Founders Brewing: For people like us
I was enjoying a pint at a local brewpub when I overheard a conversation by two of the regulars. They just returned from a road trip - nay, a pilgrimage - to a then obscure brewery in Grand Rapids, Mich. While there (with a growler of Selinsgrove Brewing Belgian Dubbel to aid the negotiation), they procured five cases of a limited edition stout that supposedly transcended reality. I tried my best to feign indifference and, without being too much of a mooch, finagled a sample.
That was in 2006. I'd never heard of Founders Brewing before. The beer was Kentucky Breakfast Stout, or KBS to beer geeks, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels, one of the Holy Grails of the craft beer world.
The founders of Founders Brewing, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, quit their steady jobs in 1996, took out massive loans and pursued their passion of opening a brewery. Their beers were well -made, but boring, and there was no business plan. Not surprisingly, Founders soon faced bankruptcy. The bank issued an ultimatum: Pay a half-million dollars in six days or else the brewery doors would be chained shut. Their 15th anniversary beer in 2011, a barley wine named Bolt Cutter, was inspired by the cutters Engbers bought in 2001 in case the bank made good on its threat.
Stevens and Engbers decided to throw convention out the window and brew the kind of beers that had excited them in the first place - complex, in-your-face ales with huge aromatics and tons of flavor. Their new philosophy was simple: "We don't brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us."
Today, Founders is one of the top-rated craft breweries in the United States, the winner of numerous Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup medals. Apparently, there are lots of people like them. Let's hope you're one, too. Enjoy the selections. Cheers!
Old Curmudgeon: This style, an Old Ale, is an example of Founders' philosophy to buck trends and brew what they, not the hipsters, want. Old Ale is a close cousin to barley wine and is almost exclusively an import. Old Curmudgeon pours hazy amber with a thin ring of lacing and light carbonation. Aromas are predominately malty molasses, roast and dark fruit, with a hint of honey. The flavor follows the nose with malt, bread, molasses, dark fruit and oak. The finish is just on the right side of sweet, making it a delightful 9.8 percent alcohol desert ale. With proper storage, Old Curmudgeon will age almost indefinitely, developing complex wine and even sherry-like notes. Buy a 4-pack, drink one and cellar the rest. Your patience will be rewarded.
Dirty Bastard: This is a strong Scotch Ale known as a Wee Heavy, another style that has few domestic examples. While purists believe a Wee Heavy can be made with only pale malt and roasted barley, Dirty Bastard is brewed with ten imported malts. The beer is a luscious dark ruby color with a thick tan head. The aromas consist of malt, caramel, and toffee. Yet despite the maltiness, it's surprisingly dry and drinkable - with flavors of caramel, raisins and just a hint of smoke. The finish has a pleasant bitterness that goes against the style. Usually, there are just enough hops to keep the malt in check. At 8.5 percent alcohol, this is the perfect slow sipper to complement the coming cool fall evenings.
Red Rye IPA: I love the flavor of rye, which imparts a unique silky spiciness. As the name implies, it pours crimson red due to the high concentration of rye. The aroma has notes of malty graham cracker, spice and citrus. The upfront sweetness from four Belgian caramel malts is instantly quenched by grapefruit and pine hop bitterness. Although the finish is dry, there's an underlying creamy mouthfeel that's rich and satisfying. I tried my utmost to show restraint, but, fortunately, Red Rye is available year-round, so having another one wasn't the end of the world.
Porter: The label has a portrait of a mysterious lady in Victorian period costume that Engbers likens to a young Stevie Nicks. However, there's nothing mysterious about the beer; it's a straight-shooting, no-nonsense robust porter. The pour is dark brown, almost black, with a thick tan head. The aromas are a decadent mix of chocolate, caramel and coffee. The flavor doesn't disappoint ether: Bittersweet chocolate teaming with caramel, balanced by roast malt and a healthy dose of hops. This might be the ultimate drinking porter. It's the craft beer style everyone loves, yet no one seems to buy. Don't be one of them.
Devil Dancer: Founders bills Devil Dancer as a Triple IPA. I'm not sure if the style exists. It appears to be a cross between barley wine and IPA. Nonetheless, it's the most feared and revered beer in Founders repertoire. Everything about it is massive - an insane amount of malt; dry hopping for nearly a month (about a week is considered normal) with ten hop varieties; and a staggering the 12 percent alcohol. It pours much darker than expected with thin carbonation. The aroma is predominately malt and dark fruit, with wisps of piney hops. The alcohol content contributes to a pleasant warming flavor that melds with malt and raisins. Don't be taken aback by the price. A 4-pack is approximately $20, but it's worth every penny.
(The Brew Dude is published every other week on the Food and Drink Page. For comments, suggestions, or questions, email Mark Pasquinelli at email@example.com.)