By Patruus Inebrius [email protected]
While this was my second time at Brewmasters in Greenville, Sc, it was the first where I thought to bring my handy Inebriati tasting notebook. This long-running beer tasting social event has been held at the Commerce Club for at least three years. I’ll make a note to interview the event leaders for the full scoop and share how they’ve made this event such a success.
This month featured Founders Brewing Company from Grand Rapids, MI. One of my accompanying enthusiasts was himself a native of that northerly city and was full of anticipation to take pride in his old hometown’s brews.
The standard format for Brewmasters 60+ attendees involves having the actual brewery representatives bringing six beers for the crowd to split and share while being briefed on the brewery’s work developing each unique bottle or can. At this particular tasting, most of the brews were bottled with paper labels, which show up a bit dark as the beers were chilling in ice water filled tubs for quite a while before being passed about. So my apologies for any difficulty in making out the finely detailed labels from the accompanying photographs. Luckily, Founders Brewing website has much better photos, so I’ve included links.
We had a brief intro from the brewer reps: Brandon Watts, the North and South Carolina Market Manager and Scott Olin, our NC/SC Sales Representative. Scott actually hailed from Grand Rapids. Founders Brewing started in 97 and one of their first products is still one of their standards. It was also the first one we tasted.
From the foundersbrewing.com website:
“We at Founders Brewing Co. have been lucky to evolve into one of the highest recognized breweries in the United States. We have been ranked in the top breweries in the world by Ratebeer.com for the last five years, and we have several beers listed in the top one hundred beers of the world on Beeradvocate.com. We’ve won six World Beer Cup medals, four European Beer Star medals and three Great American Beer Festival medals—thirteen medals total across eight different beers.
We are proud to be doing what we’re doing. We give credit to our staff for continuously working to reinvent what beer can be and thanks to our many customers for whom we work to provide world-class beers.”
A canned beer–a bit unusual for Brewmasters tastings–Founders Brew’s All Day IPA comes in an attractive green can with some vintage design style on the labeling (note that is also available in bottles). As my tablemates poured samples, I took a nice sniff of a small pour of the gold amber brew in one of the two individual tasting glasses the Club had supplied. It has some nice floral and hoppy notes, but nothing too unexpected for a beer designed to be your full day’s companion session beer. For flavor it had a nice, light flavor with a crisp spice and hop notes. The finish was gentle with some hints of fruit. Overall it was a pretty standard session IPA, but would be a great tailgating or game day beer. It was a 2010 GABF Silver Medal Winner and is available year round.
Next up on the roster was a purposeful contrast. Founder’s Dark Penance Imperial Black India Pale Ale shows a mastery of a difficult niche in brewing. Founders made nearly a dozen attempts with their 8-barrel system to get close to the Imperial they wanted, and then tweaked the recipe from there. I found the rich brew to be very malty and sweet, with some strong burnt toffee notes. It had a very good balance of the bitter and sweet, and of course a strong hop flavor throughout.
After that came one of my favorites (and also the vote-winner from the group) of the evening, their seasonal Breakfast Stout. This wasn’t so much a beer as a delicious liquid chocolate coffee cake. The thick dark drink gives you a surge of coffee flavor before mellowing to a dark, sweet chocolate and toffee flavor. A surprisingly smooth finish for such a rich stout, any bitterness was negated by the smooth creamy flavors. Definitely an indulgence, but worth it. An interesting aside about the Breakfast Stout was that, due to the fact that it has a drawing of a baby on the label, a couple of northeastern states banned its sale. While it was largely liquid candy, I doubt there’s much chance of mothers attempting to feed Breakfast Stout to toddlers.
According to their website, the Breakfast Stout is typically available from October to December.
Next up was a more traditional Imperial Stout, though it did echo many of the qualities that made the Breakfast Stout so popular. For a stout, it started and ended with a remarkable smoothness that reveals the skill with which it was created. Ten varieties of malted barley were used giving the beer complex light chocolate, toffee and coffee notes throughout, there remained little bitterness one expects when tasting a Russian Imperial Stout at a 10.5% ABV. This brew was a 2010 WBC Bronze medal winner and is available from January to March.
In an oversized bottle, Founders Dissenter IPA Lager won over several attendees as their favorite. A short run beer for Founders, the crisp, hoppy brew reportedly uses a special yeast to achieve it’s floral notes, slight continuous citrus and cherry flavors, and light finish. It was a tasty beer, though given that it came fifth in the sequence, I’m not sure if its popularity was based solely on flavor or somewhat on the bottle’s size. According to the website, this was their first lager in over a decade and is part of their Backstage Series of beers.
The final beer of the evening was Founders’ Porter: Dark, Rich & Sassy. A prominent coffee scent greeted my nose on the first scent, and proved a good predictor of the beer’s fairly complex toffee, coffee and hop combinations. Like the other Founders beers, it showed a careful attention for a smooth introduction, steady flavor and smooth finish.
A very fine set of beers indeed.