The Battle of the Coffee Beers: Founders vs. Bell’s

Photo by Jane Bruce.

In craft beer circles (which, yes, is kind of a terrible way to start a sentence!), there aren’t a lot of beers more universally agreed upon than Founders Breakfast Stout. Released each fall, even more so than the Oktoberfests that hit shelves earlier and earlier every year, it’s probably the truest signal that a new season is upon us: its notes of chocolate and coffee, not to mention its considerable warming alcohol presence, are the perfect compliment to the cold weather and a night spent tucked away in the corner of a dark bar.

On the Founders Brewing Company website, they refer to Breakfast Stout as “the coffee lover’s consummate beer.” And for a few years there, it was hard to argue: the coffee presence was the most striking aspect of the beer, especially if you consumed it fresh. But for the past two years, something has seemed a little different. The coffee has been less prominent, in both the aroma and the taste, with dark, slightly bitter chocolate instead taking center stage.

This is nothing to complain about, exactly. I want to drink a hundred of them every day for the rest of my life, basically. But I did find myself in search of a more coffee-forward beer. I’m a fan of Java Head stout from Troegs Brewing Company in Pennsylvania, but it’s tough to find it fresh around here, and the coffee is the first thing to fade. Now, though, I’m content—more than content… ecstatic, really—to have found the similarly named Java Stout by Bell’s, another renowned midwestern brewery that started distributing here earlier this year. They’ve made a splash with beers like their Two Hearted IPA and Oberon wheat ale, and I mentioned their stellar Expedition imperial stout just the other day. Java Stout, though, has been the biggest surprise, and probably the most uniquely amazing beer of theirs I’ve had the pleasure of sampling.

At 7.5% ABV, it’s a fairly hearty stout with a nice, thick mouthfeel and pleasant hints of dark chocolate and general roastiness. But you have to dig a little for all that—there’s actually so much coffee that it’s hard to pay attention to anything else. Talking to a co-worker about it recently, I described it as being akin to “sucking on a used coffee filter,” which I mean in the best possible way.

Still, though, both beers are very much worth your time. Founders Breakfast Stout is available in 4-packs for around $14, and 6-packs of Bell’s Java will set you back about $18. Find ’em on Beer Menus.

Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.


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