Quick Take: If you are expecting KBS with maple syrup, don’t. This is a boozy hot beer with a singular purpose of hitting the tongue with earthy sweet, syrupy malt and sugar. Although too decadent and young for me to really enjoy, I think some age would do wonders for it, it’s a beer rarely seen and one you should have if you get the chance. Just be sure to keep your expectations in check and you’ll probably find an enjoyable, but not mythically fantastic, beer that belongs next to the slew of other great Founders classics.
Brew Facts: CBS is part of Founders Backstage Series, an experimental brew program that has no set release schedule nor guarantee that any beer will be brewed more than once. Last brewed in 2011, Founders seems to be quietly sending limited quantities of CBS to their areas of distribution. I’m aware of only three locations in PA that have received a keg so far (Al’s of Hampden (Pizzaboy), Iron Abbey in Horsham, and Brass Rail in Campbelltown). Releasing in March is the Backstage Series Blushing Monk, a raspberry Belgian last brewed four years ago.
Appearance: I’m handed a tulip glass of what seems like 50-50 head to liquid ratio. As I let it warm, it dissipates to a retentive, finger-size head made of big bubbles the color of powdered cocoa mix. I swirl the glass and the solid lump of espresso foam bobs around like a raft, leaving minor lacing. What’s underneath is a deep, dark, evil black that has a tinge of cola brown on the edges. I expected a darker tan head, but a fine looking dark beer regardless. Dark beer is dark indeed.
Aroma: I take some sniffs (that’s right, I take’em!) and find layers of coconut, vanilla, wood, bourbon tinged molasses and brown sugar. It strikes me initially as hitting all around the aroma of maple, but doesn’t quite have that earthy sweet that would make me want to pour CBS on my waffles. As it warms, the coconut and vanilla goes into hiding and the maple does peaks out, but with a French toasty quality that is delectable. Although it is bourbon barrel-aged, it avoids the buttery, diacetyl smell that tends to be an element of a beer like KBS.
Taste/Mouth Feel: Finally warm, I sip. My mouth feels a flat, syrupy thick malt bomb of a beer. No real surprise there, but the sugary sweet, toffee malt doesn’t back off on continued sips. The diabetic creep is high with this one, oozing sticky maple syrup from every molecule. I know chocolate is added to the brew, but damn if I could tongue wrestle that specific flavor out of it. If it’s there, it’s snared under a sticky coating of maple that boarders honey levels of thickness. The coffee is a little more apparent, but dialing up the bitter roast would be a welcome counterbalance. The finish follows the sweet train and adds a big dollop of heat on the caboose. The sweetness and boozy combination is insanely decadent. There really isn’t much else to speak of as this isn’t a beer of layers, but one of singular, sugary purpose.
Final Thoughts: My final thoughts on this one are going to be a little longer than usual as this is a beer I have struggled with since drinking it. Part of that comes from expectations built on the back of Founders KBS. As someone that enjoys analyzing beer, I know it is important to regard a beer on its own merits, but I also realize that people don’t drink in a vacuum and our palates are constructed from the beers that came before.
Well an appreciation, not love, of KBS came long before I came face to glass with the mythically rare CBS. I can say that those anticipating KBS with a swirl of maple syrup as I did are bound to be disappointed. CBS is a beer that seems to be brewed from the ground up as a liquid shrine to brown sugar and maple sweet heat, hitting a big, boozy alcohol flavor akin to a shot of rum blended with chilled, earthy sweet tree sap.
My friend, a proud malt head, was impressed by it, easily accepting it as champion over KBS, but I’m not so sure. CBS wins points with a finish that is miles better than the chalky baker’s chocolate of KBS, but the greater depth of KBS’s flavor is lacking in CBS. For me, it’s a one trick pony and if you aren’t fully invested in that trick, CBS doesn’t have a lot to offer. As it stands, I love the aroma, like the finish, but I can’t get past the sugared malt and booze to makes up the bulk of the taste.
I can only speak to what I like, so in an odd move, I’m going to stand by my review but also tell you to disregard it. There are any number of reasons for me to feel as I do about CBS. Maybe my taste was clouded by expectation, maybe my palate is shifting away from malty sweet bombs, or maybe it just needs some age to really bring it together. Regardless, it’s a finely crafted beer and any beer head with the chance to try it shouldn’t care a lick what anyone else says about it. Drink it.
It gets a little trickier if you are going out of your way to get it. If there’s any way this review can be helpful, it might be this. I drove an hour and a half just to get a 5oz pour and two hours home in a snow storm. I’d still make that trip without hesitation. However, if I have a similar chance to have this vintage of CBS again this year, I can’t say I would. But, put some age on it and I think you could have a spectacular dessert beer worthy of its own legend.
Recommendation: Find it and drink it