Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout - Keeping the Faith In Beer

January 24 2015 - 3:56 AM

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of my favorite show of all time, The Twilight Zone.   Those black-and-white episodes featuring stories of the strange, the haunting, the mysterious, and the portentous still hit you hard if you let them.  One of my recent viewings was a highly foretelling episode in which people were receiving plastic surgery to make themselves into, essentially, clones of everyone else, so that everyone was “beautiful”.   One rebellious teenage girl pointed out the danger in this societal self-altering, observing that “When you are just like everyone else, then you’re nobody.”  It applies tenfold to the beer world, particularly barrel-aged beers.   There are seemingly a zillion barrel-aged brews out there, some are wonderful, many are quite forgettable.  Prices and demand have gotten outrageous.  But this is hardly new territory for you experienced beer chasers.  The real issue is whether these beers are worth chasing if you’re not deep pocketed or don’t enjoy spending hours upon hours in line.  Are these overamped-ABV, whiskey-steeped, hyper-stouts and barleywines really worth all the fuss?  Perhaps a friend of mine who manages a major liquor retailer was on to something when he stated that he can hardly stomach the barreled megastouts which, to him, are “not really beer” but some kind of gross mutation.

Okay, truth be told, I’m somewhat jaded these days, having been thwarted in my efforts at attaining even a single a bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla.  Thoughts had recently been creeping into my head of eschewing any beers that spend as much as a second in a barrel or a cave, and reverting to the German lagers of the halcyon, early days of my beer drinking.  I was pretty much fed up with the long lines, the disingenuous store clerks, the folks flipping beers online for five times the price.  A life of exclusively pilsners and kolsches (and of course IPA’s) was sounding better and better.  Happiness is 7% and under, I began to think.  Then I had a Canadian Breakfast Stout.

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, the maple-syrup-flavored sibling of Founders KBS (formally shortened from its original name, Kentucky Breakfast Stout, a nod to its bourbon barreling) and a beer born from spent bourbon barrels which have been repurposed for maple syrup, made a brief return visit to Chicago in recent weeks.  In past years it had mostly been a brewery-only entity, a myth for which a handful of beer lovers would venture to Grand Rapids, Michigan to debunk and later expound upon its glory.   Having made the 180-mile trek, I helped myself to CBS on KBS-Release Day in 2010 and it proved to be beyond worth the hype.  CBS appeared here in Chicago once before, in 2011, when Founders released it for the first and only time in bottles which became highly coveted.  But given that I found the 2011 iteration very good but overly sweet, and given also my recent spate of disgruntlement with barreled beers (the ones I couldn’t get, to be exact), I was not dying to wedge my way in to one of the 11 Chicago bars which were bestowed a CBS keg this month.

But once a fool, always a fool.  Thanks to a tip from a pal of mine, who also gave me live updates on the crowd size at the bar, I was able to obtain CBS at The Long Room with minimal fuss.  Needless to say, my brief spate of barreled-beer discontentment was quickly eviscerated by my first sip of the deliciously dark goodness of CBS.  After all, I’ve written 600 words to this point, mostly on the backstory.  But a beer this complex, this delicious, this encapsulating warrants a bit too much exposition.  Because CBS was back.  It had returned to the greatness I recalled from my first experience.  All the proof was right there in the glass.   The caramel and smoky notes of the bourbon, the roasted coffee flavors, the hints of sweet maple, the fortifying bitterness of the chocolate and hops – all of these elements forged a wonderful dark pool which smelled enticingly of bourbon, maple, and chocolate.  It’s a pretty beer, too, with a slight, dark-tan head which quickly dissipates into a quiet, smooth black pond.  Long Room chose excellent glassware for it, opting for circular rocks glasses instead of the oh-so-pretty snifters which are now the common serving vessels for imperial beers such as this 10.6% fermentation.  I’d rather take in my beer in the Plain-Jane-type glass I received; it recalls the fact that this is still beer, not cognac, we are drinking.  No matter how elaborate the ingredients, beer is still the common man’s simple pleasure.  Beer is forever the drink of the proletariat.  Solidarity, beer lovers.  Raise your standard pint glasses!  But I have digressed enough.

The crux of the matter is that, yes, CBS reminded me of why I’m in the game, and why, like so many other beer freaks out there, I perpetually chase after these rare, hyped, overpriced, fought-over barrel-aged beers.  The truly awesome ones, like CBS, can be a near-magical experience, one which will keep you returning for more.  Plus, it makes a difference when a bar nails the release event.  Long Room ensured that the misery of last fall’s Goose-Island-release melee was completely absent from the process.   They sold beer tickets in advance, for a reasonable $8 each, and ensured that ticket-holders were guaranteed a pour, even if they could not be there for the actual tapping (I bought a ticket in advance then bolted for a critical 6:30 meeting, returning after the keg was breached).  I also credit Hank Olsen, Founders’ rep, for some good shop talk about the beer industry.

When done right, barrel-aged-beer releases can still be a terrific event.  And besides, every time I try to get out, along comes CBS to bring me right back in.

– M. Sheppard