Founders KBS Espresso
BREWERY: Founders Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Grand Rapids, Mich.
STYLE: Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouot
ABV: 12 percent
IBU: n/a
PRICE: $7.99 (Pack of Four, $32)
RELEASE DATE: Nov. 15, 2019
AVAILABLE IN: 12-ounce bottles & 750ml bottles
Like a number of people probably reading this review, my first thought when I heard there was going to be a KBS Espresso was, “Wait, I thought there was already coffee in KBS, what is the point of going through the trouble of releasing another version that has more coffee in it?” Well, after actually drinking it, call me a believer. The espresso in the profile is both aggressive and assertive on the palate but is still nicely balanced by the creaminess and sweetness that is also present, especially as it warms up. Yes, the mouthfeel is a bit thinner than I would like—not usual for KBS—but I was concerned that this variant would be virtually indistinguishable from the original, but I can safely say I had nothing to worry about. Espresso stout lovers rejoice, you have found a go-to beer, assuming you can get ahold of it.
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There are very few people who have been drinking craft beer for an extended period of time who don’t know about the existence of Founders Brewing Co.’s KBS, or Kentucky Breakfast Stout. First released as a draft-only option in 2002 and in bottles in 2003, the 12.4 percent ABV imperial stout uses the company’s popular Breakfast Stout as its base before being aged for a year in bourbon barrels in old gypsum mines 85 feet under the ground at a temperature of 38-40 degrees Fahrenheit.

There have been many KBS releases over the years in different packaging formats—including on draft, in 22- and 12-ounce bottles—and the stout remained an annual limited release until it was added to Founders’ Barrel-Aged Series in 2017. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based brewery then announced that Kentucky Breakfast Stout would be added as a year-round release in February 2020.

Despite the massive popularity that the barrel-aged stout has enjoyed, Founders had never released a variant of KBS to the public, a fact that changed late last year.

In September 2019, Founders announced it would be shipping KBS Espresso, a 12 percent ABV imperial stout that is brewed with “a massive amount” of both coffee and chocolate before being aged in bourbon barrels for an entire year in caves. According to Founders, the variant is then aged on additional fresh coffee beans after being removed from barrels to give the coffee flavor “some extra oomph.”

“KBS gets its coffee fix in the very first variant to come from our beloved bourbon barrel-aged stout,” reads a post on Founders’s website. “Yes, KBS may already be brewed with coffee, but it gets some extra oomph when it’s aged on espresso beans after being removed from barrels. The result is a fresh and snappy coffee twist on our classic barrel-aged beer.”

Although the new beer was originally scheduled to be shipped this year, Founders then surprised fans with news that the release date of KBS Espresso packaged in both four-packs of 12-ounce bottles and 750ml bottles would be bumped up significantly and would consist of two different events: the first was held at the brewery’s Grand Rapids taproom on Nov. 15, 2019, while the second release were when bottles were shipped to retailers in mid-December.

Much like regular Kentucky Breakfast Stout, KBS Espresso pours a deep, dark black color with a finger and a half of tan head that sticks around for a while before eventually dissipating and leaving a thick ring behind. Aroma from the glass is full of overwhelmingly strong bitter espresso interspersed with bitter dark chocolate, vanilla beans, aged oak and slight bourbon, with the top two notes combining nicely and reminding me of the chocolate covered espresso beans that I enjoy from time to time.

Considering the aroma, I am not surprised when the first—and easily most dominant—flavor I taste on the palate is a rich, pleasantly bitter espresso note that is so strong it overwhelms almost any other flavor that might even think of showing itself for a short time. Eventually other flavors make themselves known, including cocoa nibs, molasses sweetness, vanilla beans, creamy oak, earth and an interesting—albeit fleeting—dark fruit note that I never could accurately place.

As it warms, the espresso fades into the background a bit, allowing more of the oak, bourbon, vanilla and molasses sweetness to really meld together into a rich and nuanced amalgamation of flavors is quite enjoyable. Carbonation remains high throughout, and while the mouthfeel is a bit thinner than I would like, KBS has never exactly blown me away in that regard, so I was not expecting much change. This would be a great beer to drink with a stronger cigar blend right after eating a steak.