When you have been around as long as Founders Brewing Co., it is natural that you would become known for certain releases.
Mention the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based brewery to a casual fan and certain beers are bound to come up in the conversation: not only limited releases like Canadian Breakfast Stout, but also perennial favorites such as All Day IPA, Breakfast Stout and Harvest Ale.
However, another one of Founder’s creations would most likely be near the top of that aforementioned theoretical list: Kentucky Breakfast Stout, otherwise known as KBS. 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.
Despite the massive popularity that the barrel-aged stout has enjoyed in multiple packaging formats over the years—including on draft, as well as in 22- and 12-ounce bottles—it was a well-known fact that in all the years that it existed, Founders had never released a modified version of KBS to the public.
That changed in September 2019, when 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 was then aged on additional fresh coffee beans after being removed from barrels to give the coffee flavor “some extra oomph.”
However, it turned out that Founders was not done: in June 2020, the brewery announced another variant of its popular barrel-aged stout, this time incorporating an adjunct Founders had used in multiple beers over the years. Dubbed KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge, the newest incarnation is an 11 percent ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels and brewed with both Mackinac Fudge coffee and maple syrup.
“We’ve been enjoying beers brewed with the Mackinac Fudge coffee in our taproom for years, and now we’re finally bringing that treatment to KBS,” said Jeremy Kosmicki, brewmaster at Founders, in a press release. “It takes the chocolate flavor traditionally found in KBS to a whole new level. Add in a hint of maple syrup and now you have an elegant, yet explosive new flavor experience.”
KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge is packaged in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles ($24) that were released at the brewery’s taprooms on Oct. 8, with additional bottles shipping to retailers nationwide—other than the state of Mississippi—later that same month.
KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge pours a deep, dark black with half finger of khaki-colored head that eventually dissipates, leaving nothing behind other than a small ring around the rim of the glass. Aroma from the top of the glass is a combination of freshly brewed coffee, malts, bitter dark chocolate, generic nuts, creamy oak and slight maple sweetness.
From the first sip, I know I am going to love this beer as I taste the extremely distinct flavors of baker’s chocolate mixed with maple syrup on the palate along with more reserved notes of oak, dark fruit and slight black pepper. However, while the flavors on the palate are all about nuance, the bitter flavor of freshly-brewed coffee that dominates the finish is easily aggressive enough to rise to the top of the profile, albeit not strong enough to take the top spot.
As it warms, the dominant flavors switch places: a very distinct baker’s chocolate and oak combination—along with significantly more maple syrup sweetness—is now dominating the finish, while the palate is inundated by the freshly-brewed coffee note. There some new flavors of earth and creamy nuts noticeable as well, but neither are strong enough to really make much of an impact on the profile as whole. The mouthfeel is heavier than I expected and includes some very spritely carbonation, but the alcohol presence is well-hidden, almost to a fault.