While Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout is widely thought of as the OG bourbon-barrel-aged stout (the first version was entered in the Great American Beer Festival in 1995), it’s hard to argue with the popularity of Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout). This bourbon-barrel aged chocolate coffee stout has a ridiculous score of 100 (out of 100) on Beer Advocate and is one of the most widely beloved beers in the world.
In fact, the beer is so popular that it’s spawned two more iterations — KBS Espresso and the newly released KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge.
If you’re new to stouts, you might be confused by what the phrase “Kentucky Breakfast Stout” actually means. Before there was KBS, there was simply Founders Breakfast Stout (and there still is). This imperial coffee stout was made with flaked oats and two different types of coffee. (While we rarely drink beer for breakfast, it is a thing and the addition of coffee certainly helps.) In 2001, sensing the emerging popularity of barrel-aged stouts, the folks at Founders wanted to find a way to barrel-aged its iconic Breakfast Stout.
Barrel broker (yes, it’s a thing) Tom Griffin asked the Founders team if they wanted a few bourbon barrels. After tweaking the recipe a few times, they came up with the KBS we all now know and love. We taste and rank all three expressions below.
3) KBS Espresso
Founders KBS is a bourbon barrel-aged chocolate coffee stout that is brewed with actual coffee. KBS Espresso takes the caffeine to a new level by aging the stout on espresso beans after the initial bourbon barrel aging. The result is the perfect stout for fans of serious coffee aroma, flavor, and the buzz that comes with it.
If you nose this beer as you might with a whiskey, you’ll be met with aromas that are… exactly what you’re expecting. The first scent is reminiscent of popping open a can of coffee beans. This is followed by subtle bourbon sweetness. The first sip yields subtly bitter, dark roasted coffee, milk chocolate, and creamy vanilla. The finish is bold, warming, and ends with a nice kick of espresso and caramel.
Saying this is the lowest-ranked of the three is a bit misleading. It’s a great beer. It’s really great for people who love coffee. For the rest of us, the original KBS will do.
2) KBS Maple Mackinac Fudge
This is the newest addition to the KBS family. It’s an imperial stout with Mackinac fudge, coffee, maple syrup, and chocolate — all aged in oak bourbon barrels. The people of Michigan believe that their fudge is the best in the world. Founders paid homage to that by making this supremely indulgent version of Kentucky Breakfast Stout.
This beer has the words ‘maple’ and ‘fudge’ in its name, so it should come as no surprise that the first aromas that fill your nostrils are rich fudge and sweet maple syrup. The first sip delivers even more velvety, sweet milk chocolate, charred oak, vanilla sweetness, and a nice subtle coffee backbone. The finish is smooth, slightly warming, and ends with a mouth full of melted fudge.
This is a fun beer that’s great for the holidays, but it’s not the kind of beer you’re going to want to drink all day. It’s high in ABV and the equivalent of drinking a boozy milk chocolate bar.
As we mentioned before, back in 2001, the folks at Founders were offered a few bourbon barrels by a friend. They figured, “Why not add Breakfast Stout to the barrels and see what happens?” The barrel amplified the chocolate, coffee, and caramel flavors of the stout while adding warming bourbon and charred oak notes.
The first batches hit the taproom in 2003 and it’s been a fan favorite ever since.
The first sniff is full of strong, bold, chocolate, and coffee aromas. The first sip is full of sweet bourbon, rich vanilla, toasted oak, bitter espresso, and creamy milk chocolate notes. The finish is sweet, warming, and ends with a nice hint of bourbon sweetness.
While it’s fun to try different KBS recipes, it’s pretty tough to be the original. It’s perfectly balanced and full of rich chocolate and coffee flavors. The perfect barrel-aged beer.