From The Cellar: Founders KBS 3 Year Vertical

In Cellared Beer Reviews by The Guys

Founders Brewing Company says:

“What we’ve got here is an imperial stout brewed with a massive amount of coffee and chocolates then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year, to make sure wonderful bourbon undertones come through in the finish. Make your taste buds squeal with delight.”

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We Guys have been lucky enough (or enough foresight) to be graced with the presence of a few years worth of this beer.  So, why not a vertical tasting, we asked?  We also asked: “What, pray tell, might happen to Founders’ KBS over the passage of time?”  Well, we found out.

Last night we sat down in front of a table with three tulip glasses, bottles of ’08 and ’09 KBS, and a growler – yes, a growler – of the famed stout fresh from the taps of Roof Brothers in Paducah, KY.  (A KBS that actually came from Kentucky?  Meta!)  And away we went.

The KBS is arguably one of the best beers in the world, with a BeerAdvocate rating of A+ across more than a thousand reviews.  You gotta be good to get beer snobs across the board to love it.  So, how long should you throw one of these in the cellar?  And what happens when you do?

First up was the 2008:

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Karl: As soon as Ryan cracked this bottle, I could smell bourbon – and I was 5 feet away from the thing at the time.  But then, even as soon as he had them poured, it had dissipated.  Curious how beer chemistry works, huh?  While not as viscous as Stone’s “effing motor oil” oatmeal stout, it was still pretty hefty.  I made a note that it somewhat reminded me of a milkshake, with the way the notes of chocolate wandered out from underneath the massive coffee taste.

I mean, the other Guys will hammer this point home as well, but this seriously tasted just like the perfect balance of heavy booze and coffee.  Is that why it’s a breakfast stout?  Because it would work well instead of java, or even poured over your Wheaties in the AM?  For the discerning alcoholic, this would be a quality way to start your day.

As the ’08 warmed up and started to open, it developed a certain “roasted” characteristic that was only noticeable in this year’s bottle.  Further, it seemed like it had some similarities to a milk stout.  Is there sucrose in there?  Did it develop over the past two years?  No way for me to know, but it served to reinforce the whole “milkshake” idea for me.

Also, a warning – this stuff will go straight to your head.  Be aware.

Andrew: The long-awaited 3-year vertical of KBS started with a gem of a beer, the 2008. The beer poured thick and dark with no head. As soon as the bottle was opened the room filled with the scent of bourbon. However that’s where things got interesting. Once the beer was poured into a glass, the smell of bourbon was effectively gone, and it smelled like a cup of really strong coffee, or even an espresso.

The beer tasted like drinking a REALLY good cup of coffee, too. I was surprised at how much of the bourbon/boozeyness has worn off the beer as it aged. This was probably my favorite of the three beers.

Ryan: As soon as I pried the cap off this bottle, which is old enough to still read “Kentucky Breakfast” as opposed to just “KBS,” I was socked in the face with the smell of bourbon.   Once this tar black beer settles though ALL you get is coffee in the nose.  No chocolate.  No bourbon.  Just coffee.

And the taste? You guessed it, coffee.  Coffee, coffee, COFFEE.

It’s more of a roasted coffee bean flavor than a sharp, bitter coffee taste.  Served at 55° this beer simply melts in your mouth.  There is a bit of bourbon in the dry finish but it is not overpowering in the least.  The ’08 is a bit thinner in body than what I was expecting, especially considering it’s appearance.

Let it warm up a bit more and you start to get a little sweetness, almost similar to a milk stout.  I also picked up some black licorice near the tail end.  Also, the warmer the ’08 KBS gets the more apt a bit of dark chocolate is to come out and play.

Overall, I thought this beer was incredible.  And I was pleasantly surprised at how much the coffee flavors dominated and how little chocolate and bourbon remained.  I have one bottle left of this and it is going to sit for another two years so it can bat leadoff in a five-year vertical.

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Up next: the 2009 KBS.

Ryan: So, if the ’08 was dominated by coffee what would the ’09 be overshadowed by?

This beer, much like the ’08, poured out pitch black and velvety with just a bit of khaki tan head.

The nose was all coffee in those one which, initially, led me to believe the taste would be similar to the ’08.  I was wrong.  I was very wrong.  This one was all chocolate; dark chocolate, cocoa, semi-sweet chocolate.  It’s like a fall, mouth first, into a mixed bag of Hershey’s chocolates.

