Article Title
Article Title

Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout

by Matt O'Connor

In the world of beer, there are distinct levels of notoriety and accord that roughly correspond to quality of the product. In general, if a friend tells me that something is delicious or I get a recommendation from a bartender at a reliable establishment, I can assume the quality is there to match the boast. However, due to the intricacies of state laws in alcohol brewing and distributing there are some beers which enjoy a limited release, so I may not be able to check out that beer that a friend in California is raving about.

This is the type of word of mouth (or, in the modern age, "word of computer screen from total strangers") that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around. You hear some beers get tossed around like they’re the nectars of the gods. People stand in line for hours to catch the latest release. Portsmouth (NH) Brewery’s Kate the Great stout is semi-famously tapped and finished within a day, never to return for the rest of the year. This creates a scramble for either a seat in the bar or one of the few bottles they produce.

This scarcity (and somewhat unhealthy amount of enthusiasm) creates a demand that the brewery cannot satisfy. So, in this great land of entrepreneurship, people go on eBay and sell the damn things, like they’re an A-rod home run ball. Now, I’m not a lawyer yet, but I’m pretty sure this is verboten by eBay’s policies. That doesn’t stop some from buying them this way.

The beer I chose to review for today is one of these brews that is hyped in magazines and beer websites, Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), brewed by Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founders has a full lineup of beers, but two of their most notable brews are their Breakfast Stout and its cousin, today’s beer, aged in barrels previously used to age Kentucky bourbon. When KBS is released in March, people scramble to get it in their 12-ounce bottles, sold in four-packs due to its potency and cost. The expense of brewing a complex beer with lots of expensive malts, a hearty dose of coffee and chocolate, then aging it in massive quantities and ensuring proper storage, leads to a pretty pricey brew, usually around $20 for four bottles. 

Since this is very hard to get, I’m not writing this review with an eye towards encouraging you to buy it; plainly, you probably can’t. (Beer hipster alert.) Why I’m writing this column is to impress upon you a motto in life: don’t let expectations ruin your experience. Going into this beer, I expected to be blown away, as so many others have said they have been. Frankly, I came away a bit disappointed, not just because it wasn’t as good as people said, but because I just plain didn’t think it was that good. Sorry.

It pours out of the bottle a thick, black, viscous liquid with no head on it whatsoever. The best part of this beer is the smell. It’s brewed with coffee and chocolate and both are apparent here, but the vanilla and oak smell from the barrels is amazing. Where it started to go downhill was in the taste. You know, the important part.

It tasted of roasted coffee, very sweet, with little carbonation. It finished with a warm alcohol burn that seemed out of place in an otherwise sweet and controlled stout. The beer just did not come together as one. It’s as if you dropped a shot of whiskey into a stout. The burn is there in the finish slapping your taste buds around in a bad way.

Now, I’m not necessarily surprised; it’s 11.2% ABV. But in comparison with other beers in that range, this seemed less refined. Immediately upon drinking it, I regretted not saving it and trying to see if a little aging would mellow the flavors, but it was too late. If you’re in the mood for a barrel-aged stout, try Goose Island’s Bourbon County stout, which manages to be more put together at a higher 13% ABV. Or North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial stout, which is also pretty amazing.

I’d still venture to say that most beers that people rave about are delicious -- maybe this one wasn't for me, or it was an outlier -- but I will say that the correlation is not always one-hundred percent. So, go out and try some beers you think you’ll like and make up your own minds. Grade: B+

Facts:

Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout

ABV: 11.2%

Enjoy: around 50 degrees

Style: Barrel-aged Stout

 

Also Try: 

Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, CA). This beer is also pretty hard to get, especially outside of California and a few other lucky locations. This is a Double IPA with an enticing aroma. Unlike the KBS, which I just reviewed, this almost completely lived up to the hype. A beautiful beer that is as delicious as it smells. ABV: 8.0% Grade: A+

Brew Free or Die IPA, 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco, CA). Widely available in aluminum cans with awesome artwork on them, try this IPA for a balanced fruity hop explosion that's light on bitterness. ABV: 7.0% Grade: B+

Image courtesy of the author

 

Follow The IN on twitter @TheInclusive or on Facebook. Have something to say? Submit a piece and Join The Heard.

Matt O’Connor lives in Boston and is a proud graduate of Boston University. Explore beer with him as he quits his job in the sciences and starts law school. Send any requests, beer, or job offers to him at: matt.oconnor[at]theinclusive.net