It’s been said that only one other band deserves mentioning in the same sentence as the Beatles. That would be the Rolling Stones. A parallel comparison is this: Founders is the Midwest’s best brewer of dark beer, rivaled only by fellow Michigan brewer Dark Horse. As the Beatles could tuck away “Dear Prudence” on an album, a sensational track on which most bands would stake their careers and save for their encore sets, Founders similarly tosses off its Imperial Stout. Plainly named and seemingly unheralded, the ten-grain Imperial Stout is annually released to little fanfare, certainly less than its dark-beer label-mates KBS, Breakfast Stout, and the rare CBS. But for most other brewers a beer this rich and enticing would be a franchise player, perhaps taking second chair only to a barrel-aged beer, as such beers inherently, even if often undeservedly, spark a frenzy. Yet among beers you can actually get, beers that are on the shelf in plain view at Whole Foods or other retailers, and are not surreptitiously tucked away for regulars by the store clerk, this beer has consistently been about as good as it gets for imperial stouts. Without question it deserves its “world-class” 96 at Beer Advocate.
After having remarkable success aging Breakfast Stout at home, upon borrowing the idea from Lush Wine & Spirits which was retailing 3-year-old versions for $6, I took the same approach with Imperial Stout. This massive 10.4% stout ages even better than Breakfast Stout, which registers around 8.2% and maxes out after three years as the coffee bitterness becomes overly tame. Freshly brewed Imperial Stout, if there’s one knock against it, drinks way too hot with alcohol, and the beer’s aggressiveness is hardly tempered by the sharp bitter-chocolate flavor. It’s a powerful drinking experience but is not as enjoyable for a drinker unprepared for this level of intensity. However, these rough edges and high ABV are exactly why it’s ideal for aging, as a buddy and I recently discovered.
The other day, with feelings of curiosity and mild trepidation, I opened a 4-year-old bottle. Poured in roughly equal portions into two snifters, with perhaps a little extra for yours truly, call it a cellaring fee, the Russian Imperial’s odors emanated very promising chords of robust barley and striking chocolate. It’s one of those stouts which pours a brown chocolately head that after a few minutes turns white and foamy and it lingers deliciously. At this advanced stage the beer was truly dynamite. My mind was nearly blown to bits by how the harsher elements had smoothed out, as the chocolate and barley melded into an off-sweet, dark-cocoa cuveé, making the beer’s velvety texture seem even richer. This is a beautiful sipper and a beer to be enjoyed on its own – certainly share this one with your girlfriend – without food and not if you plan on being social.
My pal couldn’t believe that my individual bottle, still bearing its price tag, had retailed for only $3.25. A four pack is currently $13 at Whole Foods, a steal.
This is truly one of the best imperial stouts on the planet, especially if aged substantially. Four years of aging produced stunning results, to a powerful level probably experienced by many first-time listeners to “Strawberry Fields” or “Elanor Rigby” especially around the time of those songs’ initial release. But I’m sure that 2-3 years of aging will be ample time to unlock this beer’s massive potential.
Maybe start by purchasing a four pack and drinking one now – in its first-year form it’s still excellent, especially if you’re used to massive stouts – and cellaring the rest. On bottles meant for cellaring I place an orange sticker bearing the handwritten two-digit year. It’s hard to wait on beer this good.
- M. Sheppard