GRAND RAPIDS — Over the weekend, Founders Brewing held the first installment of what will become an annual event — the Founders Firkin Freezeout.
Featuring 50 firkin beers, brisk late morning weather didn’t stop a few dozen hearty people from waiting in line for the opening of the taproom doors.With the sun shining and promises of never-before-tasted beers ready to be revealed, the crowd quickly swelled into the hundreds outdoors in the new beer garden. The gorgeous gas fireplaces and several patio heaters took the chill out of the air.
Ice sculptors from Chops Ice, LLC entertained the all-ages gathering with their carving skills. Using a variety of tools from picks to chain saws, the duo skillfully crafted blocks of ice into works of art. Coincidentally, both men are also employees at Founders — Shawn Winnell a Cellarman, and Kevin DeVries a bartender.
The event began at Noon with six firkins tapped initially and a plan to replace each one as they were emptied. Demand eventually boosted the number of firkins flowing to eight at a time.
John Merizon, Retail Beer Coordinator, had carefully crafted a schedule for the day but he admitted it “went out the window” as the event progressed quicker than anticipated.
He began the lineup with a few brews more suited to the early hour, and planned to progress into the heavier spiced beers, like Dirty Bastard with Arbol and Tien Tsin peppers, as the day went on. Thirsty enthusiasts waited patiently in the bar area in hopes of nabbing a sample or pint of the brews they coveted. Much sharing between friends made it easier to attempt to taste all of the offerings, a feat that may have been accomplished with the right combination of timing, luck, and perseverance. By 9 p.m. all the firkins were dry.
Brewhouse Cellarman/Shift Brewer Matt Blodgett (aka Baron of Firkins) had creative control over the beers served during the festival.
Reaching the goal of 50 different beers required using nearly half of the 102 firkins and both of the pins in his cooperage. Having worked on the project for about a month, he and his team produced some excellent variations of standard Founders favorites.
Only a small fraction of the firkins contained beer that had been enjoyed previously in the taproom. The rest were new creations made especially for this event. All Day IPA was dressed up with several different hop additions such as Chinook, Simcoe and Amarillo. Centennial IPA formulations included one with Jasmine Tea, and another with bourbon soaked oak chips. Orange extract was added to a firkin of Red’s Rye to create an unusually sweet concoction; bourbon oak chips were added to another. Ruby Crystal with lemon extract and Kaffir lime leaves could lead one to feel as if summer isn’t too far off.
Blodgett said playing with additions to the darker beers yields more fun results since lighter beers can only support so much manipulation before they’re overwhelmed. Many variations of Dirty Bastard and Porter wowed the crowd. The pin of Dirty Bastard with maple extract, vanilla beans and cinnamon was empty within 15 minutes of tapping. Porter with coconut extract and chocolate was dessert in beer form.
The most popular firkins will be made again in the future for the taproom’s weekly firkin tapping that takes place on Wednesdays at 5 p.m.