The last Friday of January, Jungle Jim's welcomed Dave Engbers of Founders Brewing to host a tasting of his brewery's beers, including several beers rarely or never seen outside of the Founders Taproom.
I chatted with Dave prior to the start of the tasting. What a great guy--warm, friendly, more than happy to talk about his brewery. He talked about the tap room being a proving ground for new beers, that they will try out a recipe for a new beer, gauge the response, then tweak the recipe again. They brew the experimental beers mainly in 20 barrel batches, which Dave explains lasts about 4 weeks. This time frame is long enough that they can see how many repeat orders they get for the beer, once the newness factor wears off. He noted that Red's Rye was formulated in this manner, expect that in the tap room it was dubbed RyePA.
During the tasting, Dave also talked a good bit about the company history. Not long after he graduated college, he and a buddy decided to change course and start a brewery. They began small and, at first, brewed the sorts of traditional brews typical of microbreweries. As they watched small breweries around them go under, and as they say America's tastes start to change, they adapted their business model, brewing big, more adventurous brews. Today, it is these brews for which they are known. (Their Kentucky Breakfast Stout is number 4 on BeerAdvocate's top beers, their regular Breakfast Stout is number 11).
Dave Engbers guards the Dry Hopped Pale AleThe brewery is still somewhat small, although they just doubled their capacity and will soon be brewing about 8000 barrels a year. Distribution is still relatively modest, too. I wouldn't expect that to change wildly, even with the enlarged capacity. Instead, they seem to be committing to quenching the desire locally--last year they were only able to fill about 60% of the orders that came in. Great news for those of us in the Great Lakes region!
The beer list was fantastic. A little shorter than the usual Jungle Jim's tasting (they usually include 10 beers), but this one made up for any perceived shortcomings in uniqueness (two of the beers were small batch beers, served for the first time outside of the tasting room) and in punch (the beers started at 6.2% abv, with several between 8% and 10%).
- Dry Hopped Pale Ale--round hop aroma that was floral and crisp; malty, but the citrus hop flavors upstage the malt; clean finish
- Centennial Ale--bigger than the dry hopped, with a HUGE Centennial citrus hop aroma; overall taste is much more balanced than the aroma would suggest, with a bittersweet finish
- Dirty Bastard (draft)--I was anxious about this beer, given the lackluster impression when I reviewed it several months ago. At the time, I wondered if the bottle I'd picked up hadn't gone bad. Now I'm certain that was the case. This version of the beer tasted nothing like the earlier beer I'd tried. It was huge, sweet, and well-rounded, with hints of plum and raisin. Lots of hop flavor, and not much peat, but very solid, well-rounded. I'll have to pick up another bottle at some point soon.
- Red's Rye--I've had several rye beers before, but nothing quite like this. With 11% rye in the mash, the beer has a reddish coloring and a crisp, grainy taste. The Amarillo hops give it a huge grapefruit flavor.
- Double Trouble Imperial IPA (draft)--Only a handful of kegs are available of this very limited release beer. Brewery Jeremy Kosmicki and his father brewed this IIPA one weekend. The hops give it a huge, hop-cheese nose, and the taste is bitter without being one-dimensional. Glad to have tried it.
- Blushing Monk Belgian Razz (draft)--another tap room exclusive. This beer was loosely based on the Rubaeus, on overload. I'm not generally a fan of fruit beers, but this was something else. Nearly like a raspberry sorbet--clean, refreshing, a 10% abv palate cleanser.
- Breakfast Stout (draft)--I was lucky enough to grab a 4-pack at an earlier tasting, so I'd had this legendary beer before. However, it was even better on tap--enough so that I grabbed a growler for a later date.
Nathan, Jason, and Scott with Breakfast Stout