The craft beer world is nearly as driven by message board buzz, calculated pre-release hype and gimmicky distribution techniques as the music world, and the Backstage Series by Michigan’s always outstanding Founders Brewing Company has produced some of the most talked about and sought after brews of the past couple years. The most notable beer in the series so far was their Canadian Breakfast Stout, which took their already delicious, and impossible to find, bourbon barrel-aged Kentucky Breakfast Stout (just KBS if you’re a nerd) and aged it for an additional year in maple syrup barrels. It was released in extremely limited quantities, and you’ll likely never see a bottle of it in a store. There’s one on eBay right now, and it’s already up to $119.50, with 14 bids and more than two days left. Take that, Third Man Records.
This past Monday, Founders released their newest beer, Frangelic Mountain Brown, a 9% ABV brown ale they brewed with hazelnut coffee. Your stance on whether it’s a worthy addition to the series will depend pretty much solely your opinion of hazelnut coffee. I’ve always found hazelnut annoyingly overbearing, the kind of flavor you might add to your coffee if you don’t really like the taste of coffee. The way it’s used in Frangelic Mountain Brown isn’t quite so heavy-handed, but it’s certainly the dominant ingredient.
The aroma is just this crazy, one-note blast of pure hazelnut syrup—if you really bury your nose in there and focus, focus, focus, you might pick up on some of the caramel maltiness common to the brown ale style, but you also might just be full of shit. It’s straight hazelnut, and it’s actually really strange. Things get a bit more interesting when you taste it—upon first sip, it will seem every bit as simplistic as the aroma. But as it warms—and you really should let this one warm up a bit—you’ll get more of what you’d expect from Founders: sweet malts, hints of actual coffee, some chocolate and a good amount of vanilla. It’s well carbonated and medium bodied, coating the mouth without being syrupy. There’s also practically no sign of alcohol, which is impressive given its high ABV.
So is it really what you should drink this weekend? Well, if you can find a bottle and you’re willing to drop $20 for it, yes, I think you should pick it up. It’s an unusual tasting beer, and there’s something exciting about knowing you’ll probably never have another chance to buy it. So what if there’s perhaps one squirt of hazelnut too many?
Where to buy it: Bierkraft, Breukelen Bier Merchants, Brouwerij Lane and Eagle Provisions are said to have gotten shipments. Call ahead, I'd say.