GRAND RAPIDS — Curmudgeon’s Better Half is arriving just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Founders Brewing Co. announced this morning that Curmudgeon’s Better Half is the next release in the brewery’s Backstage Series, with availability Feb. 13.

Bottled in 750-milliliter bottles, there has been a great deal of anticipation and speculation on the upcoming Backstage release because of the success of the first two large bottle format releases: Blushing Monk and Canadian Breakfast Stout earlier in 2011. The purpose of the series is to bring some of Founders’ most sought after beers, which had previously been available primarily at the brewery taproom or at a few select events, to a much larger audience.

“It’s been a lot of fun to watch the beer enthusiasts speculate,” Founders’ President Mike Stevens said. “We really try to keep people guessing, but at the end of the day our focus has always been on making beers that over-deliver.”

Curmudgeon’s Better Half is a re-branding of the beer formerly known as Kaiser’s Curmudgeon, which has only been served at Founders’ taproom and in extremely limited draft distribution. Curmudgeon is an old ale brewed with molasses and aged on oak — it becomes Better Half after aging — for 254 days — in bourbon barrels that have more recently been aging Michigan maple syrup.

As a result, Curmudgeon’s Better Half is a bit sweeter than her miserly counterpart. Appropriately, the beer label depicts her holding a pitcher of syrup for the Curmudgeon’s breakfast, and is released at the perfect time of year to purchase for the Better Half in your life.

“The goal of the Backstage Series is to allow those beer enthusiasts who don’t have the ability to make it to our taproom an opportunity to experience some of the beers that, historically, have been limited to our taproom and a handful of high exposure events,” Co-Founder and Vice President of Marketing Dave Engbers said. “Although these beers are not brewed in large volume, it is our intention to distribute them to all of our markets.”

The company is not revealing any additional releases in the series, but Engbers said it would consist of many of the “popular one-offs and possible big experiments” that have been offered in the taproom over the years and have become favorites among patrons and brewery staff.

The company expects to release two additional products in the Backstage Series later in 2012.

The series is dubbed “Backstage” because the releases are limited — and a response to the brewery’s diehard fans.

“To us, it’s kind of using the brewery as the stage,” Engbers says, making these brews backstage. “Releasing small specialty batches is a great way for us to connect to our core beer enthusiast.”

Fifteen years in the brewing business is definitely cause for celebration. While Tim Suprise and the crew at Arcadia Brewing Company celebrated the accomplishment, we took a taste at Arcadia’s XV and 15 brews — which take the common traits of an Arcadia brew — and add a bit of a kick.
So, we’ll start with Arcadia XV. A brown ale with cherries aged in oak wine barrels, XV has sour and tartness at the forefront. It pours a deep reddish, brown with a slightly substantial foamy head. The first sniff is reminiscent of a Shock Tart with apparent grape, cherry and sour scents.
At first taste, the tartness is at the forefront, followed quickly by sour and cherry, and tempered by a slight maltiness. There are definitely wine-like qualities. Smooth and creamy, it is a very drinkable brew with some prickliness from its carbonation. Throughout, the cherries are very apparent (but likely this is on purpose) and it’s not done in an overwhelming way because the balance is there.
For an aged brew, XV is more drinkable for those who wouldn’t normally try aged beer. Overall, it’s a very likeable brew and one we’d crack open again. Cheers.
Now, the 15 Ale is best described as XV’s “evil stepchild.” While the cherries once again surrounded each sip, everything else is kicked up a notch. The smooth brew pours a very dark brown color with a low head, and contains smells of malt, nut and chocolate.
The taste is just what you would expect from the smell. All of the flavors are balanced throughout — nothing dominates the other. The malt, nut and chocolate are surrounded by a hint of cherry sweetness. This is much flatter than the XV, which you would expect with it being a bourbon aged brew. But unlike most bourbon beers, this one doesn’t burn — rather it contains a moderately smooth finish.

Fifteen years in the brewing business is definitely cause for celebration. While Tim Suprise and the crew at Arcadia Brewing Company celebrated the accomplishment, we took a taste at Arcadia’s XV and 15 brews — which take the common traits of an Arcadia brew — and add a bit of a kick.

So, we’ll start with Arcadia XV. A brown ale with cherries aged in oak wine barrels, XV has sour and tartness at the forefront. It pours a deep reddish, brown with a slightly substantial foamy head. The first sniff is reminiscent of a Shock Tart with apparent grape, cherry and sour scents.

At first taste, the tartness is at the forefront, followed quickly by sour and cherry, and tempered by a slight maltiness. There are definitely wine-like qualities. Smooth and creamy, it is a very drinkable brew with some prickliness from its carbonation. Throughout, the cherries are very apparent (but likely this is on purpose) and it’s not done in an overwhelming way because the balance is there.

