“Thank you, microbreweries, for making my alcoholism seem like a neat hobby.”
— Jimmy Fallon
Truer words have never been spoken. My neat hobby has led me to meet a lot of really cool people, see some really interesting places and experience some great brew with friends and family. One such place is Founders Fest, held every year at Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve never heard of Founders, or of many of their amazing, over-the-top beers. Opened in ’97, they have quickly grown to an annual production of approximately 30,000 barrels (that’s nearly 1 million gallons of beer, for you math students). Some of those barrels are their typical lineup of Porter (one of my favorite Porters), Red’s Rye Pale Ale and Dirty Bastard, up to their extremely delicious specialty brews such as KBS (One of my top 3 favorite), Devil Dancer, and Backwoods Bastard. Many of their creations have won highly recognized awards, sit toward the top of many “best beer” lists and are adored by craft beer lovers around the country. To make a long story short, this is one of the greatest breweries around.
Ok, enough of the history lesson and back to Founders Fest….
Held every year in June, Founders Fest features live music, great food and a huge lineup of delicious Founders brew. This was my first year going, so the wife and I booked our trip to stay downtown for the weekend and enjoy all that the Grand Rapids beer scene has to offer (ok, not all of it, but probably the best parts).
We arrived at the festival around 3:30, not much longer after they opened. At this time, it was still pretty warm out, the sun was beating down and not many people were there yet, making our entrance quick and pain free. First stop – the beer ticket booth, where you buy a number of tickets which allow you to purchase beer at the beer tent. Next up was the merchandise booth while there were still no lines to pickup a festival shirt; pretty cool shirts this year if you ask me. Finally, time for a beer! Every year they post most of their available lineup prior to the event, while keeping the very special brews a surprise. Here is what they had…
Red’s Rye PA
Founders Fest Wheat (our annual brewed-for-the-event specialty!)
All Day IPA
Not a bad lineup, and most of which I’ve had before. Although there were some exciting brews on that list, I was looking forward to the surprises they had in store, which were KBS, Cashew Mountain Brown and Kaiser Curmudgeon. I’m a huge KBS fan, it really is a fantastic beer, but this was my chance to enjoy a couple of special brews that I’ve never had before. My wife ordered a Blushing Monk (Belgian Raspberry Ale – 9.2%) and I had the Cashew Mt (11%, I’ve read the style to be an American Strong Ale, and Imperial Brown Ale, either of which could be correct).
The Cashew Mountain Brown is like nothing I’ve experienced in a beer before. When asked what it tasted like, I describe it as tossing a handful of cashews in your mouth and washing it down with a shot of bourbon – two things I enjoy. I sat under a tented area with my beer notebook and wrote a review, which I may or may not share with you all. Needless to say, it was very good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Blushing Monk my wife had was a flavor explosion of tart raspberries and carbonation. This was the first time either of us had it, and it was certainly good, but not something we normally drink. Founders has bottled this beer and it should be ready to purchase in the next week or two.
We finished our beers closer to the stage, listening to “A.B! & Coconut Brown” and “Steppin’ In It.” Not really my style, but it’s always fun listening to live music. After hydrating a bit, it was time for round two – Kaiser Curmudgeon.
Kaiser Curmudgeon is their regular “Old Curmudgeon” aged in bourbon barrels that were used to age Michigan maple syrup. This was another really great, complex beer. The base of Curmudgeon was there alright, but there was also a maple syrupy texture and taste, with a slow bourbon finish. This is not your dad’s Budweiser, this is a serious sipping brew. By this time, we had met up with Jeremy, the bar manager at Fiddler’s Hearth, and Cluck from a radio show that everyone in the South Bend area has heard of, except for me. They were both clearly have a very good time, also enjoying a Kaiser Curmudgeon.
Round 3: It was time to switch to something a little lighter, with about half as much alcohol – Founders All Day IPA. This was yet another first time brew for me and I continued to not be disappointed. All Day IPA is a newer beer, meant to be session-able (that’s craft beer-speak for “drink several in a row”) and for only being 4.6%, this little guy packed a huge flavor punch. Extremely crisp, citrusy and a bit thin on the mouthfeel, I can definitely understand why they picked the name. In a tweet, Founders told me that they will be bottling this sometime next year – I can’t wait!
While enjoying my IPA, we made our way over to the stage again for the musical stylings of “FBC All-Stars,” a band consisting of Founders employees and super-fan Zach Morris (I hear he goes by Mark-Paul Gosslaar now) jamming on older tunes such as Dylan’s “Everybody must get stoned” and Huey Lewis and The News “I want a new drug.” They actually weren’t bad, and it seemed like the crowd had a great time.
A couple of All Day IPAs later and it was time for us to move-on to another Grand Rapids hot-spot, Hopcat. Overall we had a blast at Founders Fest this year. These people know how to throw a party! Everything was great from the food, music, beer, even the porta-johns were plentiful and clean. Founders mentioned that this was their biggest year so far, and I definitely can’t wait until next year!