Founders Brewing Taproom: Barrel-aged Brews and Holé Molé

Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI
Holé Molé
Breakfast Stout with Habanero and Chocolate
4.5% ABV
draft, Pilsner glass
Black Biscuit
Baltic Porter / Black Beer, Bourbon Barrel-Aged
10.5% ABV
draft, snifter
Backwoods Bastard
Stotch Ale, Bourbon barrel-aged
10.1 %ABV
draft, snifter
Newaygo County Cherry
Cherry Beer, Bourbon barrel-aged
7% ABV
draft, sample glass

I judge a brewery only partly on the quality of the beers they distribute. If I get to visit their taproom, I expect to be titillated, shocked, perhaps disgusted, but never bored, by beers only available to those who make the pilgrimage. While visiting my sister recently in Grand Rapids, MI, I got to make such a pilgrimage to the taproom of Founders Brewing. Perry wasn’t with me, but I called and texted him incessantly with elation and increasing drunkenness. My mission was to try everything I couldn’t taste in Ann Arbor. My server generously helped me accomplish this, providing me with ample samples to supplement our paid orders.

A taproom visit guarantees exposure to genius new brews as well as disastrous experiments. Founders was no exception. The stand-out disaster was Holé Molé, a breakfast stout brewed with habanero peppers and chocolate. This beer was probably brewed on a dare, since why else would you brew a beer with the world’s hottest pepper? I carefully dipped my tongue in the thick head and was promptly singed. After that scare I hesitantly took a sip and was surprised that the chocolate flavors developed nicely as I swirled the beer in my mouth. But after swallowing, my mouth and lips were thoroughly burned with habanero fire. I had to send back the beer, which they assented to gracefully– I imagine it’s happened before.

An equally stunning, but more enjoyable, experience was trying all three of Founders’ current bourbon barrel-aged brews, most of which are not distributed outside the taproom. I have to admit that my tasting notes deteriorated as my pilgrimage progressed. The Black Biscuit was my first beer of the evening. It is a mix between a Baltic Porter and a Black Beer, then submitted to bourbon barrel aging. The barrel is a huge contributor to the aroma, flavor, and feeling of this beer: at first it smelled vinuous, then oakey, then like Bailey’s Irish Cream. The feel in the mouth was very full, round, and even creamier than it had smelled. It was sweet without being syrupy in texture, and vanilla and coffee flavors dominated. My sister is not generally a beer fan, but she described this one as “strong flavors but not gross,” which I roughly translate here as, “high alcohol, high sugar, not overly hoppy.”

The Backwoods Bastard in a Bourbon barrel-aged version of Founders’ Scotch ale: Dirty Bastard. The bartender also gave me a sample of Dirty Bastard to drink for comparison. In most ways Backwoods Bastard resembled the Black Biscuit more closely than its namesake beer. The Bourbon barrels create a vanilla aroma and creamy texture equally in the black beer and scotch ale. The resemblance in smell, taste, and texture was so strong that I double-checked the color of my beer (dark amber) to make sure I hadn’t been served another glass of the Black Biscuit. The finish, however, was much hoppier than the Black Biscuit. Neither of these brews knocked me over with the taste of high-alcohol. Instead, the alcohol came through mostly in their somewhat winey/whiskey nose, and, of course, in their effect on my brain chemistry during the night. (When was the last time I drunk-dialed my brother?)

The third Bourbon barrel-aged beer, Newaygo County Cherry, was perhaps the strangest. This was not only aged in Bourbon barrels, but, according to the bartender, aged in Bourbon barrels in which maple syrup had already been aged. Complicated. The cream and vanilla were still present on the nose, but then the beer itself was a sweet/sour cherry beer– a complex and surprising combination of aroma and flavor. It was too fruity to be called a beer and the adjective “girly” sprung to mind. My tasting notes, scribbled on a small burrito receipt, are all but illegible from this time in the night. As a hophead, I’m slightly embarrassed to say that one note I can read from this beer is “sooo good.” I wonder who wrote that.


~ by nininja on December 12, 2009.

2 Responses to “Founders Brewing Taproom: Barrel-aged Brews and Holé Molé”

  1. Backwoods has hit the stores again. The sugar is a wee bit less prominent.

  2. I agree. We had one the other night. The sweetness is really mild. It’s more spicy than before. And the barrel gave it more coconut and less vanilla this time around.

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