Redux Review 0015: Founders Curmudgeon’s Better Half Old Ale

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Not going to lie to you: this is a redux review that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. And it is with a possible sadness that I bring it to you; the reason why I’m taking a second look at this beer right now is because I read from another website and several Untappd checkins that the flavor of this beer has fallen off with age. Let’s start at the beginning…

Released on Valentine’s Day in 2012, Founders Curmudgeon’s Better Half is a sweeter and much bigger version the Grand Rapids, Michigan-brewed Curmudgeon Old Ale (my rating: 96 points) that spent lengthy time aging in barrels. By ‘lengthy’ aging, we mean that the beer spent 254 days in Michigan maple syrup barrels that once contained bourbon. The aging bumped the alcohol content to 11.9% ABV (alcohol by volume), and intensified the flavors of an already full-throttle beer.

I first rated this beer in August 2012, when the bottle had six months of age. Here’s what I thought:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 35 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 35 of 35 points

Final Score: 99 points, or classic on my rating scale.

My review contained one line that best described the beer: Wood aged candy in a bottle. I loved it so much that it ranked #5 on my Top 25 Beers of 2012 list.

Seeing as this bottle is part of Founder’s super-limited Backstage Series of beers, it is no longer produced. At 23 months of age, we’re going to check back in because I have been reading reports that this beer just hasn’t aged well — we’re going to put those reports to the test. Have I sat too long on what was an incredible bottle when young, or has this ale yet to achieve all it can? Or are we in the sweet spot? Remember, Founders advises that you DON’T age any of their beers; that they bottle them ready to go. Time to put all of this to the test.

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The pour served up a small, creamy head that was fast diminishing and had no retention. There were plenty of alcohol legs when the beer was swirled; color was orange-amber and very cloudy, with a light dusting of particles and sediment. I did notice that the bottom of the bottle contained some heavy chunky sediment. When those chunks were poured into the glass, the beer became filled with large pieces of sediment that resembled hop debris. Lacing was good, leaving swiss cheese holes of thin, sudsy foam.

The nose presents a sugary sweet beer; big notes of caramel, burnt sugar, and molasses. It’s not cloying but is very very sweet. The nose really hasn’t changed much since the first review; there are lots of the barrel characteristics with toasted coconut being the most prominent. There’s equal parts bourbon and maple syrup and a subtle vanilla. I did notice that the age has thrown in a little buttery and pear character. The stiff alcohol content also gives off a candy cane/peppermint sort of aroma. Interesting stuff and quite appealing.

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On the taste, we’ve got a thick layer of molasses and burnt sugar followed up by toasted coconut, which mixes with all the sugars bouncing around to make candied coconut. Think of a coconut lollipop. The sweetness never lets off but it is never overwhelming, likely thanks to the alcohol, which serves to cut the sweet. While not distracting, the alcohol is here, and you do feel it relatively quickly. The finish opens with nuanced hits of buttered bourbon and oak, some sweet vanilla, and then another blast of burnt sugar, caramel, coconut, and cinnamon. Waiting a couple of minutes between sips brings on a dry oak on the sides of the tongue. Curmudgeon’s Better Half is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

Has age brought down this beer? I’d say yes, it has — the flavors don’t seem to be as full, and the complexity has diminished. One thing this brew does maintain is high drinkability, which is dangerous for a beer that clocks in at 11.9%. My advice to you would be to open this beer soon, as it does seem to be falling off. I’m glad I broke this out; a beautiful beer then, still a beautiful beer now, if a bit different.

In redux:

Appearance: 13 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 32 of 35 points

Founders Curmudgeon’s Better Half Old Ale, 91 points. Price: $14.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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