It was the summer of 2012 and I was on my way to World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a Philly Beer Week event with Founders Brewing. The Michigan-based brewery was pouring a collection of their rarest beers, including the rarest, Canadian Breakfast Stout. Doors opened at 6 p.m. I arrived 6:09. I made my way through a sea of people chambering tasting glasses to their chests, everyone jostling for position as liquid sloshed and spilled on a slew of stretched brewery t-shirts. When I reached the bar it was littered with CBS bottles, so I pointed at one and asked the bartender for a pour. “We’re out,” she said.
Beer lovers call rare beers “whales,” a nod, of course, to Ahab’s devilish quest to hunt down Moby Dick. Finding these beers requires similar effort. You can’t just stroll to your corner bottle shop and snag a sixer. But while rare, most are, at least, attainable, whether through trading, buying on the secondary market, or, in some cases, simply going to the brewery at the right time. Founders CBS has sat in “white whale” status for years, meaning it’s ascended to another level of rarity. I’ve been a passionate beer consumer for the better part of a decade; I’ve seen exactly one bottle of CBS for sale and I’m still not sure if it was a scam. It’s the Pappy 23 of beer.
But that’s about to change.
For the first time since 2011, Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout is being released in bottles.* It’s a bold—albeit profitable—move for Founders, as the brewery will unleash bottles across 46 states and put one of the most revered beers in the hands of many people who never had the chance to taste it before. Can such a move kill the luster of a prized brew? No doubt. Plus, you need it to live up to the hype that’s been built up over years of finger tapping. It’s no secret that consistency is a challenge for brewers of all sizes, and it only becomes more daunting when you have Founders’s footprint.
“We wouldn’t call it ‘scary,'” Francesca Jasinski, the Communications Manager at Founders, said. “Sure, it has a lot of hype around it and that can be a little intimidating, but we know that the product we’re releasing is of the highest quality. Otherwise, it wouldn’t leave the brewery. More than anything, it’s exciting to bring back such a highly sought-after beer and have the capacity to produce enough that makes it actually attainable for people.”
First brewed in 2009, CBS is the brainchild of Jeremy Kosmicki, Brewmaster at Founders. He came across some bourbon barrels that once held maple syrup and decided it would be fun to age a beer in them. Hence, the “Canadian” part, get it? He took the same base beer used for Founders KBS—another fantastic big brew—and filled those casks. The result was an immediate hit and Founders would go on to bottle it two years later.
There is, or course, another reason CBS is so important for Founders. When the Michigan brewery sold a 30% stake to Mahou San Miguel in 2014, they gave up the “craft beer” title, and in a shifting landscape where “craft” is no longer an accurate descriptor for anyone not named Anheuser-Busch, Founders is one of many bigger breweries trying to hang on to some street credit with the plugged in beer crowd. Founders, along with breweries like Firestone Walker and Lagunitas, may no longer be “craft,” but they are still respected thanks to years of brewing top notch beer. Such good feelings can erode quickly, however, if quality starts to slip not long after you’ve scrubbed “craft” from your Instagram bio.
Luckily, quality has not slipped. CBS is a beautiful beer, with serious maple syrup notes on the back end. There’s a hint of barrel, yes, but this isn’t the in-your-face oak experience other breweries go for. CBS is smooth and sort of elegant. You get the maple and the bourbon and they balance out the roasted coffee nicely, all shining more and more as the velvety stout warms. It’s damn good. Whether any beer could live up to the amount of hype behind CBS is hard to say, but this beer drinks so well, which is all we could ask for. It hit stores throughout the country this week, so if you haven’t already asked your local shop if they have it, you should do it ASAP.
*A little note here. The elusive elixir made a brief return in 2015 on draft in select establishments, but it wasn’t packaged for liquor store shelves, so bottle scarcity remained the same. However, it’s rumored CBS was bottled for employees as a holiday gift (lucky). These uber-rare bottles can be identified by the label, as the Mountie on the front is facing the opposite direction and he’s firing a gun. Just a little FYI for the hardcore collectors out there. If you think regular CBS is hard to get, good luck with the employee bottles.