“What you have here is a rarity. A special, one-of-a-kind ale that is only made once a year. Sometimes that’s all. Forever. No more. Nada. Limited-time only. You never know what you’re gonna get. But you can be sure it’ll be damn tasty.”
(Editors note: we’ve stockpiled enough Founders Nemesis 2009 to review it every year or so to see how it is developing, aging and changing. Feel free to read through from the one-year tasting to the most recent review. However, if you’d like to jump around, be our guest, and read more about Founders Nemesis 2009 after one year, two years, three years and four years in the cellar.)
Ryan: This was the first release in Founders Nemesis series, a yearly one-off batch of brews that promises to be big, unique and hard to find.
This particular offering was a maple bourbon barrel aged wheatwine. Go ahead and wrap your mind around that one. Founders brewed a wheatwine that was then aged for nine months in barrels that once housed bourbon and then maple syrup. These barrels were used to make, what I would presume to be, some very tasty bourbon maple syrup in northern Michigan.
I first sampled this when it was released in February 2010. Unfortunately there are no initial tasting notes so we’ll have to start at one year in the cellar.
Founders Nemesis ’09 poured a cloudy and almost sludgy looking amber in color. Don’t let the appearance fool you, this is still a high quality and high-octane beer. The nose is full of bourbon, sweet fruits, vanilla, maple syrup and ribbon candy. A first sip reveals a very complex, busy and syrupy beer whose flavors flash in and out making it hard to pin down exactly what you’re tasting,. In fact, I wrote down the following characteristics in this order: bourbon, wheat, bitter, vanilla, maple, smooth, wheat and burn.
I’ll try to simplify that a little and say you get a big splash of bourbon up front which then fades almost immediately to what can best be described as cracked wheat, followed by touches of maple syrup and vanilla before finishing with a bit of bitterness. The 12% ABV is still very present and accounted for. A bit of an alcohol burn sits in your chest through the entirety you sip on this beer. Which, I would highly recommend doing.
I thought this beer was a little bit of a hot mess when I had it a year ago and it appears to be less of a hot mess now. While there was a lot going on the flavors were pleasant – at least the ones I could pin down. Hats off to Founders for throwing together an intriguing first brew for the Nemesis series. I have a handful of bottles left in the cellar so we’ll revisit this one again in early 2012.
Karl: Here’s what I wrote after my first taste of a two-year-old Founder’s Nemesis 09.
Hot damn, was this a fine brew, fine from the get-go and fine last year, even more fine this year with some surprising additions to the flavor profile of an already complex beer.
For starters, where the hell did all that mint flavor come from? After the taste of butterscotch and bourbon fade away, sprigs of spearmint started dancing across my palate. Not just spearmint, but peppermint as well. Completely unexpected, and yet completely awesome.
Still light in color, the body has retained its heft thus far although there’s no head to be seen in the pour nor is there any real lacing left to speak of…but all that can be easily ignored because who’s paying attention to the lacing.
Wow. Just wow, Founders. How the hell did you do this, and how soon can you do it again?
Ryan: This one just keeps getting better and better.
There is something about this beer that creates a warm, fuzzy sensation – like a good pair of slippers or your favorite blanket.
Maybe it’s because the aromas, when first poured, of cracked wheat and maple syrup create a mellow sweetness? It kind of lets you know this beer is going to warm you from the inside, out. Or it could be the waves of warm butterscotch ice cream topping, more maple syrup and the spearmint that Karl fawned over on your first few sips?
Actually, it’s neither that create that “warm” feeling. It’s the booze. You can taste every bit of the 12% ABV – and then some.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a remarkably awesome beer and is aging beautifully – but it’s still a booze-y monster that should be sipped with precision and determination.
Crack open the bottle and you are greeted with? Mint! What? Yeah, I know, I didn’t see that one coming, either.
The incredibly complex flavors of this didn’t disappoint either – bourbon, mint, butterscotch and the burn. Oh yes, the burn.
Ryan hit on this point, so I won’t belabor it, but there was a ton bourbon-y booze, and you could feel every drop of it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it felt like I was drinking a mint julep, instead of a beer. Anyone have a Derby hat I can borrow?
Karl: In the past we’ve described the Nemesis as a holy-shitballs-this-is-crazy kind of beer. If the fresh Nemesis back in 2009 was an unrestrained psychopath, and the aging cellar were a psychiatric care unit, it has become clear that 3 years of restraint have backed this lunatic back down to a fairly stable patient that might just be safe for release back into society.
Redolent with maple syrup and bourbon notes, this beer offers a long, sweet, candy-syrup tail with a body and flavor that’s dropped off significantly in terms of complexity and heft. It’s still big bodied, but creamy and far less “angry.” Another metaphor, if you’ll allow me: the previous Nemesis beers we’ve tried have been nitroglycerine – hugely explosive, unstable, terribly dangerous – whereas the 3-year is more like TNT – plenty dangerous, but more predictable and much more controllable.
To be blunt, if you want the clearest picture of what this beer has begun, imagine a shot of whiskey mixed with about a teaspoon of pancake syrup. Smooth, free from a burn from any other latent liquor harshness, it’s still good. Ain’t hitting the high notes it used to, though.
On the whole, still a pretty great beer, but left me thinking, “man were those other Nemesis bottles just amazing or what?”
Ryan: Sipping away slowly and with a purpose I was beginning to wonder if this maple bourbon barrel aged wheat wine had crossed over from being a hugely exotic beer to rudimentary hard liquor.
The head scratching flavors of spearmint and bubblegum were still hanging around, but they were buried under an ever-present blanket of booze. Judging by the aroma wafting from the glass, vanilla pancakes slathered in maple syrup, you wouldn’t expect this Nemesis to be so boozy. But it is.
Sharp booziness aside, the body has held up quite well to three years in the cellar. It’s creamy with some solid carbonation.
Ryan: After reading back at my three-year review I wondered if this beer had begun its decline. After sampling this four-year old version I can tell you with some degree of certainty that is not the case. Founders Nemesis 2009 is still drinking quite well. However, I am starting to wonder if it peaked at the three-year mark and is subtly beginning its decline. While another year in the cellar did unearth some new flavors this beer also lost a bit of its complexity.
The nose is still teeming with aromas of warm maple syrup and the body remains well intact; rather viscous with a pronounced warming booziness. Vanilla beans, oak and maple syrup carry the body, which drys out about mid-sip, and is punctuated by a lengthy alcohol burn. The finish is a touch minty, spearmint in fact, and mint leaves soaked in whiskey.
This beer was every bit as fun to drink now as it was when I first sampled it in 2009.