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Founders Backwoods Bastard Review

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Founders Backwoods Bastard Review

Founders Brewing takes pride in their barrel-aging program. They were among the early American breweries to adopt the practice, and they do it in the challenging environment of Grand Rapids’ old gypsum mines, aging the beer some 85-feet underground. The conditions help the barrels do their magic, and the sought-after Backwoods Bastard is one of the prizes born from the process.

This is a heavy, rich winter beer. The 2015 batch comes in at 11.6% ABV. While the artwork depicts a weathered, pioneer-type hermit bearing an axe, this beer demands a certain amount of relaxation. We recommend chilling out by a fire while you drink this bastard.

It pours Coca-Cola brown, dark and almost black but with a bit of rosy light shining through. After the pour, the bouquet is primarily bourbon—not a surprise, given the barreling. While it doesn’t say how long these beers were conditioned, I’m guessing that the beer spent a good amount of time in the barrels. The bourbon notes are heavy in the aroma and, in tasting, oak is a prominent component.

Besides the astringent sting, there is vanilla and caramel and toffee, followed by a clean finish. It’s a very rich, sweet beer that gets richer as it gets warmer, reducing the sugar-sweet fresh-out-of-the-fridge impression and replacing it with a complex depth. The alcohol cuts away any aftertaste while dominating the aromatics. However, for a beer that tops 11%, the actual flavor profile is malty, sweet, and dessert-like—none of the liquor burn you might expect from such a high ABV beer. It’s smooth and creamy, with the mouthfeel of a milk stout and the body of a scotch ale. Once the beer warms closer to room temperature and the sweetness blends more thoroughly, the bourbon takes over, but not abrasively. It’s almost like drinking a fine, neat bourbon.

This beer is a sipper, something to cradle in the palm over an hour. It’s dangerously smooth and would pair amazingly with a delicate and sharp dessert like cheesecake. However, it’s definitely bourbon-driven, so anyone averse to Kentucky’s best-known export may want to steer clear.

Brewery: Founders Brewing Co.
City: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Style: Barrel aged stout
ABV: 11.6%
Availability: Limited during November, 12 oz. bottles, draft