Thursday, March 21, 2013

Founders Brewing is Here!

Is this how you make customers happy, Barry? 
Yes it is, Other Barry - yes it is.

"Don't they look lovely, ladies and gentlemen?"
A bit of good news to throw your way in the midst of what will prove to be a lengthy brewery revue post.  Last month I went to Buffalo to pick up a hefty birthday beer haul, and managed to bring back a whole whack of Founders brews, including the lovely branded pint glass pictured above.  Founders is an excellent brewery based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan that has a wide variety of highly-regarded brews. Unfortunately, their offerings have only been available outside of Ontario, requiring interested folks like me to make the journey into New York or Michigan to get their hands on some.

Until now.

A fellow Beer Traveller mentioned about a week ago that Founders Brewing was coming to Ontario, and I was pretty damned giddy to hear the news.   Sure enough, the brewery itself confirms that it is beginning to establish a presence in our province, and it is about damned time.  Don't get me wrong: I am still a passionate supporter of local, Ontario beer, and am delighted to see more of it on the shelves.  So when a new brewery makes its way into the LCBO - from the States, of all places - is this actually a good thing?  I've always been a firm believer that whenever more craft beer becomes available for people to purchase, the craft beer industry as a whole wins.  Founders is a big craft brewery, yes, but it is still incredibly small - it doesn't even crack the top ten in US craft beer sales - not even close. (To get some perspective, the largest craft brewery in the United States is Samuel Adams at around 1.8million barrels yearly.  Anheuser Busch, by contrast, is around 100 million barrels, and is about half the total beer sold in the country).   Founders is utterly dwarved by these big players, running at about 74,000 barrels in 2012 which even for Michigan isn't number one.  But it's getting bigger, and one of the motivations for branching into Ontario perhaps is to help pay for the $26 million expansion efforts that will help the brewery get to a projected 340,000 barrels a year.    Growth is clearly on the way.

So Founders isn't likely to cut into that much shelving space of Ontario crafts due to its size.  But what about its location?  If anything, compared to many a craft brew in the LCBO, Founders is among the closest in terms of geography - it's only one state over.  Hell, Google Maps is showing that the drive to Grand Rapids from my front door would take between four and five hours - less time than it would take me to drive to Ottawa, let alone Montreal for some Dieu du Ciel or Halifax for some Propeller, both brews that are on display as we speak.   Southern Tier, another American brewery that has a regular presence in this province, is about the same distance away, just south of Buffalo.  It's been here for years and hasn't made a noticeable impact on the availability of Ontario offerings.  I figure that the more you pack in the craft breweries, the better they seem to all do;with a greater variety of craft brews available, more and more people will give them all a try.  Maybe this is why the good folks at Grand River Brewing are notorious for promoting and celebrating other breweries' beer on their Facebook page and assisting new potential craft breweries get off the ground.  It's not hurting them - it's helping them in the long run by establishing connections and partnerships, as well as alerting their fans to the other breweries this country has to offer.  So I for one welcome our new Founders overlords, and hope that the arrival of their first brews are a signal of good things to come.  

Beer: Centennial IPA
Type: American IPA
ABV: 7.2%

Start things off with a classic IPA to get the ball rolling, which happens to be the first brew released to the LCBO (6 packs, about $13 bucks).   Normally I like to start off with some of the brewery standards before diving in to the more unique and complex stuff; the fact that this one is leading the brewery's potential invasion makes the decision even easier.  It looks like this brew will probably be the only brew for a little while as Founders and their distributing company test out the market, but they're hoping to start bringing in more brews potentially by next year.  Hopefully even earlier.  Lucky for us, Centennial is certainly among the more popular and highly regarded craft IPAs, and for good reason, so it's a fine start.

As an aside: There's nothing quite like pouring a beer into a glass that's branded with the actual brewery - even though the brew will taste exactly the same whether or not the beer happens to be served in a Bells, Flying Monkeys, Dogfish or whatever brewery's version of that same glass, there's an extra element of enjoyment when the brew matches its holder.

A slightly hazy amber-orange brew, Centennial sports a small crown of head that recedes into a thick ring with some sticky patches of lace.

Nose is certainly generously hopped, with pine, citrus, lemon, caramel, juicy pithy hops, and all sorts of other American IPA goodness.   Chock this up to the dry hopping process.

