Tag Archive | backstage series

Beer Review 0533: Founders Sweet Repute Wheat Wine

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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…

SEE PREVIOUS 2013 BACKSTAGE SERIES REVIEWS: Doom Imperial IPA (94 points), Mango Magnifico con Calor (87 points).

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Beer Review 0455: Founders Mango Magnifico con Calor (Magnificent Mango with Heat)

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Editor’s Note: Beer 3 of 7 in my birthday beer week, in which I celebrate my birthday by reviewing beers I’ve sat aside for the occasion. I turn 31 on August 14. I advise you to celebrate your birthday accordingly, too!

The second of three entries for 2013 in Founders hard to find Backstage Series beers sees the Grand Rapids brewery attempting something it is generally very good at (fruit beer) and something it has never tried before on a grand scale release — adding spicy peppers to a beer.

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.”

Mango Magnifico con Calor (Magnificent Mango with Heat) is brewed with mangoes and locally-grown Michigan habanero peppers. On the Scoville Scale, which is a numerical scale used to rate the spicy heat of chili peppers, habanero peppers rank 100,000-350,000 units — compare that to a banana pepper, which hits 100-900 units, or the jalapeño pepper, which comes in at 3,500-8,000. So we’re talking some significant heat here.

The beer is 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). As someone who has a thing for beers made with peppers, all too often I am disappointed by the lack of spice, so I’m going into this one expecting to feel a decent amount of heat, especially since Founders are using a pepper that contains quite a bit of spice. (Most pepper beers seem to be brewed with ancho, chipotle, or jalapeño peppers, which contribute nice flavors, but not much heat.) After all, this beer is called Magnificent Mango…WITH HEAT.

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The pour delivered an average size, bright white and soapy head that quickly diminished. This beer is light golden in color, a shade or two darker than a commercial macro lager, and is exceptionally clear with no particles or sediment. Lacing is good, leaving behind thin, creamy sheets, but just like the head, this fades after just a couple of sips as well. It looks like a typical summer beer, but no alcohol legs for 10%.

The nose is full-on mango, and it’s peachy mango, very sweet, with just a hint of pepper. It’s not spicy pepper, but moreso freshly picked and chopped pepper, which when combined with the sugary mango, makes for a very fresh smelling brew. It’s also very clean, as in the aroma disappears very fast when you exhale. It’s a bit dull since it only involves two major players, but considering this is a beer that smells the complete opposite of a beer, it’s pretty remarkable.

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Founders aren’t lying about the heat. While not the first flavor (that belongs to the mango), it starts to creep up in the back of the throat immediately after the first sip. The mango is quite sweet with just a snippet of some tartness; overall, the mango flavor really reminded me of a flavored tea, perhaps even with a hint of lemon. The accompanying habanero heat will by no means burn your mouth up, but it is commanding and takes center stage on the finish, and it does continue to build as you drink down the bottle. Which brings me to this point: no way will you want to drink all of this by yourself. Hell, even Founders tell you to share this bottle with a pal. I’m thinking perhaps a couple of friends. Mango Magnifico is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel that starts to become cloying in the last sips.

In summary: Founders give you exactly what the beer is called, mango with heat. While I really enjoyed this beer and I do think it is quite a brewing feat considering this is 10% alcohol and it’s not boozy, nor does this even remotely taste like a beer, I have to rate this the lowest of the Backstage Series beers to date because drinkability just isn’t here. Six ounces is enough — there’s no real complexity; the mango sweetness, although quite nice mixed with the habanero heat, becomes tiring on the palate after a while. And honestly, if you drank all 750 ml of this, I think you’d have a major stomach ache.

But attention makers of beer with peppers! THIS is the amount of spice we want if you deem your beer to be “spicy.”

Founders Mango Magnifico con Calor (Magnificent Mango with Heat), 87 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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Beer Review 0374: Founders Doom Imperial IPA

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Here we are with another one of those hard to find beers from Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Part of the “Backstage Series,” the latest release is Doom, an Imperial IPA aged in bourbon barrels.

The beers in the Backstage Series are generally top notch, as my previous reviews will indicate:

Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale, 92 points
Curmudgeon’s Better Half, 99 points
Bolt Cutter Barleywine, 95 points

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. I struggled to get just one bottle of Doom, and it was looking iffy about even getting that. 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 a whopping $14.99 per bottle, and you’re left wrestling with the lingering question “is this really worth it?” With Doom, there’s a small price break; this bottle comes in at $12.99.

Previously known as “Hand of Doom” when brewed exclusively for the Founders taproom, the beer is a bourbon barrel aged version of Double Trouble (rating: 93 points). Time spent in the barrel is four months; as far as I know, this is the first wide release of a barrel aged beer from Founders that hasn’t been an Imperial Stout or Scotch Ale. ABV (alcohol by volume) comes in at 10%.

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The pour issued an average size, soapy head, bright white in color, which hung around for a while. The beer was a hazy golden-orange color and was free of particles and sediment. I could easily see through it, even though it was hazy. Lacing was fair, only leaving behind a couple patches of stringy sudsy foam, which was to be expected for a high alcohol brew.

The nose jumps out right away with plenty of pineapple and coconut; Doom smells very sweet, especially with the juicy tropical fruit, which plays off the coconut from the barrel like a champion. At first, this reminded me of butterscotch pudding…and we know butterscotch is often an off-flavor in beer, but trust me, this isn’t off. The butterscotch went away as it warmed and more of the hoppy pineapple came out, mingling with a hint of dry pine, some caramel, subtle vanilla, bourbon, lemons, and lime. Yep, lots going on here. This is candy-like, inviting and very pleasant… and unexpected.

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On the palate, Doom brings forth sweet pineapple and mango, which team up with coconut and vanilla. Ever had a Dum Dum pineapple-coconut lollipop? That flavor comes in an out of retirement from the candy company; if you can find it, that’s the exact opening flavor of this beer. Add in some pine hops — the middle opens up with a malty hit, some caramel and lots of bourbon. The vanilla amps up some, leading to a finish of drying grapefruit, pine, pineapple, and a dash of hot bourbon. The alcohol is here, but you don’t taste it; instead, you feel it, which shows me the quality of this brew. Doom is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy texture, leaving the palate dry.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t had many barrel aged IPAs that were enjoyable …this absolutely was. Would I want to drink this all the time? Certainly not — but Doom is insanely drinkable and has a ton going on that will hold your attention all the way through the bottle. Founders have done it again — Doom is worth the hype and the price tag. Find it if you can, it’s a great drink.

Founders Doom Imperial IPA, 94 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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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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