Timeless. Classic. Diverse. Words used to describe Bob Seger‘s musical gift – and wouldn’t you know, Founders Brewing’s beers. Mull that while I wax poetic. Founders Brewing has been my favorite brewer since I first dabbed a droplet of their Double Trouble IPA on my tongue, over a year ago.
Captivated, entranced and bewildered I sought out more of this unknown brewer’s stock. It took no further than my third beer, and not even a departure from one style, before I decided that this could be the one – the brewer for which my palate yearns.
Founders Brewing can be found along the Grand River, in the Western portion of the State of Michigan, in a nice little town called Grand Rapids. The mighty Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan and was once referred to as “Furniture City” because, well, take a guess. While it might not be the maxim of metropolis, it once was a heavy industrial area that thrived throughout the auto and lumber boom of the early 1900s.
As the auto industry boomed, so did Detroit’s music scene. Berry Gordy’s Motown thrived throughout the 60s and 70s, launching the careers of iconic stars like Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. We also saw Rock & Roll take a new form in Detroit. Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and – perhaps most importantly for this article – the great Bob Seger, all saw incredible success with their raw, uncensored and blue-collar version of music’s greatest gift (um, Rock & Roll).
But like all great things, Michigan took a hard turn in the late 20th century. The adversity facing the Great Lakes State drove a major artisan sub-culture that helped bring Detroit out of the ashes. From that, we saw the birth of funk from George Clinton, which some say spawned the creation of techno – the Detroit spectacle that arose from Parliment Funkadelic melodic melodies. A new progressive culture remained.
Also, from the ashes came a focus on reviving dead markets. Once a major player in the beer brewing industry of the U.S., the beer production industry had shrunk to producing nothing more than Strohs by the 1970s. By 1985, Strohs’ brewery was destroyed and not one brewery remained in Detroit’s once vast beer industry. The company finally sold off to Pabst in 1999.
Beer came back to Michigan in the 1980s, but this time it went West. Bells Brewery began operations in 1983 in Kalamazoo, MI. After 8 years as the only (still remaining) craft beer producer, Founders Brewing joined the fold in 1991. Its funny to think that a short stretch of 50 miles of highway is all that separates two of America’s pioneering, and still dominate, craft breweries.
Founders Brewing epitomizes everything about survival in the craft beer industry. Two college grads who enjoyed homebrewing decided to make a go for it, quit their jobs and make beer. After years of making balanced beers to pander to blue-collar Michigonians (made that term up), they hit the brink of bankruptcy. Realizing that they had to quit or develop their own unique niche, they decided to dump the “crap” beer and move on to a bigger challenge: “complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor.” (from their website)
Well hell yes! Nothing like a little American ingenuity and a dab of elbow grease to get the fire cooking on a damn good idea. By taking the plunge into uber-complexity, Founders risked utter decimation. Alas, they knew that separating themselves from the herd of 1990s lightly malted, pathetically hopped beers, was the way to go. They flourished.
Founders Brewing now takes on a bevy of intriguing, mouth watering, mind melding styles. Check out their Breakfast Stout, which by the way, is made from an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee. No big deal, its only one of the most revered beers in American beerdom (again, made up). Not enough stuff? How about the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which adds CAVE-AGED (no lie) oak bourbon barrels at 11.2%. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’d hate that 100 on Rate Beer.
But alas, it was the IPAs which made me fall on bended knee. It was the sweet taste of unearthly nectar that said – “Hi, I’m beer. Know nothing else.” Founders packs a lineup of 4 incredible hop bombs. Centennial IPA is a standard used for Beer Judge training, Red Rye PA is no doubt the best rye IPA on the market (and I will physically fight you if you say otherwise. Seriously, grab a 2×4 and meet me behind your parent’s house), and Double Trouble turned my head Beetlejuice style, for about 5-6 minutes. But there was one more that I had yet to try – the gem of our 4 beer panel this week: Devil Dancer Triple IPA. Just wait, I’m getting there.
For our tasting panel, we selected 4 amazingly diverse styles. We tried to have no beers overlap because we wanted to savor the magnificent diversity of….NAY! we just had dumb luck and it worked out that way. Hooray random success; boo excess beer terms. The board: Cerise Cherry Fermented Ale, Porter, Devil Dancer Triple IPA and 2010 Nemesis. We proceed.
This one had caught my attention during a press release earlier this Summer. The beer was marketed as a “cherry fermented ale” which to me screamed “something like a kriek.” I could have not been further from actuality. I have read many that say that the beer has a slight tartness and soft fruity aroma and flavor. I’m just not there.
