When you think of Founders Brewing Company, you may think of their famous session IPA, experimental taproom beers, or big, bold, barrel-aged beers. You might even think of all of the above. What you probably don’t think of are fruit ales.
Founders is no stranger to throwing their beloved brews into a barrel. From the sincerely revered KBS to the recent Lizard of Koz release, the brewery has shown a knack for patience and persistence when it comes to time spent in the barrel.
Picking up where the former Backstage Series left-off, their newest addition to the Barrel-Aged Series is Frootwood, a cherry ale aged in oak barrels. But not just any old oak barrels. These particular barrels held not only bourbon at one point, but also maple syrup.
If you're thinking Canadian Breakfast Stout, stop right there. Despite the maple, Frootwood is nowhere near on the same planet as CBS. That isn't a knock on Frootwood, but let's just be honest with ourselves and get that part out of the way.
Frootwood came from experimentation, much like their original barrel-aging effort, KBS. From the original Kentucky Breakfast Stout release in 2005 up until 2017 with the Frootwood release, there have been countless experiments and countless tinkering with beers in barrels, all hidden in the gypsum mines of Grand Rapids. And similar to the rest of their wide portfolio, Frootwood was done in a big manner, all over the spectrum.
“You’re not trying to use a barrel as something to save the fluid,” said Barrel Maestro, Jason Heystek. “You’re using the barrel to enhance the fluid and add flavors to it that you can’t get any other way.”
The result of using the barrel is what Founders describes as a “changed beer” where the wood stands strong and adds ample depth to the beer.
You put the right beer in the right barrel and you're going to create some pretty interesting flavors.”
Frootwood pours a surprising caramel color. The appearance has a copper hue with a reddish tint and the head is relatively minimal when pouring into a glass. The first sniff provides a mild cherry aroma on the nose and there's a very small hint of maple in there somewhere.
The beer's texture is a medium mouthfeel with a crispness from the body of the base beer, with the barrel adding in different elements like vanilla and a decent punch of booziness. The heat from the 8% alcohol by volume lingers in the aftertaste with the cherry and vanilla melded together.
A recently posted quote from Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki summed up Frootwood nicely: "It's up to us to really diversify, we can't just be limited to stouts...we have to push that envelope,” he said. “You put the right beer in the right barrel and you're going to create some pretty interesting flavors..."
And where would the beer world be without experimentation and pushing the limits? Probably still stuck drinking mega pilsners every weekend. And who wants that?
If fruity beers aren't your friend, this one might change your mind. The barrel does this beer a lot of favors in terms of balance. It truly warms the beer in all senses of the word. The tartness of the cherries are mellowed out nicely from the barrel. And although this brew is slightly weird by most people’s standards, it somehow all works out in the end.
Recommended drinking time on this beer is within 10 months, but it might be interesting to see how the flavors blend in time past that suggested time-frame.