Kalamazoo Beer Exchange celebrates Best Craft Beer Bar title with Founders flight

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By: Eric Strader
ericstrader69@gmail.com

Eric Strader/Hop Notes

Ratebeer.com named Kalamazoo Beer Exchange as the best craft beer bar in Michigan for the third year in a row this year. To celebrate, Kalamazoo Beer Exchange offered a special flight featuring four of the website’s top-rated Michigan beers.

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, 10.6 percent ABV) was bottled in 2011 as the second release in the Backstage series. Before that, it had only been available on draft.

Founders CBS is listed as the seventh best beer in the world on BeerAdvocate.com and last December, kegs started appearing at various places around Michigan.

At the time, I was not particularly hunting this down, however I seemed to arrive at bars anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks after CBS had arrived and been tapped out.

This past weekend while in Kalamazoo, that all changed for me. Just by chance, a beer buddy texted me to let me know that the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange would be tapping CBS, KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout, bourbon barrel aged imperial coffee stout, 11.2 percent ABV), Founders Breakfast Stout (imperial coffee stout, 8.3 percent ABV), and Backwoods Bastard (bourbon barrel aged Scotch ale, 10.2 percent ABV) as part of the celebratory flight.

The Ratebeer “best of” list also named several other Michigan beer locations: HopCat as Michigan’s best brewpub, Slow’s Bar BQ as Michigan’s best restaurant for craft beer, Founders Brewing Co. as Michigan’s best brewer tap room, Champane’s Wine Cellars as Michigan’s best bottle shop and Siciliano’s Specialty Market as Michigan’s best grocery.

Since I was working at my studio about 20 minutes away, there was no excuse to miss this tapping. I’m not always sure how events like this are going to turn out – possibly with long lines and waits– so I decided to head down early to catch some lunch.

Surprisingly, when I arrived around noon, one hour before the tapping, only about ten different groups were scattered around the dining room, with some sitting at the bar. There were still plenty of open seats, but when I chose a seat at the bar, Rob the bartender seemed to know why I had arrived. He told me that at 1 p.m., for the cost of $15, I could get a flight of 5-oz. pours of all four beers.

With some time to spare, I ordered some veggie lasagna and a Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire (dark farmhouse ale, 4.5 percent ABV, IBUs 24). This is one of my favorite Jolly Pumpkin beers and I believe that bottles are available in Michiana.

It pours a dark amber with a bit of funk and tartness on the nose. The same follow through on the flavor, in addition to some dark fruits, some spice and just a touch of roasted malt in the background. I wish I lived closer to Jolly Pumpkin on tap, but what I really was at the Beer Exchange for was some Founders barrel-aged treats.

By the time 1 p.m. rolled around, the bar had filled up and there were lots of thirsty customers eagerly waiting. Since the other beers are more accessible, I’m guessing most people were really there for CBS, myself included. There were a total of 150 flights available.

CBS and Backwoods Bastard were being poured on tap with KBS and Breakfast Stout being poured from bottles.

KBS is released annually early to mid-March, and several bars around Michiana tap it. In fact, there is one Michiana bar that still has a keg waiting to be tapped. As soon as I learn more about that, I will pass the info along. If you were lucky, you may have also been able to pick up a couple of bottles around the area as well. Most bottle shops had a limit of two to four bottles.

I have only enjoyed CBS three times previously, but never side by side with its, as some would say, lesser stepsister KBS. My goal, other than to really fully enjoy my full 5 oz. of CBS, was to determine whether I preferred CBS to KBS, or the other way around.

In talking with several others around the bar, I was able to determine that most people really preferred CBS to KBS. For me, however, it was very hard not to let they hype get in the way, and in the end, I was unable to determine my favorite of the two.

In my opinion, KBS was a bit dryer and CBS was a bit sweeter. It is brewed using a blend of coffees and imported chocolates, then aged in spent bourbon barrels that have most recently been aging pure Michigan maple syrup — this is where the sweetness comes from.

My overall assessment was pretty much the same afterwards, as it was beforehand. Both are really really great beers and stand alone on their own merits. And it is also my unfortunate belief that because of these beers, Backwoods Bastard does not receive the love that it deserves.

All four of these beers are amazing, and it was amazing to taste them all side by side.  Unless you do not enjoy stouts, or don’t enjoy full-bodied coffee beers, I would strongly recommend any opportunity to try them.

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