bevy of incredible notes in the nose and taste. But I honestly didn’t think it was quite the force of nature I was expecting. Yes, it was delicious and it really did smell like a bouquet of awesomeness…but I’d pick the KBS over the CBS every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Still, I’m very glad I had a chance to snag a glass and I’m even MORE thrilled that Founders is finally making its way to ‘Bama. Thanks to Cask, Red, Matt Kilpatrick and Eric for keeping me in the loop and giving me the rare opportunity to sample an even rarer beer. 3.5 Hops.