Even though there are so many American IPAs out there, so many of them have their own unique quirks to them it makes the exploration of them a real pleasure.  Centennial's focus is on the lemon/grassy hop front, which gives the brew a light freshness that is easy to drink.  Not too sweet, and with a long bitter tangy finish.

Lighter bodied, carbonation is moderate to high.  Dry and tart on the tongue.  Extremely drinkable.

A quality IPA, and a great start to our Founders lineup.  Though we certainly do have some great IPAs in Ontario, I wish that brews like this would cross the border.  (Grade: A)

Now for some brews that may cross our paths eventually, but are readily available stateside!

Beer: Red's Rye PA
Type: American Pale Ale/Rye Beer
ABV: 6%

Like oatmeal, wheat and other grains, rye has become a popular addition to brewers mashes.  A hardy grain primarily used in whiskeys (especially Canadian rye and American bourbon), its usage in brewing has been a more recent phenomenon, although the grain has been commonly used throughout recent history.   The grain tends to add a spicy, hearty complexity to the brew, though as this blogger mentions, it is a complicated grain to work with that can yield some disastrous results if not handled precisely.   The merits seem worth it, as brewers have enjoyed the subtle qualities rye can bring to the end result.  Red's Rye PA is an American Pale Ale that utilizes a good amount of rye to the brewing process.

Pours a darker crimson-amber colour, nice creamy head that survives throughout the bottle and leaves some sheets of lacing.  Fine looking brew.

Nose is sweet and malty, with a bit of spicy grain in the back - probably the rye.  Grapefruit and other citrus hops in the mix as well.

Great tasting brew, with a chewy thickness that makes for a terrific slow sipper.  Quite hoppy, with the Amarillo hops providing a sturdy grapefruit citrus bitterness.  The spicyness isn't as pronounced as I have seen in other rye brews, but it is enough to move this brew enough away from the category of pale ale into something new.  Digging this a great deal.

The rye certainly adds a different component to the brew that makes for a highly quaffable, hoppy ale.   Not sure who Red is, but I likes his beer just fine!
(Grade: A-)

Beer: Breakfast Stout
Type: Coffee Stout
ABV: 8.3%

A great brew to have on hand for special occasions.  This is one of those brews that consistently rates among the highest in the country, and is usually in very high demand.  A big trading brew, which fortunately is more readily available than some of the really rare 'commodity brews.'  There are a whole whack of coffee stouts out there that seem to be among the most highly prized brews for trading or simply having on hand for bragging purposes, and a disproportionate number of them are from Founders. Alongside Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (and their bourbon barrel aged edition as well) and their Canadian Breakfast Stout (with maple), you also see Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout, Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, and our own Peche Mortel from Dieu du Ciel at the top of many a brewhound's must-have list.  All of these brews are so well known among the beer geek community that they can simply be written as acronyms - "Scored some BCBCS this week!"  "Any word on the KBS release?" "I can't wait to get my hands on some Bourbon Barrel BCBCBKBSCBS Special Reserve!"   Despite the irritation the whole thing causes, I have to say that, at least of the three of the aforementioned brews that I have had, the brews are worth at least 80% of the hype they are afforded.  I just wonder if the mythos that surrounds these brews has clouded our judgements regarding other coffee stouts of the type.  It's hard to tell, and it'll be a long time before I can really do a blind test of the bunch.  But  suffice to say, they are all exceptional brews.  Let's have a look at this one.

Kind of strange to have a brew with a baby on the label, but the Norman Rockwell style of the image puts me somewhat at ease.  (And yes, in case you are wondering, you can absolutely have this brew for breakfast.)  

Pours an inky black; a viscous looking brew.  Cocoa head, decent lacing, lots of retention.  Looks simply terrific.

I actually just finished working my way through a bag of Kona coffee from Hawaii, and damned if this isn't exactly what I'm smelling right now.  Lots of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and toasted malt.  Very nice.

The coffee flavor is rich and bitter, and there's a sweet chocolate malt character to provide some balance.   The bitterness is fairly substantial, and you get a bit of hop bittering to the finish, so if you like your coffees black and strong, this is the one for you.  After a while, your tastebuds adjust, and you get more of the sweetness.  Impressive stuff indeed.  Where this brew also shines is in its mouthfeel, which is smooth and creamy, with just the right level of carbonation.   Really digging it.

