The Beer Nut: Founders' keepers worth a taste

Norman Miller

The Founders Brewing Company has taken a large hit with the hop shortage this year.

The Michigan brewery for years has brewed perhaps the most intensely hoppy double India pale ales on the market. Soon, though, no one will be able to buy them.

"The bad news is, Devil Dancer will not be brewed this year," said Founders founder Dave Engbers. "We use so many hops in the product and in a hop crisis like this, we just couldn't do it."

For those who don't know, hops are a plant added to beer to act as both a preservative and a flavoring agent. Depending on the variety, hops can add citrus, grapefruit, pine and other flavors.

The loss of Devil Dancer, though, is pretty much the only bad news for Founders.

The brewery's capacity is growing each year and has recently expanded.

The expansion - from 155,000 gallons of beer to 372,000 gallons - will allow the brewery to bring back several old favorites, while increasing the production of some of its more popular offerings.

And Founders' good news, is good news to better beer drinkers everywhere.

Without a doubt, Founders is one of the best breweries in the country, and more availability is nothing but a good thing.

"We're at a great time in our industry," said Engbers, who started the brewery in 1997 with partner Mike Stevens. "We're fortunate to be in an industry where craft brew enthusiasts will seek out the beers they really like."

It is hard to pick out the best Founders beers pretty much all of them are spot on for the style but it is the stouts that stand above the rest.

Both the Kentucky Breakfast Stout and the Breakfast Stout are simply incredible beers but do suffer from a misconception.

"A lot of people think the Breakfast and the Kentucky is the same liquid, and the only difference is one is barrel-aged," Engbers said.

But, that is not the case. The Breakfast Stout is a high-alcohol oatmeal stout brewed with several types of chocolates and coffee, making a richly complex beer.

The Kentucky Breakfast Stout is an imperial stout brewed with chocolate and coffee and aged in bourbon barrels for a year. The beer is released each March, and sells out quickly.

"That's kind of neat," said Engbers. "It has a bigger reputation than our capacity."

While increased capacity will not mean more Kentucky Breakfast Stout, there will be more Breakfast Stout brewed.

The beer is released in September, and typically sells out in a few weeks. This year, Engbers said Founders plans to brew enough to last through the holiday season.

This year, Founders will also bring back its imperial stout, which will be brewed later this year, and will reintroduce its porter for the first time in four years.

"When we first started having some capacity issues, the porter was kind of the low man on the totem pole," said Engbers. "Porter was the one we decided we had to cut loose and that made us feel sad."

Although the brewery will not brew Devil Dancer, it will still produce two excellent IPAs.

The Red Rye will be renamed Red's RyePA. It's an IPA brewed with rye.

"To me, Red's Rye is what beer should taste like," said Engbers. "I tell people, 'I'm not supposed to have a favorite beer, but to me, Red's RyePA is my lunch beer."'

The other IPA is the Centennial IPA, which is brewed with Centennial hops. It is the brewery's second largest seller.

The top seller is the Dirty Bastard, a malty, scotch-style ale. Engbers credits the Dirty Bastard with changing the direction of Founders.

"After three or four years, we started seeing our sales were not where they needed to be," he said. "We stood back and said we need to do something different. We brewed the Dirty Bastard because no one else was brewing a scotch ale in the state. That was the first instance where the light bulb went on and we thought brewing big beers may not appeal to the masses, but that may be the way to go for us."

Other Founders beers include Curmudgeon Old Ale, a malty ale brewed with oak chips; Rubaeus, a 12.3 percent alcohol by volume beer brewed with raspberry puree; and Backwoods Bastard, which is the Dirty Bastard aged in bourbon barrels.

"Everyone tries to find their own path," said Engbers. "Everyone has their own niche."

Founders beers are available at Warehouse Wine & Spirits in Framingham, Kentucky Spirits in Natick, Julio's Liquors in Westborough, Hickey's Liquors in Milford and Friendly's Discount Liquors in Whitinsville.

Norman Miller is a MetroWest Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog at