It’s no secret that the beer scene goes through trends. While many are passing fancies, the “big bold beer” has stuck around. When you see a descriptor like Frootwood’s 13-syllable “cherry ale aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels” scrolling length-wise across the bottle label, recent scene history suggests this one will pack as many flavors as syllables into a bottle. The 8.0% ABV says so too, though when you stop and think about it, that’s pretty low for a barrel-aged beer.
And that’s where Frootwood, the launch beer of Founders’ new Barrel Aged Series, kicks in. The barrels have previously held both bourbon, then maple syrup, which explains the lower ABV and the smooth blend of flavors instead of an overpowering booziness.
On first impression, this beer reminds me of the Manhattan cocktail. It’s bourbon, it’s cherry, and a little sweet. The barrel-aging also tempers the mouthfeel and it’s got a bit of that tongue-coating cocktail feel to it. Frootwood is similar to the classic Manhattan cocktail, but it’s still a cherry ale at its base, and the extra ingredients never override the flavor profile.
Pouring light red with a copper-ish hue, Frootwood’s bouquet is bourbon and cherry. The spirit dominates the nose and first impression on tasting, but quickly fades. It’s an interesting beer, though, because the bourbon is all up front while many barrel-aged beers leave a lingering and stringent flavor.
Here, it’s a delicate balance where the bourbon hits front and center, washed away in a quick flash of maple that moves onto the earthy, oaked, and semi-tart cherry base. It meets at a dark fruity base, then the syrup again brushes over the tongue and wisps away in a clean finish. The maple syrup is mild but surfaces in just the right places, balancing tart cherry and transitioning from one flavor profile to the next.
Frootwood is the first of the new series, though there are two notable and sought-after pre-existing beers still to come under the Barrel Aged Series label: KBS and Backwoods Bastard. While those already well-decorated beers are bold and warming, Frootwood is carefully balanced between an accent dessert beer and an evening out. It’s more versatile and yet different enough to defy easy categorization.
Brewery: Founders Brewing Co.
City: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Style: Barrel-aged cherry ale
Availability: 12 oz. bottles, 750 ml bottles
Loren Green is a Minneapolis writer covering beer, music, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @lorenmgreen.