Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Founders - KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) Review

Brewery: Founders (MI)
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 11.2%
Grade: A

You may notice that I devote a lot of space in my beer reviews to writing about things other than how the beer tastes. (HEY. I'm doing it again!) Taste is obviously the important thing, but there's more to it than just reading the same flavor descriptions again and again. Skimming down reviews on Beer Advocate, it is good to know that an imperial stout is roasty, chocolatey, bitter, and creamy, but it doesn't necessarily explain why that particular imperial stout is better or worse than others — others which can be described with much the same sequence of words. You always, to some extent, have to read between the lines.

I introduce KBS this way because it's one of those beers that comes with a reputation. A very good reputation. That shouldn't necessarily mean anything, but Kentucky Breakfast Stout just about lives up to it. It's not the best beer I've ever had, but it is damn good. And there are other similar beers out there, other fantastic bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stouts, and a lot of those are probably just as good as KBS. But that doesn't mean this isn't an excellent beer.

As you might expect, KBS boasts a heavy bourbon character, lingering through the aftertaste with a touch of boozy-ness (though my bottle was aged for a year, which helped a lot in mellowing it out.) It's rich and sweet and bourbony, but also well blended and smooth. The bourbon doesn't seem like an addition to the beer, a flavor that was just tossed in, but a natural component, another aspect of the beer's rich roasty, chocolate, oaky character. This has all the complexity of a great imperial stout with a few added dimensions. Coffee is a minor suggestion, but despite its heritage, it's not the focus of this beer. A silky, slick mouthfeel makes KBS frighteningly easy to drink; even with the low carbonation, the beer feels lively as it goes down.

What makes this beer great is not merely the sum of its flavors — it's that so many intense, interesting flavors co-exist so well, combining to form a drink as complex and deep as it is drinkable. The only thing preventing this from being perfect is its hot, boozy backend — which is somewhat inevitable in bourbon-aged beers like this. A year or two of aging will help to smooth out some of that heat. All the more reason to buy a few and keep them around.

Availability: Released annually at the beginning of March. Better run to your nearest beer retailer right now. 12 ounce bottles.

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