For an aged brew, XV is more drinkable for those who wouldn’t normally try aged beer. Overall, it’s a very likeable brew and one we’d crack open again. Cheers.

Now, the 15 Ale is best described as XV’s “evil stepchild.” While the cherries once again surrounded each sip, everything else is kicked up a notch. The smooth brew pours a very dark brown color with a low head, and contains smells of malt, nut and chocolate.

The taste is just what you would expect from the smell. All of the flavors are balanced throughout — nothing dominates the other. The malt, nut and chocolate are surrounded by a hint of cherry sweetness. This is much flatter than the XV, which you would expect with it being a bourbon aged brew. But unlike most bourbon beers, this one doesn’t burn — rather it contains a moderately smooth finish.


We sit down with founder and president Tim Suprise, of Arcadia Brewing Company, about the first 15 years of his brewery and expansion plans for the future.

While it may have looked like an ordinary day at Arcadia Brewing Company on Saturday, celebration was in the air.

That’s because the downtown Battle Creek brewery and restaurant celebrated 15 years in the beer business, making Saturday a day founder Timothy Suprise wasn’t certain he’d ever see.

“There were plenty of times you think that you’ve turned the corner and you still have a number of challenges ahead of you,” Suprise said. “There’s been a lot of twists and turns, but thankfully over the last few years we’ve had some excellent growth and that’s helped us to stay in the business for the long haul.”

During the brewery’s 15th Anniversary Party — a Scottish/Highland-themed Christmas celebration — patrons were entertained through the Yard of Ale Contest, a Celtic band and bagpipe music. The day also included Suprise’s annual recitation of Robert Burns’s “Address to a Haggis.”

“It’s our way of celebrating another year in the beer business,” Suprise said.

Of course, there was also the beer. Arcadia’s XV Anniversary Ale and 15 Anniversary Ale were limited edition sour browns available only at the party. Both brews were aged with cherries — the XV with wine barrels and the 15 with bourbon barrels. Additionally, three special taps were available at different times of the day, including Cereal Killer Barleywine, Russian Imperial Stout and Shipwreck Porter.

An English Barleywine with full-bodied malts and flavors of raisin and dates, Cereal Killer had hints of citrus-like hop bitterness. The Russian Imperial featured coffee, bitter-sweet chocolate and black licorice flavors with a hint of prunes. Lastly, Shipwreck was a Baltic-style porter aged for 12 months in a 10-year-old Kentucky bourbon oak barrel.

All in all, the day was reason to celebrate for Arcadia, a milestone for a brewery that Suprise now sees continuing its success in the next 15 years and well beyond.

“I think anyone who starts a business hopes and intends of their business to make it for the long term, but sometimes it’s a little bit more challenging,” he said. “We’re grateful for sure to be able to celebrate 15 years and also to do it in this community in Battle Creek. This has been a very good town for us.”

For the fourth straight year, crowds flocked to DeVos Place to attend the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival last week. And while wine and food were featured strongly, craft beer showed its ever-increasing presence at the event.

In its second year, the Craft Beer Hall showcased breweries from around Michigan, featuring everything from staple beers to unique fall and winter flavors. The festival ran Thursday to Saturday, drawing in an estimated 10,000 attendees.

One of the beers I was most excited to try during my visit Friday was from Traverse City’s North Peak Brewing Company. This past summer, they introduced Archangel — a crisp summer ale with loads of flavor. Following Archangel’s introduction, North Peak came out with Dark Angel Cherry Porter (5% ABV) this fall, which is just as it sounds.

Its dark cherry flavor gives way to the Cherry Capitol’s leading industry, and with its minor amount of hops it brings an interesting twist to the well-known flavor. The brew poured dark mahogany with a small head, and had a hint of cherry smell to it. If you’ve ever imagined tart cherries paired with a dark porter, this brew does very well at defining that.

One of the most impressive brews was from one of the oldest breweries in the state — Frankenmuth Brewery. While I was somewhat apprehensive to try its Pilsener (5.25% ABV) brew, I was overwhelmed by the crispness and subtle flavor that it contained. It definitely makes for a great summer brew in my book, featuring a slight citrus flavor with a low hoppiness. It poured a light gold transparency, with spring-like, floral smells.

Hints of woodsy and cinnamon flavors left Frankenmuth’s Munich Dunkel (5.1% ABV) best described as earthy. Smooth, it had a low head, pouring bronze, and had a slight bitter finish. It, in a sense, defined “the great outdoors.”

