Being somewhat of a beer nerd in a city of 8 million people like New York is a bit of a blessing and a curse. On one hand you can acquire pretty much anything you want on tap or in a bottle somewhere if you look hard enough. There are more and more craft beer bars every day it seems. Such growing enthusiasm comes with its let downs and heartbreaks though. Mostly it comes down to not being to acquire those rare and hard to find releases that seem to fly off the shelves and empty kegs before I get a chance to sample them. Such has been the case with Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, or KBS.
The hype surrounding this beer from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI is tremendous. The history of this barrel aged stout goes back 2003 when Founders CEO Mike Stevens called down to Lynchburg, TN to acquire spent barrels that had been used to age Jack Daniel’s bourbon. Barrel aging beers, while now a common practice, was virtually unheard of then. They perfected their recipe for an imperial stout brewed with espresso and cave-aged the beer for a year in oak bourbon barrels. The result was Kentucky Breakfast Stout. The offering caused quite a stir at beer festivals in 2005 and the buzz began. Now every April the release of these prized bottles and kegs is something of legend. Methods to ensure that as many people as possible get a chance to enjoy this beer have been employed. Everything from a ticket system to a “one per customer” bottle limit imposed by local shops.
You can imagine my disappointment, but not my lack of surprise, that when Founders KBS week hit New York the brew went as fast as it came. Some places sold out in an hour, with people lined up early in the morning just to get a 12oz. bottle. Twelve ounces of an award winning modern legend, rated by various outlets as one of the top 5 beers in the world. As release day came and went, and days went by, I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get a taste of the KBS this year.
As fate would have it though, on my way back home through Manhattan I randomly stopped in a craft beer bar to grab a bite and a pint and lo and behold there it was. Founders KBS on draught! I randomly had walked in minutes before they tapped the keg and the bar was already full of empty handed beer nerds just like myself waiting for the rare treat of KBS right from the tap. I couldn’t contain myself! It was meant to be! A couple of minutes before official time, the bartender started pouring out chocolatey thick streams of bourbon barrel aged goodness into brandy snifters. One at a time, non-stop, for the next 45 minutes until the keg kicked.
Well, enough about my story. How was the KBS? The answer in one word: phenomenal. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you know the description of this beer and your mouth is salivating at the mere mention of it. For some of the newbies, and others who aren’t familiar with this beer or this style of dark beer, Founders KBS is classified as an American Double Imperial Stout. It’s based off of Russian Imperial stout, brewed with espresso and vanilla, and then aged in oak barrels for a year. The results are absolutely stunning.
First off it poured into the glass a super dark, almost like black motor oil. The head with about a finger deep and was a reddish tan. I let it sit just to marvel in it. With so many glasses being poured at once there was already a faint aroma in the air around me of vanilla and charred malt. As I got in closer I could detect an amazing bouquet of smells. Lots of vanilla, oak, some cinnamon, more malt, a hint of dark fruit, and healthy amount of coffee and chocolate. I wanted to sit there and smell it all day.
That first sip was unforgettable. You can really taste the bourbon right up front. The rest of the flavors follow the nose, but in a very layered fashion. There’s a syrupy sweetness to it that’s pleasant, and not overpowering. The balance of the coffee, chocolate, vanilla, and bourbon was outrageous, and dare I say perfect.
It was hard not take this down in one fell swoop. But, I reminded myself of two things. One – this was, for sure, going to be my only glass so I needed to savor it. Two – this beer is really going to come to life when it warms up a bit. And, that it did! The coffee flavor really started to come out more and there was a definite chocolate finish. For a beer with an 11.2% ABV, the presence of alcohol flavor was really not there. It shows up more when the beer warms up, but it’s only real effect is that of a warming taste. The mouthfeel is creamy and medium bodied, but disappears rather fast. As smooth and velvety as this is, and as much as I wanted another, at 11.2% it’s probably best that it was in limited supply. Getting to that last drop was a little bit depressing as I realized it was no more, but I felt privileged that I was able to enjoy this rare, once-a-year treat.
Drinking a Founders KBS is an event. Chances are you’re not even going to find a bottle of this 5-star beer, but if you do, pick it up right away, and save it for the right moment. Like a fine wine, this is known to get better with age, and with the scarcity of KBS, you definitely want to enjoy it on its own, rather than in the middle of a beer drinking session.