Beer Review 0183: Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale

Today’s beer is one that is hard to find, part of Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) “Backstage Series,” a group of beers released in 750 ml bottles in very limited amounts. Founders reserves beers that have only been served at their taproom or at very special events to go into bottling for the Backstage Series — the allure of the series is waiting to see what beer comes up next, and the rarity of the bottles.

The latest release, which hit bottle shops on July 2, is Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale, a Brown Ale brewed with hazelnut coffee. Founders created the “Mountain Brown” series for its taproom in 2007, and Frangelic is the 16th beer of the series. It is Founders first beer to be bottled that uses hazelnut coffee, and their first bottled Brown Ale.

According to Dave Engbers, co-founder of Founders, the Backstage Series allows “beer enthusiasts who don’t have the ability to make it to our taproom an opportunity to experience some of the beers that, historically, have been limited to our taproom and a handful of high exposure events. Although these are not brewed in large volume, it is our intention to distribute them to all of our markets.”

And here’s where the dark underbelly of craft beer comes into play. With a beer like this, “distribution to all markets” typically takes on this scenario: each bottle shop gets one case of the beer, which is twelve bottles. How bottle shops choose to sell the beer is up to them — some take waiting lists, some operate first-come, first-serve, some save the bottles for their most loyal customers. But with such a limited release, a black market is created.

Here at this website, we believe beer is something that should be celebrated amongst friends; something that should be enjoyed and purchased without the intent of making profit later. So that’s why we’re going to call Ebay artists out for what they are: SCUMBAGS. We’re not even going to delve into the legalities of reselling beer. And I’m not touching the whole topic of “well, if a brewery has a beer that is so popular, why don’t they just make enough to go around?” But this bears repeating: Ebay beer resellers are scumbags, and no matter how disappointed you are at not securing a bottle of a release (as I have been, multiple times), you should never support these folks. There are plenty of people out there willing to trade beer. Engage these people — they are your craft beer friends!

Off my soapbox and onto the beer at hand — FOUNDERS FRANGELIC MOUNTAIN BROWN.

The pour produced a small head that quickly diminished into just an outer layer around the edges of the glass. The beer was a dull brown color, taking on the visual of sweet tea when put into light. The body was free of particles and sediment, although Founders never filters any of their beer. There wasn’t much lacing to speak of, just a thin wisp here and there clung to the non-drinking side of the glass.

The aromatics on this beer are, quite frankly, incredible. Frangelic Mountain Brown smells like you walked into a convenience store at 4:00 in the morning and walked to the coffee machine — yeah, you know the coffee you’re going to get there is probably going to be terrible, but it always smells so good. There’s heavy sweet coffee, a dose of caramel, and hazelnut; and roasted notes shine though, along with some toffee. This smells nothing like a beer, and that, to me, is outstanding.

On the palate, the first thing I noticed was how thin the mouthfeel was. I know this is a Brown Ale, but the flavors that this beer possesses totally remind you of a Stout. Up front, bright and very sweet coffee, augmented with hazelnut creamer. In the middle of the taste, there’s a subtle vanilla note, and the finish is purely sweet coffee. The 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) is completely hidden. This tastes nothing like a beer whatsoever, and the drinkability is exceptionally high. Be careful, or you might find yourself in trouble with this one.

Here’s my two points of contention with this beer:

1. The price. This beer is priced at $14.99 US for a 750 ml bottle, which is basically two servings of craft beer. In my opinion, this beer is not worth that price.
2. This beer is “artificially flavored.” On the side of the bottle, Founders says this is “Brown Ale brewed with artificially flavored hazelnut coffee.” What exactly does that mean? I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying just shy of fifteen dollars for a beer made by Founders, I want natural ingredients. Frankly, it makes me wonder what else they “artificially” flavor.

Bottom line is this: Nobody does coffee flavors like Founders. This is a great beer, excluding the mouthfeel. But I’m not sure it is worth the hype and heartburn most people will go through to score a bottle.

Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale, 92 points. Price: $14.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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