Craft Beer of the Week

Founders Brewing Co. Expands Into Arizona

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Sorry, lost a bit of my journalistic reserve there. I'm just excited because Founder Brewing is coming to Arizona.

This brewery, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been churning out beers since its founding in 1997 -- but, until recently, only to the eastern half of the United States. A $26 million, 165,000-barrel expansion of its Grand Rapids taproom and production facility, however, has allowed the company to expand distribution quite a bit. When complete, the new space should bring Founders' total annual beer output to about 340,000 barrels per year, which would put it in the top 10 breweries by sales volume -- the brewery was number 30 on the Brewers Association's list of top breweries last year. The brewery announced its entrance into five new states, including Arizona, in March, and just started shipping its beer to jolly old England. It even has its own app, for fk's sake.

See also: Hangar 24 Craft Brewery Lands in Arizona

The rapid growth is exciting, especially considering the challenges Founders' founders, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, faced in the short period after opening the brewery's doors. Their initial offerings, according to the guys, were "well-balanced but unremarkable," and the brewery was on the verge of bankruptcy. That's when the Founders team decided to change course, focusing on brewing the beers that got them excited about brewing in the first place: complex, crazy, drop-your-pants kinds of brew. Today, Founders' philosophy states: "We don't brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us." Look again at that logo at the top of the page -- "Brewed for Us" is right at the top.

Arizona should be receiving a good number of those selfishly brewed beers. The first shipment will likely include the year-round stuff:

  • Centennial IPA: a 7.5 percent IPA brewed mainly with the namesake hop variety, Centennial, which lends the beer bursts of grapefruit and lemon zest.
  • Porter : a dark, rich, and sexy 6.5 percent ABV ale packed with dark chocolate, black coffee, and grapefruit flavors.
  • Pale Ale: A 5.4 percent ABV testament to Cascade hops. A draft-only, nitrogenated version of this beer also will be arriving.
  • Dirty Bastard: an 8.5 percent ABV Scotch ale brewed with seven different malts and packed with flavors and aromas of smoky peat, vanilla, caramel, raisins, and nutmeg.
  • All Day IPA: a balanced "session IPA," constrained to a reasonable 4.2 percent ABV for repeated drinking.
  • Red's Rye IPA: 6.6 percent ABV, brewed with four varieties of sweet Belgian malts and dry-hopped with funky, resinous Amarillo hops.
  • Nitro Oatmeal Stout: a draft-only 4.5 percent ABV stout brewed with flaked oats, roasted barley, chocolate malt and a healthy helping of Nugget hops.
The timing of Founders' entry into our market works out perfectly for beer geeks, as April 1 also marks the yearly release of the brewery's most applauded and highly sought-after brew: KBS.

KBS, short for Kentucky Breakfast Stout, pours a thick, inky black with absolutely zero light penetration. A densely packed head the color and consistency of brown sugar gives off the aroma of the coffee aisle at the supermarket -- notes of sweet vanilla, caramel, and irish cream mingle with bitter dark roast coffee, rye, dark chocolate, and macadamia nuts. The bourbon is just strong enough, perfectly balanced with myriad other carousing odors. The taste is the nose incarnate but heavy on the nuttiness and vanilla, with some extra notes of Irish cream. A bourbon heat singes the throat on the way down, though notes of oak and cocoa nibs distract from the pain, and the brew finishes sweet, with only a very slight bitterness.

Now, there's no guarantee this 10.5 percent ABV, bourbon barrel-aged coffee stout will make it to our state this year. But if it does arrive, you'd do well to get some, as well as pretty much any other Founders beer. Get excited, Arizona.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle