A Whale A Week is my attempt to taste a rare beer every week over all of 2015, while sharing the judging and tasting with a variety of beer loving friends. This week we go with another famed Imperial: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout!
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout 2012
When I first started thinking about doing this series of reviews, one of the big beers in my cellar that I kept thinking about was this one. I inherited my bottle in a cellar buy-out so at least I didn't have to wait in lines or scour liquor stores during the one day they release the beer. I have been happy that Minnesota has been getting a small portion of this beer for the past few years, so at least we have a chance to find this rare beer here.
The very first coffee beer I ever tried was Founders Breakfast Stout. I can remember the place and time with some clarity: sitting at a table with my family in Champaign, Illinois at the restaurant Radio Maria. Having never heard of Founders at the time, I ordered this 8.3% ABV Russian Imperial stout brewed with coffee and chocolate to pair with my coffee encrusted filet of beef. Angels sang for me on that day. So when I discovered that there was a stronger (11.2%) similar beer aged in bourbon barrels, I felt my heart pick up a little. Over the past few years I have tried this near-mythical beer a few times at bottle shares, and once almost by accident, on tap at The Nomad. I did get a chance to visit Founders during NHC last year in Grand Rapids, and that place is amazing! No Kentucky Breakfast Stout on tap for us then though...
So KBS, as this beer is affectionately called by in-the-know beer geeks, is quite hard to find and sought-after. On the day of this testing, I had a couple of friends over to practice their BJCP tasting skills for an upcoming test they were both taking. With the beers blinded, we went through a terribly oxidized beer from 1998, to a Surly Abrasive, and then I sprung the KBS on them telling them only the style of beer. Now barrel aged beers are never on the real BJCP tasting exam, I thought this would be a way for them to stretch their tasting and description skills, while also getting a good review of a rare beer without the hype associated with that beer. Like being punked--but in a good way! I have posted these using the 50 point BJCP scoring since that was our method. So Tyrone (already a Recognized beer judge) and Annette Babione (trying to keep up with or surpass her husband) helped me out with this review, and I was pretty impressed with how they did...
Eric: Very sweet maltiness. Cinnamon, light roast coffee. Some zing from alcohol on the nose. Roasted malt and baker's chocolate as swirled. Hint of cream? Oaky tannic aroma, possibly some oxidation as it warms up. 10/12
Tyrone: Vanilla leaps out of the glass, immediately followed by dark roasted coffee. Pervasive alcohol warmth intermingles between these two flavors. Prune aroma finishes the bouquet. No hop aromatics. No other fruity esters. Slightly sharp grain alcohol emerges after warming. Roasted malts emerge after opening up. Slighty toasted coconut. 9/12
Annette: Roasted, almost burnt malt character. Hint of soy sauce. No hops detected. Almost solventy in the nose. Smells like burnt toast trying to be covered with coffee or a bitter chocolate. Slight sherry. 6/12
Combined: Black and nearly opaque. Tan head almost non-existent, with fine bubbles. 2/3
Eric: Semi-sweet dark chocolate is the dominant flavor to my palate. Some vanilla and cinamon as the taste lingers on the tongue. Finish is mildly astringent with a burnt coffee edge to it. Balance slightly to the bitter side. Lots of roasted dark malts in this. I get some vegetal flavor as it warms up that detract from the overall enjoyment. No hop flavors. No real esters. 16/20
Tyrone: Chocolate is predominant flavor. Medium-high bitterness. No hop flavor. Moderately high oak/wood stiffens the malt backbone to contrast the bitterness. Evenly balanced with a slight edge to the malt in the finish--although the bitterness persists and builds on the back of the tongue with a dry aftertaste. Clean fermentation. Malt flavor is primarily dark roast mixed with a coffee roast. 17/20
Annette: Heavy roast flavor that sticks to the roof of your mouth. No hop flavor detected. Light hop bitterness. Light notes of chocolate and coffee. Balance is toward the malt with a warm finish and chocolate aftertaste. Almost like a chocolate soda. 14/20
Eric: Body is medium to thick. Slightly creamy at the start of the sip. End is a bit bitter and astringent. Carbonation is a bit low. Some warming in throat from alcohol. 4/5
Tyrone: Medium-low carbonation. Moderate alcohol warming, bordering on boozy. A mild creaminess with no astringency. Moderately heavy weight body with medium viscosity. No other palate sensations. 5/5
Annette: Full body with lower carbonation. Warmth from alcohol detected. Hint of creamy. Light astringency detected. 4/5
Eric: Complex and interesting. I keep trying it for new flavors over time. Improves as it warms up. Coffee is very subtle and comes off more burnt than fresh. Booze present but well integrated into beer than when fresh. 7/10
Tyrone: Although the alcohol borders on hot, it avoids crossing over that line and maintains a wonderful alcohol warmth, while providing excellent bitterness to cleanse the palate--preventing the malt, wood, and coffee flavors from becoming overpowering. Great example of the style, although malt profile could benefit from more complexity to avoid muddy flavoring. 8/10
Annette: Overall this was a decent example. The roast hinted toward the acrid or burnt, but the alcohol didn't burn or become hot. The barrel melded the flavors well, but it was a little too acrid for personal taste. However, coffee and chocolate notes had high redeeming qualities... 7/10
Total scores were:
Overall I think we all picked up on the same aromas and flavors, but our personal tastes factored into it. It was interesting experiment to give a rare and highly publicized beer to blinded judges and get an honest review of it. Tyrone liked it the most, Annette the least. I fell in the middle, even knowing what beer we were dealing with--partly because I have had this fresh or one year old and loved it more that this sample. I felt that the coffee flavor had faded a lot and turned to a more burnt and acrid flavor than when fresher. Upshot is to not age this beer longer than 2 years if you can help it! Still a great beer, but less than it used to be.
Now that I have climbed the mountain and tried this whale, where can I go now? Oh, wait, Founders makes a beer called Canadian Breakfast Stout? Aged in bourbon barrels and maple syrup barrels? What? Good, now I have something even more rare and precious to stalk...