Tag Archive | founders brewing company

Redux Review 0024: Founders Doom Imperial IPA

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What happens when you age a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial IPA in the best way possible? Today, we’re here to find out.

Without question, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Backstage Series brews 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. Last April, when Doom was released, I managed to snag two bottles. I immediately reviewed one while it was fresh, and scored it 94 points, one of the better Backstage Series beers that I’ve had.

I decided to squirrel one away, just to see what happens — and I aged it the best way possible; for one solid year, this bottle has remained in my fridge at a constant 38°F. With one year (and probably a few days), we’re going to crack the crown and see what we’ve got.

For those new to this beer, Doom is a bourbon-barrel aged version of Founders Double Trouble (rating: 93 points). It was previously known as “Hand of Doom” when served exclusively in their taproom; it was selected in 2013 to see a wide release in the Backstage Series.

My initial review went like this:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

So, what’s happened to this beer over the span of a year while stored in optimal conditions? Let’s see…

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The pour produced an average size, soapy head that diminished fairly quickly. There were lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to the top of the drink; the beer was golden in color and was brilliantly clear, with not even a hint of particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving weepy sheets of thin foam.

On the nose, not too much has changed since our initial visit — bourbon barrel collides with tropical fruit hops. We’ve got coconut, vanilla, and pineapple up front, with touches of grapefruit and orange peel. It’s almost like the barrel contributes some sweetness; there is a definite caramel malt backing, but the vanilla and somewhat woodsy/spicy barrel amplify the sweet level. As it warms, the vanilla and coconut notes show more, along with a dry twist of lemon peel.

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The age of this beer shows up on the taste; it’s not wholesale radically different but Doom is now drinking more like an American Barleywine instead of an Imperial IPA — up front, grapefruit, coconut, and pineapple. It’s initially sweet but turns moderately bitter after the first couple of swishes in the mouth; the bitterness is balanced by a solid note of caramel. The once-juicy fruits have turned dry, leaving only hints of faded pineapple, grapefruit, and spicy vanilla. The finish is warm, with a hit of the 10% alcohol, a nice layer of bitterness thanks to grapefruit rind and pine, and a layer of hot bourbon. This beer is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

This is still a very nice beer, and easily one of the better barrel-aged IPAs around… (barrels and IPA tend to rarely go together, in my opinion…) but as you might have expected, Doom was better fresh. I do think if you have a bottle of this and it hasn’t aged in a fridge, you will probably be in for worse results. While quite drinkable (and enjoyable!) you’ll find this is now more like a Barleywine than an IPA.

Founders Doom Imperial IPA, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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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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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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Redux Review 0013: Founders Backwoods Bastard (2012)

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A few weeks ago, I asked you to pick the next beer for a redux review, where I take a second look at a beer I’ve already reviewed. It was a close vote, but the 2012 batch of Founders Backwoods Bastard was the most popular choice — so with a little over a year of age, we’re going to take a bottle of this beer from the basement and see how it has developed.

Backwoods Bastard is the barrel-aged version of Founders Dirty Bastard — Dirty Bastard, by all accounts, is what saved Founders from going bankrupt in the late ’90’s. You see, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) didn’t always make amazing beers — they started life cranking out status quo brew; a mild Pale Ale here, or a nondescript Brown Ale there. It was Dirty Bastard that ushered in a new approach to beer for Founders; they began making beer THEY wanted to drink, not what was deemed generally acceptable by the masses.

Dirty Bastard was Review #145 back in May 2012, and I rated it 90 points. Backwoods Bastard, which is aged in oak bourbon barrels for one year, sees the light of day each November. My initial review, conducted as #270 on November 22, 2012, went as follows:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 96 points, or classic on my rating scale.

In my review, I noted that I thought Backwoods Bastard would be a prime candidate for aging, and recommended drinking it at one or two years. Today’s bottle was put into the container on September 28, 2012, making the beer almost 14 months old. Backwoods Bastard is 10.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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Pouring made for a sparse, almost absent head. The little that was here was soapy in texture, and faded away quickly. Backwoods Bastard pours like muddy river water; it’s deeply cloudy, brown in color with some lighter brown, ruby red edges. There are some light, small bits of particles and sediment suspended in the beer, and there’s a significant yeast cake on the bottom of the bottle. Lacing is fair, leaving behind patchy thin sheets of suds.

On the nose, this beer continues to have one of the best aromas that I have ever laid nose to — intense, sweet, and thick caramel collide with a growing presence of dark fruits. The bourbon is here but it has tamed a lot, leaving behind bits of oak barrel and vanilla. The drink is no longer boozy; instead, it shows depth with a nice note of milk chocolate and cinnamon spice. There’s toffee and molasses; just as before, this is perfect.

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With 14 months of age, Backwoods Bastard sees the bourbon dialed way down, issuing up a sort of slow, mild start of syrupy caramel, but it quickly ramps up with burnt sugar and prunes. The bourbon is still here, alive with mostly barrel characteristics like vanilla, wood, and a subtle spice. The flavors swirl around in build in complexity, introducing some cinnamon and milk chocolate to the mix. The finish is solid and warming, giving all of the 10.2% ABV — milk chocolate, cinnamon, oak, and oxidized yet still sweet caramel. The beer is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel, and soft carbonation.

In my opinion, this beer has improved, and that’s coming from someone who loves the red-hot notes of fresh bourbon barrel aged beers. I think Backwoods Bastard has become more complex; while the bourbon volume has been turned down, there’s been an introduction of milk chocolate and cinnamon. However, I don’t think this beer has reached peak performance yet, so we’ll continue to let a few bottles get older and revisit next year. The 2013 version of Backwoods Bastard recently became available, and I highly encourage you to pick up a four-pack and drink one today; then, save the other three for a later date and admire the story as it unfolds.

In redux:

Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 34 of 35 points

Founders Backwoods Bastard (2012), 97 points. Price: $12.99 US for a four pack.

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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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