On December 1, 2017, Founders Brewing Co. quenched the long-endured thirst of beer nerds internationally with the rerelease of CBS, otherwise known as Canadian Breakfast Stout. Originally released in 2011 on draft and in 22oz bottles, in 2014 in limited quantity as draft-only across the U.S., and quietly at random in their Grand Rapids taproom if you were in line at the right place at the right time, CBS’s reputation and allure have preceded it for years—and for good reason. I mean c’mon, its base beer is KBS, transformed and sweetened by being aged in bourbon barrels that also previously nestled maple syrup.
In what has been a rather impressive display celebrating their 20 years with zero regrets, CBS was Founders’ climax to the six beers they released this year as part of their newly branded Barrel-Aged Series. They teased the rumors that had already been subtly circulating for months that this elusive 11.7% stout was making an official return. Founders activated a creative way to connect to the masses via a respectably labor intensive social media campaign, unveiled first only to members of the Cadre.
Founders’ philosophy : “We don’t brew beer for the masses. Our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels…”
Francesca Jasinski, Founders’ Communications Manager, says, “We decided to form the Cadre as a way to reward our biggest fans with exclusive content, early access to news, opportunities to attend events and more.” While their Mug Club serves the local fan base, the Cadre, Jasinski explains, “is meant to serve our fans who are all around the country (and world). We recognize that many of them do not have the benefit of visiting the Taproom frequently enough to justify our Mug Club membership.
In an email sent to the 5,800 Cadre members on October 21, Founders told them, “Keep an eye on your mailbox – 1,000 of you will be receiving a package that contains a clue to what our sixth and final Barrel-Aged Series beer of 2017 is. Because you are our most loyal followers, we thought it would be fun to get you involved in the announcement process.” Founders snail-mailed out sets of mini flags—one Founders, one Canadian, and asked Cadre members to post photos of both flags to Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #FoundersBarrelAgedSeries. And finally, the rumors were true. Or, at least we could assume.
Since the launch of the teaser campaign, the Cadre grew to over 7,900 strong. Founders invited us to attend the CBS release party at their taproom on December 1, where we got to meet a few of them who were either in line early to get one of the first draft pours of CBS 2017 or to claim their allocation of two 750ml bottles per person of this 100-point bucket list beer of capped goodness.
Doug McDowall, 65, Brampton, Ontario, Canada, @dougzone
MittenBrew: I’d be surprised if you got up this morning in order to make the drive from Canada to be the first guests in line for the Taproom.
McDowall: It’s not a bad drive, five hours. We got in last night, and got a hotel in town. And once Founders pulled everyone from this line—those who got here way early so they could join their Mug Club—we were the lucky Canadians left at the front of the line.
Did you make the drive solely for the chance to have CBS on draft, or were you one of the lucky ones to who secured bottles in advance online?
Both. But, we’re going to try it first on draft to make sure it’s any good. [McDowall laughs.]
What are your plans for the bottles?
They’re going back to Canada. I’ll share one with my sons and grandsons and their wives during Christmas. The other will be cellared until, hopefully, Founders releases it again.
Why did you join the Cadre?
I think I remember hearing about it before KBS was released in 2016, and wanted to make sure I got the early news about future bottle releases first. After Founders announced the Barrel-Aged Series, I was anticipating that they’d hopefully announce CBS as the final installment.
Have you ever had CBS before?
[Laughing…] I’ve been to Founders four times—today, plus three previous trips for the annual KBS release party. When I was here in ‘16, you happened to interview me while you were filming Modern Ahabs, and were kind enough to tip me off that I should probably get in line immediately because Founders might be getting ready to tap a “certain rare Canadian” beer. So yeah, I’ve had it once before today, thanks to you. [McDowall smiles.]
Wow. I remember you, Doug. That’s awesome.
By chance, are you a Founders Mug Club member?
No, but that’s only due to proximity. However, getting the Cadre’s emails gives me the opportunity to decide whether or not I should make the trip. And, when it’s something like CBS, it’s worth the trip.
When are you heading home?
Right after lunch and a couple pours of CBS. We have to be back tonight for a concert in Windsor.
Being a Cadre member from Canada, Founders surely sent you the two flags as part of their social media campaign, right?
Sadly, no, but I would’ve been proud to receive and display them appropriately.
Before we interviewed Doug, who was proudly donning a red hockey sweater with a prominent white maple leaf, he was making friends with others in line by giving out little Canadian flag pins. Once we wrapped this assignment and before we left Founders for the day, we swung by his table in the Taproom to say goodbye. Steph Harding, MittenBrew owner/publisher and photog badass, casually gifted her two Cadre flags to Doug. It was a spontaneous gesture for a really good guy. Standing adjacent to both of them, I watched Doug’s eyes nearly tear up in sincere appreciation, and give Steph one of the warmest hugs I’ve ever seen. Then he made good on his word, and displayed both flags with honor in the middle of his table.
