I have a love/hate relationship with the whole concept of “whale beers.” On the one hand, I have been a musician and music connoisseur for all of my adult life. I have logged a lot of time rummaging through used record stores looking for hard-to-find jazz recordings, classical rarities, and pop/rock imports in order to find inspiration. I get the whole idea of something being rare and therefore desirable and collectible.
At the same time, much of the current renaissance in craft beer springs from a locavore mindset — eat locally and spend most of your eating/drinking budget on restaurants, food trucks, farmers, gastropubs, breweries, owned by local folks. I’m sympathetic to that mindset and have thought to myself sometimes, “Why go to so much trouble to try beers made by breweries located thousands of miles away from me when there are a bunch of great breweries in Kansas? Why not give thanks for that and imbibe locally?” Then a brewery like Founders from Grand Rapids, Michigan comes along every year and releases a beer like Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and any thought of “only supporting only the local guy” temporarily goes out the window.
KBS is everything a whale beer should be. It is scarce, it has been around long enough to develop a cult following, and it has a mystique all its own. As of this writing, Founders does not distribute in the state of Kansas. My understanding is that they are working on it and that I should be able to find their amazing beers in my local bottle shop by the end of 2015. For now, in order to get beer brewed by Founders, I have to travel to Kansas City, Missouri where Founders beer is in plentiful supply. In the case of KBS, however, what happens is you call around to every local shop in town and send your brother (who lives in Kansas City) on a wild goose chase hoping that the store doesn’t sell out prior to his arrival.
Did I mention that the demand for KBS if off-the-charts?
But is KBS any good? Is it all hype? Is it worth paying $6 for a 12 ounce bottle (limit one bottle per customer)? In a word: yes!
Upon opening the bottle one immediately smells the bourbon aroma pouring out. The aroma doesn’t even wait for you to get it into the glass. Once in the glass, the oaked bourbon aroma mixes with the smell of coffee, espresso, and dark chocolate.
I have tried Founders famous Breakfast Stout on many occasions and assumed I was prepared for how Kentucky Breakfast Stout would taste. Take Founders Breakfast Stout and age it for a year in bourbon barrels, right? Wrong!
Everything is so much more ramped up and amplified in KBS. Whereas the taste of Breakfast Stout focuses on oatmeal and coffee, the taste of KBS is a full-blooded Russian Imperial Stout that is so much more in your face than regular Breakfast Stout. In fact, the taste of KBS is unlike any beer I have ever had. With all of the forwardness of the bourbon smell you would think this beer would be a booze bomb. It is anything but that. Founders has hidden the alcohol so well behind layer upon layer of dark chocolate, espresso, and maltiness. Only when you feel the burning at the back of your throat and in your chest do you pause and consider, “Ah, yes. There is the bourbon and all of that 11.2% ABV.”
KBS is a massive sipping beer meant to be served at room temperature and enjoyed over the course of an entire evening. It is the complete antithesis of “buzz bomb beers” that are good for nothing more than getting inebriated as quickly as possible.
Beer prayer: Gracious God, how good you are to give us the sensory explosion that is Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. We are reminded again that you have hidden great treasures in water, malt yeast, and hops and that finding those treasures and tasting them gives us a glimpse of your goodness to us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!
My Untappd rating for Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout: 10/5
1. There was a report on the web a few days ago of a bottle shop in New York charging $20 for a single bottle of KBS; $80 for a four pack. In light of that story, I consider my $6 bottle to be a steal.