Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company has been on a bit of a roll lately when it comes to beer releases. The outfit already shipped four-packs of both Mosaic Promise, a single-hop ale, and the fruity Azacca IPA, both of which are new additions to the brewery’s seasonal lineup. Founders has a knack for creating great coffee beers too, and it looks to continue that trend with its newest specialty offering, Sumatra Mountain Brown.
The brewery releases its Breakfast Stout that’s brewed with oats, chocolate and two types of coffee in the fall. In addition to Breakfast Stout, Founders also has the highly sought after Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) as its barrel-aged offerings that feature coffee. To top it all off, one of the brewery’s limited Backstage Series beers, Frangelic Mountain Brown, used hazelnut beans in a heavy-hitting 9% brown ale.
Founders’ new Sumatra Mountain Brown pours a dark amber brown with a cream-colored head that fades quickly. The head doesn’t totally disappear, though, as a thin layer remains on top of the glass and around the outer edge. First smells of this beer are full of coffee, chocolate and even some sweet caramel notes. The nose of Sumatra Mountain Brown would lead you to believe that you’re about to dive head first into a big sweet stout. However, the flavor isn’t overly sweet at all, instead offering a balance of roasted coffee, cocoa and a nice amount of that caramel sweetness from the aroma.The sweeter flavors should be a bit expected as Founders used caramel malt for that exact reason. There’s a little boozy heat from the higher ABV, too.
The thing that stands out to me about this beer, is that it defies categorization. Although it’s labeled an imperial brown ale, it drinks more like a porter. There’s plenty of body here for a brown, even one that ticks the tape at 9% ABV. Depth of flavor contributes to that too, something that beers of this style often strive for, but end up falling short. As the name suggests, the coffee flavors come from the addition of Sumatra beans, imparting rich coffee notes without becoming too roasty or overly fruity. The slightest hop bite comes through as well, bringing in a subtle bitterness from the use of German and Perle varieties.
Don’t let the brown ale label fool you, this is definitely as much of a sipper as the ABV indicates. I had this just after a meal, which made for a delicious dessert that combined my usual afternoon cup of coffee with a smidge of sweet chocolate and, of course, beer. Because of the beer’s sweetness, I’d reach for cheese over a more decadent treat to pair with Sumatra Mountain Brown. A nice nutty cheese like a gouda, gruyère or even warm brie would do the trick. Folks who often reach for a coffee beer won’t be disappointed here as Founders shows yet again it’s one of the best at using the ingredient with another complex and balanced.
Brewery: Founders Brewing Company
City: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Style: Imperial Brown Ale
Availability: Across Founders distribution footprint in 37 states
Billy is the host of The Brewcast, a beer podcast that never records on a regular schedule. You can follow his drinking habit @beardbrews on Twitter