Mike Walton, 35, Grand Rapids, MI, @mwalton82
MittenBrew: You responded to Founders’ outreach to the Cadre, asking if members who received the flags would be hip to telling us about their experience. Why’d you join?
Walton: I was tipped off either by something Founders or a friend posted on Facebook. I wanted to be the first to know what’s going on—when beers are coming out, what unique events they’re hosting, what’s happening in the Taproom that I might otherwise miss as a casual guest.
I actually displayed them at home during Thanksgiving. And, some of the Likes I got on the photo on Instagram were from people I didn’t know, which I thought was cool.
How else have you taken advantage of what Founders offers to the Cadre?
I love the recipes they share. I’ve made their beer cheese, their Dirty Bastard turkey recipe. I love learning how to use their beer creatively with food. There’s a lot of educational value that the Cadre provides.
Has your name been picked for access to other special events or promotions for the Cadre?
I’ve definitely applied, but haven’t had my name drawn for anything else yet, but that’s cool. I get it—Founders is in demand. Everything they do is good stuff.
You got your two bottle of CBS. What are you going to do with them?
Share one with friends who might not be able to get any, and store the other for something special. I’m not stopping at two though. I’ll keep my eyes peeled around town for a few more.
Have you had CBS before?
Fortunately, yes, a few times. I’ve been in GR for almost 20 years, so when you’re in the Taproom at the right place at the right time and you see them slap the sign up on the draft list chalkboard, you don’t hesitate. You just order it. It’s a no-brainer.
Are you also a Mug Club member?
Not currently, but I’ll be here in line early next year to sign up.
Update: Mike stopped us later that morning to tell us that he did, in fact, end up snagging a spot in Founders’ Mug Club for 2018. But, we’re not supposed to tell his wife, so “Shh!”
Jacob Zars, 31, Grand Rapids, MI, @jacobzars
MittenBrew: You’re drinking out of an Founders Mug Club mug. This must not be your first rodeo.
Zars: No, sir. I’ve already renewed for the fourth year in a row. This mug is dedicated to my oldest son, and I’ll get my next mug etched in honor of my second son. My plan is to bring both boys to Founders for their first beer when they each turn 21 so they can immediately drink out of their own personalized mug which I will have had for nearly their entire lives.
And you’re a member of the Cadre?
Absolutely. I wanted to get those inside tips directly from the source instead of waiting for the rest of the world to hear it before me.
You got the flags, too?
I did, but… Before I got a chance to take a proper photo of them and post it to social media, my son got ahold of them, and… well, the rest is history.
How else have you engaged with Founders as a member of the Cadre?
I love having access to some of their invite-only experiences. I just went to their recent beer and cheese pairing, which was awesome. I love going to anything in the Centennial Room [Founders’ private event space on the second floor of the Taproom]. I even had my college graduation party and the rehearsal dinner for my wedding there. It’s just a great thing to be a part of—getting a chance at something that sometimes might not happen anywhere else.
What’s been your experience with CBS before today?
I’ve been really fortunate to have it a number of times. Of course, I was first attracted to it because… well… KBS. It’s just a natural progression.
What are your plans with your bottles?
Sharing them with friends and family. I’m also going to make the rounds to some of my favorite bottle shops around the city to pick up bottles for friends, including some guys I know in Canada who are already scouting 12oz bottles for me.
Any parting words for what sounds like a brewery you hold in high regard?
Founders has been near and dear to my heart for years. When you visit, it’s just the coolest place to gather with your family and friends, and you’re always surrounded by the friendliest faces.
Anthony Reed, 33, Grand Rapids, MI,
MittenBrew: You seem pretty excited to have just joined Founders’ Mug Club.
Reed: I’ve been trying to sign up for years, but kept missing my opportunity because of weddings out of town and other stuff that just comes up. But today’s been great! I got my first coveted spot in the Club, got to try the new batch of CBS on draft, and picked up a few bottles.
As Ice Cube would say…
Looks like you snagged four bottles of CBS. Where are they going?
Both my wife and I got tickets just in case I couldn’t track down any bottles elsewhere. I’ve also got a couple other bottles at the ready from some of my local stores that I keep a solid relationship with. And, I’ve already got plans to crack open at least one bottle at a Christmas party beer exchange next week. I’ll save one for my brother-in-law who’s always on the move with the Air Force, and the rest are going in the cellar for some sweet days to come.
Have you had CBS before today?
A few times. Easily one of my top five favorite beers. The first time was a few years ago at Founders’ Black Party. It absolutely blew my mind. I was hooked.
Why’d you join the Cadre?
We’re not exactly sure just how much CBS was brewed, kegged, and packaged this year (a lot more, it seems, than in years past, likely thanks to their recent barrelhouse expansion), but we’re okay with there still being some mystique surrounding how hard we’ll have to hustle to get our lips on some (more).