Beer, Beer, & Better Beer

20 things to love about Founders
Troy Reimink, BarFly/HopCat webmaster | October 11, 2017

In honor of Founders’ 20th anniversary, and our upcoming Founders tap takeover, our webmaster offers an appreciation of the brewery based on his extensive experience drinking, eating and performing there as a musician:

Founders is almost old enough to buy itself a drink!

The brewery has spent 2017 commemorating its 20th anniversary – and there’s plenty to celebrate. HopCat Grand Rapids joins in the festivities on Thursday, Oct. 12, when it will host the Founders XX Anniversary Party, the biggest tap takeover in Founders history with 35 favorites and rarities.

With HopCat’s own 10th anniversary fast approaching, it fees like a good time to toast a neighbor on a job well done. In honor of Founders' landmark birthday, here are 20 things we/I (your humble webmaster), love about Grand Rapids’ biggest brewery:

1. Founders Fest - It’s not summer in Michigan until you spend an afternoon stand outdoors, on pavement, in blazingly hot weather, drinking heavy beer, in line for a portable bathroom. The music more than justifies it -- Founders Fest has become a fixture on downtown Grand Rapids’ summer calendar, offering big-name headliners like Umprhrey’s McGee, Charles Bradley, Lettuce and Galactic.

2. The FBC All Stars - The brewery and taproom employ a ton of musicians, many of whom perform semi-regularly in a supergroup, which, unlike a lot of supergroups, is good!

3. The original Pale Ale - Never as beloved as the marquee beers, the original Pale will always hold a special place in my heart and liver: the first Founders beer to cross my lips at my first brewery visit in Grand Rapids. (Not to date myself, but there wasn’t much around back then.) And it still holds up to my memory – bold but not overpowering, refreshing but not too light.

4. All Day IPA - I know I’ve lived through summers before Founders began producing All Day IPA, but I can’t remember what they were like.

5. Oatmeal Stout + Rubaeus = magic - Not sure there’s a nickname for this combination, but my god, it’s magnificent.

6. They treat musicians like real people - Any performer booked at Founders gets a generous food discount, beer tab and ample compensation. These things might not seem like a big deal until you’ve been a musician long enough to understand how rarely it happens. Take it easy on the heavy beers, though, especially if you’re playing last. They sneak up on you.

7. Welcome to Detroit - Founders is preparing to open its Detroit taproom sometime this winter. Located in the Cass Corridor/Midtown area near Little Caesars Arena, the new facility won’t be far from HopCat Detroit. You can't escape us!

8. Great touring bands - Founders’ regular Thursday and Saturday shows contain a solid mix of local and national acts in most genres. But once in a while, the booking team pulls off something really special, like Built to Spill in 2015, the Joy Formidable in 2016 and the Meat Puppets earlier this year. Next up: Dinosaur Jr!

9. There's something familiar about that stage - A bit of lore for longtime Grand Rapidians: The sound-dampening curtain behind the stage is from Theater One at the old Studio 28.

10. The KBS phenomenon - Kentucky Breakfast Stout has a ravenous fan base, obviously, and an entire week on the calendar set aside in its honor. The brewery’s canny control of its supply provides a useful lesson in the economics of scarcity and effective management of demand.

11. Canadian Breakfast Stout - KBS deserves all the praise it gets, but its northern cousin – aged in bourbon barrels also used for maple syrup – is even more mythic. Word on the street is that CBS will be available in bottles for the first time since 2011 as part of the 20th anniversary celebration.

12. PC PIls - The worthy All Day IPA follow-up is just as crushable while performing shirtless yardwork on a summer afternoon.

13. The Big Easy - Back in my red-meat-eating days, this sandwich – salami and capicola topped with olive tapenade(!) and red onion – was the guiltiest of all pleasures. Just reading its name causes the mouth the water and the heart to seize.

14. The Tree Hugger - For the health-conscious (or just those of us who lack the intestinal fortitude of our youths), the top sandwich on Founders’ vegetarian menu doesn’t mess around.

15. The beer menu is vegan friendly.

16. Sumatra Mountain Brown A brown ale is rarely the show-stopper on a brewery’s tap list, but a great brown can be a good indicator of a brewery’s all-around quality. Of course, there was no reason to suspect Founders’ long-sought brown ale would be anything less than excellent.

