Beer Review 0533: Founders Sweet Repute Wheat Wine
The third and final Backstage Series beer of 2013 sees Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan) pulling something out of their notoriously delicious barrel collection: a 12.6% ABV (alcohol by volume) wheat wine named Sweet Repute, which spent sixteen months at home in the caves at the brewery.
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.”
Without question, Founders Backstage Series are the hardest beers for me to obtain. Demand and hype are through the roof. Most shops only get one case, which in terms of the 750 ml. servings these beers are doled out it, equals just twelve bottles per store. To make matters worse, these beers typically see release on a Monday, during what would traditionally be considered normal working hours. It all boils down to one of those “right place at the right time” sort of things…
Along with the difficulty of finding the beer, cost comes into play. Typically, Backstage Series beers sell for around $14.99 per bottle, and you’re left wrestling with the lingering question “is this really worth it?” Sweet Repute retails for $18.99 per bottle, a spike upward in price likely due to the time commitment Founders gave the beer.
Speaking of which, the beer: Sweet Repute is aged over the course of sixteen months in bourbon barrels and maple syrup bourbon barrels; to clarify, the maple syrup bourbon barrels are barrels that previously held bourbon, and then held maple syrup, and have now contained Sweet Repute. Unlike many barrel aged beers, this is not a blend of aged beer and fresh beer; it’s 100% bourbon barrel aged.
Pouring produced an average size, creamy head that was bright white in color and lingering. The beer was golden in color, perhaps a shade or two darker than that, with a cloudy body. The beer remained translucent despite the cloudiness, and featured no particles or sediment even though there were plenty of yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle. When I got to the end of the vessel, I emptied everything into my glass and there were some heavy chunks of sediment floating in the beer. Lacing is good, leaving behind very thin, spiderweb sheeting.
On the nose, we’ve got bourbon, bourbon, and more bourbon. If you don’t care for bourbon, you might want to look away. All the associated notes are here: vanilla, toasted coconut, and a hint of oak. The sweet in Sweet Repute is correct; there’s a huge wave of caramel sweetness, which combines with the maple syrup to be super-sweet. The maple notes are gorgeous with the bourbon and vanilla — this is an extremely nice smelling beer, especially with the complete absence of any booze presence. As it warms, the maple really begins to show its teeth. If you’re looking for any wheat/grain character, guess again. I did catch a faint orange peel suggestion, but as it warmed, that disappeared.
Touching beer to palate, we’ve got an exceptionally sweet beer on our tongue, indeed. Wow. It’s nearly cloying but just kisses the edge — up front, candied coconut (think Dum Dum lollipop) and sugary vanilla from the bourbon barrels. Initially, this is stiff like a sip of bourbon, but a nice hit of maple comes in to soften the palate, delivering with it another dose of sugar, this time somewhat burnt, and an ash/oak character. The flavor remains steady throughout, only changing on the finish, which sees the wheat wine in this beer finally appear with imperial strength notes of wheat and grain, topped off by a bit of bitter orange peel and a massive, repeat: MASSIVE wave of alcohol. Sweet Repute makes no attempt to hide the 12.6% ABV, and it’s a hot, hot brew. The finish is long and turns bittersweet, finally ending the nearly excessive dose of sugar. Sweet Repute is full-bodied, with a medium, fairly creamy mouthfeel, which is helped out by the soft carbonation.
Final thoughts… Sweet Repute really reminds me of 2013’s Doom Imperial IPA (94 points) without the hops and the alcohol HIGHLY ramped up. Now, this beer does soften a bit as it warms as far as the bourbon goes, but the alcohol remains at a constant high and the sweetness never fades. I expect that from a beer named “Sweet Repute,” but the heavy alcohol is a bit much. I’d say this is a prime candidate for aging, but I’m not sure how the more delicate flavors like the maple and vanilla will hold over time.
You have to love bourbon to dig this beer. I mean, you can’t just have an okay relationship with bourbon, you’ve really got to dig it — perhaps even drink it on a regular basis. Wheat wine? Yeah, maybe — before they put it in the barrel. One thing is for certain…we’ll check in here again, down the road, and report back.
Founders Sweet Repute Wheat Wine, 88 points. Price: $18.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.