Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Founders Brewing Company enters the Indiana market.

Cavalier Distributing (Indianapolis) is about to introduce ales from Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Happily, my newly appointed sales rep dropped off four different Founders brands, and I’m equally happy to report that each is well made and worthy of the growing reputation enjoyed by Michigan microbreweries.

The brewery began operations in 1997, and has an annual capacity in the range of 4,000 barrels. In Grand Rapids, there is a brewery taproom and live music on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

But I'm not in Grand Rapids. On to the bottles.

Founders Dry Hopped Pale Ale
American-style Pale Ale from the Cascades template, which is not to demean by any means. There is accomplished balance between the malt and hops, with a hint of lime defining the citrus character. Can Sierra Nevada’s yardstick Pale Ale be beaten by Founders’s price point? If not, it’s hard to imagine where this one fits, but I’ve been told that the half-barrel pricing actually is going to be below Sierra’s. Worth watching.

Founders Black Rye
“Dark ale” says the bottle, and “American Brown/Brown Porter” says the aroma of chocolate and a pleasantly roasted flavor that offers a tease of rye before yielding to a mild finishing hop bite. Rye possesses the potential to add an intriguing dimension to several conventional beer styles, with the problem being that brewers can’t use enough of it owing to the absence of a husk and subsequent problems with muddiness during the sparge. Strangely, this ale reminds me of what Pete’s Wicked Ale once thought it was, but wasn’t then, and is even less now.

Founders Centennial IPA
Reminiscent of Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA in the sense of body and an amber orange color, and now that Bell’s Two Hearted Ale has dropped a point in alcohol percentage (from just over 7% abv to 6% abv), and accordingly tastes lighter in the mouth, Founders has one of the better standard-gauge IPA’s to emerge from Michigan.

Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale
The nose is malty sweet with perhaps a hint of peat, nothing more. Once again, an obvious respect for the virtues of balance has rounded the sweet malty edges with enough peat and hops to keep the ale from being cloying. A very credible imitation, lacking the fruity esters of British Isles yeast strains and vaguely burned toffee quality of the best classic Scotch Ales, but quite tasty for those preferring the sweet malt accent.

In summary

Of the four Founders ales sampled tonight, only the Dirty Bastard stands a chance of being added to the Rich O’s bottle list. Affordable and representative Scotch Ales are difficult to find, while even at a slightly more favorable price point, the Pale Ale and IPA would likely be lost in the shuffle at Rich O’s.

Black Rye is a toss-up; there’s not enough rye character to qualify as a rye specialty, but perhaps a space in the rotating bottle selection can be found. Again, price point is very important here. Only the Pale Ale is below 7% abv, but the other three brands, although quite well done, are not sufficiently “extreme” to challenge Stone or Three Floyds in straight flavor comparisons.

At the same time, they’re all good. It’s all a matter of finding the proper niche, package and price.

My guess is that these ales in bottles are better aimed at package stores and off-premise accounts.

Draft is another story. I’m told that the Pale Ale will be the first point of emphasis as Founders enters Indiana, with the possibility of special order draft following shortly afterwards. I can see devoting a tap to several brands of Founders, assuming I’m allowed to cherry-pick according to my preferences.

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