From start to finish this beer is full of smooth, rich chocolate.  Even as it warms, and the coffee and bourbon start to fade in, those flavors are still overpowered by chocolate.

The ’09 KBS is a chocolate lovers dream.  So, if you’re a fan let this one sit for a year.  You will not be disappointed.

Andrew: The 2009 KBS can be summed up in one word – chocolate. It poured just like the ’08, thick and dark with no head. There were strong coffee notes in the nose of this beer, and I detected more bourbon than the ’08. The taste of chocolate overpowered everything else in this beer, and it was definitely a warmer, boozier beer than the ’08.

Karl: My notes start to get hazy here, so be forewarned.  I don’t have a whole lot to add about the ’09 – it’s really a bridge between the fresh and further aged.  That said, there was a very considerable difference between the ’09 and the ’08.  I got the same dominance of chocolate flavors, a much higher presence of that bourbon taste (although not as much on the nose).  A fine beer, I’m glad we had it for comparison’s sake, and certainly one to enjoy – but better to simply hold on to, I think.

And finally, the coup de grace in more ways than one, the growler of 2010 KBS:

Andrew: A growler of KBS — who had that great idea? Anyway, the 2010 poured, again, dark and thick and had slightly more head than the previous two beers. It smelled exactly how I was expecting it to smell – coffee and chocolate notes with a lot of bourbon…the bourbon was definitely more obvious in all aspects of this beer than compared to the ’08 and ’09. A fantastically well-balanced beer, the booze was not overwhelming at all, and seemed to play nice with coffee and chocolate flavors.

Ryan: If Roof Brothers Wine and Spirits is crazy enough to carry Founders KBS on tap and offer growler pours of it then I am crazy enough to buy one.  This beer was purchased on March 25th – so it was still very fresh.

When poured by my not so steady hands (weight of a full growler multiplied by two other bottles of KBS = slight loss of fine motor skills) this beer comes gushing out like a cup of freshly poured coffee with a gorgeous beach sand brown head.

The nose is a pleasant mix of toffee, chocolate, bourbon and coffee.  At first sip you can really so how much more balanced fresh KBS is compared to the previous two aged bottles.  You get a nice blend of the chocolate, coffee and even a little vanilla.  With freshness, you get a lot more bourbon though.  In the ’08 it was barely noticeable and the ’09 you could catch it on the finish.  Fresh KBS, on the other hand, the bourbon and booziness hits much sooner – about midway through the sip.

Here was my note on the finish of this beer:

“Finishes like that last little bit of hot chocolate that got swirled around in the mug and picked up the last few clumps of powder that didn’t get mixed initially.”

I am kind of torn as to which version I prefer.  I love the overpowering roasted coffee flavor of the ’08, the sweet chocolate tones of the ’09 and the wonderfully blending of both flavors in the ’10.  If nothing else, this gave me a new appreciation for how well-balanced fresh KBS is.

Karl: You see that photo of a growler filled with Kentucky Breakfast Stout up there?  Remember the scene in Scarface where Tony Montana is sitting behind a pile of cocaine?  That’s sort of what a beer guy feels when he’s got a full growler of KBS at his hands.  It’s a certain sense of power – but it goes along with the knowledge that power can get out of hand, and quickly.

Now, we realize that the 2010 fresh version off a growler versus two years of bottled beer isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples, so keep that in mind when you’re considering these observations.  But still, it should be good enough for government work, at least.

On its pour, the nose is all coffee – but it burns.  Same characteristics in consistency and body, same general head as well.  From the notes:  “It’s a balanced beer – not too much bourbon, not entirely coffee, and is it more boozy?”  (sip)  “Yeah.  More booze.”  And just a touch of peanut butter?  I think so.

We got a second glass of 2010 out of the growler for each of us, which was probably more than necessary – but once you open that thing up, you’re really committing to the whole thing.  In for a penny, in for a few pints, as it were.  My notes on the 2nd glass pretty much sums up my feelings on this internal assault:

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Final thoughts — As it opened up, the 2010 developed into dominant chocolate flavors, but nothing as robust as the previous two years.  All in all, if you’re lucky enough to stumble across some brand new KBS, you’ll certainly enjoy it – but it’s really unbelievable how much this beer develops and deepens and changes from year to year, and if you put some aside you’ll be astounded by how much richer you’ll find it with even a year’s worth of age on it.

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Written by many, compiled by one, this is a collaborative post with contributions from at least two writers at Guys Drinking Beer.