Well, another week, another flavorful brew from the Great Lake State of Michigan, odd since I’m about 1000 miles from there! This week I try Founder’s Brewery’s Dirty Bastard Ale … pardon the French, I didn’t name it, only drink it! Apparently there’s a lot going on up in the Automaking state.
A little background info finds Founder’s isn’t quite as old as Bell’s we looked at last week. Founder’s began in Grand Rapids in 1997. A couple of friends started it in a 9600 square foot brewery in the city center, and began brewing… run of the mill beers. A year later, they opened their own taproom in the building to sell their drinks, with the two owners doing double duty as bartenders. It was a hit…not.
They teetered on the verge of bankruptcy for a year or two before making a bold decision about bold beer. Simply brewing ordinary lagers that taste like every other big beer in a small building isn’t cost-efficient nor a way to distinguish themselves. In 2001 they decided to go big or go home – brew beers with “complex flavorful ales with huge aromatics and big body.” Not your daddy’s Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Things turned up for them after doing that. In 2004, their KBS was voted the second-best beer in the world by publication Beer Advocate. A couple of years after that, they were selling in the Carolinas and New Jersey as well as their home state. By 2010, they had 69 new employees, by 2015, over 300 more. In 2017, they opened a second taproom in Detroit. The bars host live music and trivia nights to enjoy while sipping the brews.
The brewery now puts out a wide range of beers, some seasonal , some year-round. They have stouts, “Brut” IPAs, even breakfast stouts and espresso-tinged ones. The one common element: strong, rich tastes unlike the multinational lagers. I’m impressed with their commitment to environmental issues, them being a supporter of charities like the Conservation Alliance and Grand Rapids Parks as well as attempting to make their buildings energy-efficient with initiatives like using hot water from brewing to help heat them.
Things got better for Founder’s when they decide to brew beers that had “personality” and Dirty Bastard was one of the ones that turned it around for them. They began brewing it in 2002 and it’s now one of their mainstays. A strong 8.5% alcohol, this is not for the faint of heart, beer-wise.
I popped open a 12 ounce bottle with a late lunch of some take out fried chicken and fries and a strong jalapeno. The first thing I noticed was how heady it was when I poured it and the deep red color. It reminded me a bit of Rickards Red, a tasty bev I favored back in Canada, but a bit darker. Definitely unexpected in an American brew anyway. The brewery describe it as “seven varieties of imported hops complex in finish, with hints of smoke and peat paired with a malty richness.” I don’t know exactly what peat is supposed to taste like (and “mossy” doesn’t explain it away much better) but this was a surprisingly smooth beer. The seven hops certainly gave it a strong flavor but it was smooth and not very bitter. In fact, much like last week’s choice, this one had some sort of sweet underlying taste – a touch of Michigan maple or chocolate even perhaps.
Again, a strong beer that seems perfect for a winter night or with a hearty hot dinner, or perhaps even to have with a nice warm slice of apple pie; probably not the drink for a hot summer afternoon when you have things to do still on the agenda or if you prefer your beers to imitate the contents of one of those thousands of clear Michigan lakes.
All in all, I give it 8 out of 10 for flavor, 7 out of ten for strength (8.5% is nice but means often one is enough!) and overall,
four and a half Hot Rods out of 5!