Dark Horse Brewing Co. brought the most beer to the event, including some of its holiday and seasonal specialty brews. One Oatmeal Stout Ale (8% ABV) was my favorite of the night — featuring a dark chocolate flavor that makes it the perfect brew for the winter season. The stout was perfectly black, pouring with a low head, and held a bit of a scotch flavor as well.

Dark Horse also served its Scotty Karate Scotch Ale (9.75% ABV), a strong brew with a heavy fruit and spice aroma. The flavor was slightly fruity and had a caramel front to it, finishing a bit bitter. This cloudy, dark amber brew poured with a medium head, featuring very full flavors that didn’t linger too long, but left a slight bitterness on the tongue.

Tri-City Brewing Company also brought an impressive number of beers. I tried the Brownhoist Brown Ale (4.8% ABV), and was instantly hooked. This was definitely my favorite of the event. The smells of nut and caramelized almonds immediately drew me in to the brew, only to be met with chocolate, caramel and a heavy almond-vanilla flavor.

I’ve always been a fan of brown ales, but the Brownhoist was like none other I’ve had — it held an immense amount of flavor that was both welcoming and satisfying. Sitting around the fire on a cold winter night, this is the beer I want to have in my hand.

 

 

GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Brewing Co. and Epic Planks announced the release of their collaborative skis and snowboards this week.

“Founders and Epic Planks have so much in common,” says James Barber, one of the owners of Epic Planks. “We’re both about enjoying life and being more than just a couch decoration.”

Founders has been committed to supporting innovative and unique active lifestyle initiatives for years — sponsoring a local bike team, helping kick off the inaugural Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Races earlier this year and donating $20,000 to Grand Rapids Whitewater, a local nonprofit attempting to restore the Grand River to its natural state. They saw the collaboration with Epic Planks as an opportunity to support winter sports nationwide.

“We really respect what these guys are doing,” Founders Brewing Co. President and CEO Mike Stevens said. “We only use the best ingredients in our brewery, because we know that’s what’s going to make the best beer, and Epic Planks has the same philosophy with the materials they use to make their boards and skis. A quality product takes priority over profitability and efficiency for both of our businesses.”

Founders Vice President of Marketing and co-founder Dave Engbers added that “the partnership just made sense.”

The snowboard in the new Founders line comes in the Stash Park and Stash AMP models and incorporates artwork from Founders’ winter seasonal Imperial IPA, Double Trouble ($425 retail for both boards, including tax).

The skis come in either Epic Planks’ first model and flagship, the Crop Duster, or the Vaporizer, and are designed based on Founders’ newest year-round beer, All Day IPA, which will be released in February 2012 ($745 retail for Crop Duster, $690 retail for Vaporizer — both include tax).

The first round of pre-orders must be turned in by Nov. 15 for delivery in January 2012. Orders are accepted at the Founders company store and their online gear site. Other stores may carry the skis in the future.

Those who are in the greater Grand Rapids area are invited to the taproom on Jan. 3 at 6 p.m., to pick up their skis and/or boards, snag some giveaways, and enjoy a one-of-a-kind, yet-to-be-announced, winter-sports-themed Founders beer on tap for a limited time.

 

 

Seldom do I find a beer that balances has the right measure of alcohol flavor versus sweetness. Founders Brewing Co.’s fall specialty brew, Backwoods Bastard, not only balances the two, but all of its ingredients.

As I cracked open the oak-aged four-pack I had purchased, I knew this was going to be a special brew. Pouring a deep, dark brown color with hints of redness, there was a minimal head that held a heavy bourbon smell. I could recognize a minor fruit smell as well. I’ve always been a fan of oak-aged, bourbon-barrel brews, so it was only natural for me to be instantly attracted to the richness I smelled.

The bourbon flavor was the first I noticed when I sipped. It wasn’t overpowering, which it often can be with aged brews. But it was the lingering flavors that impressed me the most.

Being Halloween weekend, I already had a sweet tooth. Brewed annually each November, Backwoods Bastard advertises itself as having sweet caramel, nut and malt flavors, so it was right up my alley.

The sweetness isn’t over the top — it’s a perfect balance of bourbon and sweet flavor. The maltiness was the most impressive to me — this was a very evident taste at the end that was the perfect ending for the brew, similar to what you would taste from chocolate malt balls. And as I sipped more, I could taste the sweet caramel and nuttiness, as well as a hint of vanilla.

In a sense, it was the perfect adult Halloween drink.

Now mind you, this isn’t your average night on the town beer. This is special — at 10.2% ABV it’s certainly a sipping beer and one I  say is best to stick with one serving per sitting. Served best a bit above normal refrigerator temperatures (between 45 and 50 degrees), Backwoods Bastard pleases the senses in the best way possible. No flavor is over-dominating — everything balances very well.