Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Founders - CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout) Review

Brewery: Founders (MI)
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.6%
Grade: A

I've been fortunate enough to have Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout a few times before this review. It's hard, and you have to be fast, but if you live in the right city and follow the right bars, CBS seems to pop up on tap for special occasions a couple times a year. The bottle I'm reviewing is a year old, and that wasn't nearly so easy to obtain. That day involved me calling about a dozen stores that had sold out within minutes, only to find a newly opened bar right down the street from my office had gotten CBS in stock. I got one of their last few bottles, and when I left, clutching my purchase to my chest and cackling madly, there were four or five people racing down the sidewalk toward me — frightened, determined stares fixed upon their faces. I shit you not.

So opening up this now-mature bottle isn't a revelation, but more like a blast of nostalgia. I already knew I loved this beer. Fresh or a year old, it provides a huge, intense array of flavors — beyond what you'll find even in other barrel-aged imperial stouts.

Canadian Breakfast Stout is the third, and rarest, in Founder's Breakfast Stout series. There's the regular Breakfast Stout, which is a very, very solid oatmeal coffee stout. No three of the base recipes are the same, despite their shared name, and Kentucky Bourbon Stout is a similar but stronger version that's aged in  bourbon barrels (like many other imperial stouts these days.) Canadian Breakfast Stout is also aged in once-bourbon barrels — except these barrels also held maple syrup after they held bourbon, before they held the beer.

This added dimension makes a world of difference, and gives CBS a flavor profile that's unlike pretty much anything else out there. (For whatever reason, there are very, very few other beers aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels, at least that I've seen. I'm guessing they aren't the easiest barrels to come by.) Even the aroma solidifies this beer's personality: boozy and rich, you can instantly smell the sweetness, but the firm chocolaty stout base holds up to it, and the maple and bourbon work in beautiful symphony. It might sound like I'm hamming it up for this review, but hey man, back off, you're not the one drinking this shit. It's 10.6% ABV, and you can definitely tell it's up there, but the bourbon-booze profile makes it work. This tastes like something halfway between a beer and a cordial; the fact that the sweetness sells itself as well as it does is nothing short of miraculous. But for a beer that could almost trick my mouth into believing it's fermented maple syrup, sweetness is expected.

The bourbon, instead of reading like one singular flavor, is easily broken down into vanilla, oak and booze. While I love the flavor that oak provides, it's nice to have it balanced with so many complimentary notes. Canadian Breakfast Stout is a rush, a huge binge of rich flavors, and it is maybe a little excessive. I debated bestowing upon this my second ever A+ grade, but ultimately, it just didn't feel right giving such high marks to a beer that I don't think I could drink more than a few times a year. The flavors here are truly exceptional, but on the other hand, there are more balanced, drinkable imperial stouts out there. CBS is best in small doses, a decadent treat to be shared among friends as desert.

Availability: Annual fall release, and hard as hell to come by. Find a store that's going to get it, and get there before they open. 750 ml bottle.

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