Is it better than Peche Mortel?  Tough to say, and I think a taste off is certainly not a bad idea.  Is it worth the hype?  Probably, as it is a damned good coffee stout that isn't overly expensive and not overly expensive (about 10 bucks for a four pack, if memory serves).  It's more accessible as an every day kind of stout than, say, Marshall Zhukov or Chocolate Rain, which is a big plus.  You can't bring out the big guns every day.  (Grade: A)

Beer: Cerise
Type: Fruit Beer
ABV: 6.5%

I wanted to like this beer.  I really, really, really did.  But it just didn't do it for me, and this might be a result of it not meeting my expectations of how I thought the beer was going to taste. It happens.

Bright cherry red, half inch of head that recedes quickly into a thin ring.

Nose is tart cherries, a bit of bready malts and citrus.

The smell of tart cherries and my expectations of a sour kriek-like brew were quickly dashed with my first sip - this tastes like mildly boozy cherry soda and not a whole lot else.  A sour or citrus quality would have given this brew much more balance and some much needed dimension, but unfortunately this was not to be.  Now, keep in mind - what is in this bottle tastes very good.  I mean, cherries are awesome, don't get me wrong.  But it's not something I would usually want to drink, let alone a full glass of it.

It's tasty, but not a Founders brew that I will go back to very often.  There's other cherry brews out there that offer more of a diverse flavor profile (read: sour, tart, musky) which I find immensely more appealing.   Though to their credit, I don't think I've downed a 6.5% bottle of beer much faster than this.  (Grade: B-)

Beer: Founders Porter
Type: Porter
ABV: 6.5

Back to the heavy stuff.  Now, I enjoy me a nice porter.  The best ones have all the flavor and robustness of a stout without the weight and ABV, making for better session drinking.  Heard good things about this one!

Pours a near black hue, with a bit of chestnut.  A half inch of large bubbled head dissolves speedily into a fine ring.  Not the best looking brew I have to say, but fortunately that doesn't matter too much here.

Nose is nice roasted malt, coffee, chocolate, caramel, good bitterness.

A very nice porter, with loads of flavor.  Coffee, chocolate and a firm, assertive bitterness - whether from the coffee or the hops, I can't tell, but there's a mild citric bite in there as well.  Creamy, with a lingering bitter finish.  Great stuff.

Mouthfeel is just on the edge, almost a bit too carbonated for my tastes, but it hangs in there.  Decent thickness, but well within the porter range.  Warming alcohol on the tongue.

A get up, stand up kind of porter.  Highly drinkable for those days when a beastly imperial coffee stout is just too much to handle.  This one is just the ticket. (Grade: A-)

(Those keeping track will probably notice that I'm skipping the Dry Hopped Pale Ale - unfortunately this brew I think went past its prime or something was off in the bottle.  Either way, reviewing it would be a fruitless endeavor and completely unfair to Founders.   To go for an even six, let's add another Founders brew to the mix - this time one that comes in a large 22oz bottle)

Beer: Frangelic  Mountain Brown
Type: American Porter
ABV: 9%

Had this one a little while ago, but I kept some notes about it (as is my way).

So here's the thing about this beer.  If you like sweet hazelnut, you are laughing.  If not, you are out of luck.  Simple as that.  Let's press on.

Pours a nice chestnut hue, a bit hazy, with a sturdy crown of foam that holds its own quite well.

This brew has an unmistakable nose of sweet hazelnut, coffee and chocolate.  In fact, I would go so far to say as this brew smells like a fresh batch of hazelnut roasted coffee.  For me, this is a blessing, but for a few others at the tasting, this was a bit of a curse.

Taste is quite similar - vanilla, hazelnut coffee, with sweet brown sugar and a roasted malt.  Cream, caramel and other sweet goodies in the mix.  A very tasty brown, but the sweetness does get to you after a while.  Medium to thicker bodied, very drinkable.

I liked this brew a great deal because I'm a sucker for hazelnut anything.  Would be an excellent after dinner brew to be sure.

This has been just a sampling of some of the brews Founders has to offer - there's a hefty lineup still to be tried, including some of those bourbon-barrel aged stouts I mentioned earlier.  Keep in mind that Centennial IPA will be the first and only brew for a while, so be sure to give it a try while it is here, but know that the possibility of more Founders brews to come is a very real one.   If you can't wait that long, as I rarely can, Buffalo has a healthy contingent of them at the various liquor stores around town, and a drive in the other direction to Michigan will certainly yield good results.

Welcome Founders!  (Now if only we could convince Bell's to send some HopSlam, Two Hearted or Expedition Stout our way next...)

No comments:

Post a Comment