I had the Cerise once back in Ohio when it was fresh from the case and again during this panel, about 2 months from purchase. The first tasting opportunity brought a very rich fruit flavor that mimicked cherry soda; the panel tasting was straight blush wine. I believe that the first tasting was more of what they were going for, a fruity summery ale that packed a lot of cherry blast. Our panel version might simply have been the victim of skunk. It was interesting to see that much change in only 55 days or so, but worse things have happened.
Its not easy to diss an offering from your favorite brewer – but skip this one. I think that increasing the tartness with a wild yeast might add something to this guy, but right now its a straight fruit beer that gets easily agitated.
Again, I have danced with this guy before. Once upon a time, I was dying of heat exhaustion after trouncing the streets of Washington DC in 99 degree weather. Lugging my baggage for 5 hours had left me screaming for a beer, and as always, I plead for something new and mind-bending.
We came across Pizzeria Paradisio in Dupont Circle and had heard of its lore. A dedicated pizza and alehouse, they offered some damn good choices across the board. One of those, was this guy – Founders Porter. I placed myself in a bubble, blocked out the heat and grabbed a pint from the tap. Delicious. One of the greatest, most complex porters that I have ever seen, smelled or tasted.
Our panel got to sample a bit of the goods. As I lifted the hood on this dark, sexy vessel of black grog, it exploded all over the place (not sure if this is sexual innuendo…still mulling it over). The beer had either been primed too much or aggressively disturbed during storage and retrieval – we shall never know. But, the beer had a much more aerated body this time around, and I like the subtle difference in how it affects the flavors.
The mass of chocolate and rich caramelized sugar prevails in this guy. This is a meal in a glass and a no-brainer for any dark beer fanatic. Get this one.
Devil Dancer Triple IPA.
The lore of this beer runs rampant. Rumors of its existence had plagued me for days, months,.. ok thats it. But still, I wanted it. When I got the call that the final bottle available at our favorite Cleveland shop had been acquired – I literally shot out of my pants. Devil Dancer: how I have waited for this dance.
The beer opens perfectly and with a moderate carbonation and maximum aroma that almost blows my eyes into their sockets. The beer pours with flawless orange-auburn hue and a slight head. We can dig in quickly.
The scent is explosive and I wonder what the hop bill must have looked like. This puppy is packing 112 IBUs and 12% alcohol, but the floral aroma hides the fermented wonder inside the bottle. Devil Dancer is an exploration through hop science. 10 different types of cones dry-hop this mother over the course of 26 days, to reach hop maxim. Though the malt bill is designed to allow the hops to prevail, they aren’t absent from the beer. I taste a simple butterscotch or caramel flavor that gives this monster some balance.
The resins alone will baffle you. Buy every bottle you see, inject them with formaldehyde (don’t do this) and preserve them for yourself. Seriously, don’t share.
What an amazing name eh? I think about this now and I say: “what’s my nemesis?” and “Is the beer trying to be the drinker’s nemesis, or its own nemesis?” Yep, we go that deep.
If I had to create a beer that had to be its own nemesis, I think that I would try to pack as many aromatic malts and the brightest hops in a bottle and add a psychotically active yeast. That’s the ticket. Lets see who wins! Hahaha (morbid laugh). Well, that’s not my own creative brilliance, because I think that is exactly what they did.
Nemesis is classified as a dark barleywine and we had some disagreement about this nomenclature. One of us called it an imperial stout (its black and 12%); one said it was a crazy ole ale (it has a ridiculous aged malt flavor) and I called it a hoppy barleywine (its 100 IBUs). Whatever you call it – you should make sure to use the adjective “spectacular” because this beer is a gauntlet of flavor.
The beer pours a deep black with almost no head. Its thick like maple syrup and has a mild burnt sugar scent. The beer develops from the first sip to the swallow, starting bitter and ending with a furious “I just ate a meal of pancakes” syrupy swarm. As the beer warmed up, I noticed that the hops became more noticeable and I thought it was a great touch. The beer somewhat resembled a dark roasty version of Avery Brewing’s Hog Heaven, though more complex and inevitably better.
If you read anything above, you can guess my recommendation. Get it.
When we do these panels, we like to think about the brewer. Each brewer has a story behind its operation; its location, history, culture and its message are oh so important to the beer’s delivery. So, when I thought about which Michigan musician’s music would best espouse the Founders Brewing delivery – the Silver Bullet smacked me in the face.
For decades, Bob Seger has developed a musical sound that it fights for relevance, meets the needs of the everyday man, and yet strives to remain timeless with its unique character. Seger and Founders each fought from the trenches for relevance and after many years in the game, find themselves just as beloved as the day their first single (bottle) hit the market.
For me, they are both beloved because they each speak to the common man’s desire for something to love. With Seger, it was “working on those night moves” and for Founders, its working on those complex romances that fit in a glass. Kudos to you both for making Michigan proud and the rest of us happy rock & roll infused beer fanatics.