17. Founders led Grand Rapids to upgrade its water-treatment capacity.

18. The catacombs - Founders barrel-ages beer in the old gypsum mines under Grand Rapids.

19. Founders got the state of Alabama to loosen its profanity standards - In 2012, Alabama officials objected to the names Backwoods Bastard and Dirty Bastard and temporarily kept two of Founders' most popular brands off shelves because of an arcane state law. But Founders fans stepped in and got the decision reversed.

20. In Zack Morris we trust - Mark-Paul Gosselaar, otherwise known as Zack from “Saved By the Bell,” is a huge Founders fan. The actor drank Founders in an episode of his show “Raising the Bar,” and even jammed with the FBC All-Stars onstage at a Founders Fest.

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Fall beer tips from HopCat Chicago's beer expert
Doug Wise, HopCat Chicago Beer Program Manager | October 5, 2017
Fall Beer, Oktoberfest

HopCat hires an in-house beer expert at each of its locations to keep the tap list up to date with regional favorites, hard-to-find gems from around the world and exclusive collaborative brews. From time to time, we like to pick their brains for tips on how navigate their extensive beer menus. Here are some fall beer recommendations from our beer program manager in Chicago, Doug Wise:

Revolution Oktoberfest - This is one of the best Oktoberfest beers made in the states, and in Chicago it is local! This beer is toasty and earthy, and would pair great with our pizza rolls!

2 Towns Nice & Naughty - Nice & Naughty is an imperial cider, registering at 10.5%, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and honey!

Tighthead Scarlet > Fire - Part of our Local 30, Scarlet > Fire pairs sweet and roasted malt to create a balanced Irish-Style Red Ale. The name is an homage to the transition between Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain. Try pairing this brew with our Madtown Grilled Cheese!

 

 

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Contract Brewing: A Commonly Concealed Practice Playing a Big Role in the Craft Beer Industry
By Kyle Montgomery, HopCat Madison Beer Manager | October 3, 2017

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the American beer landscape was fairly simple. You had your Davids, and you had your Goliaths. It was clear who the good guys were and who the bad guys were.

The small, independent brewer was the hero, fighting for the integrity of beer and American entrepreneurship. The large, corporate, mega brewery was the villain, standing in direct opposition to the small brewer, prioritizing marketing over quality, and unabashedly insulting the American beer drinker’s palate by releasing a string of increasingly dull and decreasingly flavorful products.

Things now are a little more complex, however. Today, in an era of beer marked by myriad corporate buyouts, partnerships, and faux “craft” breweries launched by massive industrial brewers, discerning who the good guys are and who the bad guys are has become increasingly difficult.

The contractor commeth

Adding to this complexity is the increasingly common practice of contract brewing. The Brewers Association defines a contract brewing company as a business that hires another brewery, (which for simplicity, we will refer to as the brewery), to produce its beer. These arrangements can occur for a number of reasons, but generally, they are all are similar in at least one aspect. Namely, the contract brewing company possesses demand which exceeds its capacity, and the brewery has capacity that exceeds its demand.

Some of these breweries that contract brew for others are well-established brands with excess capacity (i.e. Abita Brewing Co.), whereas others are facilities with the primary purpose of contract brewing (i.e. the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, New York).

Sometimes, the term “contract brewing” carries a negative connotation, and in some instances, it’s warranted. Contract brewing isn’t innately bad, however. In fact, arguably two of the most exciting, boundary-pushing brewers in the country, Evil Twin Brewing and Stillwater Artisanal Ales are exclusively contract, or more accurately, “gypsy,” brewers. Neither of these brewing companies have their own breweries at all, (not yet, anyway). Rather, they are brewers using the brewing space of other breweries to turn their ideas into a tangible, drinkable product.

An informed consumer

What’s more important to you? The brewer who transforms his or her idea into reality, or the physical space in which that transformation occurs? If the latter is important to you, you may be wise to take a closer look at the label or conduct a quick google search the next time you’re enjoying your favorite brew. You may be surprised at what you find.

Maybe none of this matters to you. Maybe you feel content sitting in your local Baltimore hipster bar, drinking Baltimore’s most iconic beer, National Bohemian, which hadn’t even seen the inside of the state of Maryland until it showed up on a pallet sent from a MillerCoors production facility. That’s quite all right. But maybe you’re inquisitive. Maybe you want to be an informed consumer. Maybe you do want to know where your beer is made, and why it’s made there. When it comes to contract brewing, there are a number of reasons your beer might be made somewhere other than where you think.

For instance, if you’re a small brewer, and demand for your product has quickly outgrown the limited capacity of your 3-barrel system, it may make sense to contract brew to satisfy demand and avoid creating a disgruntled customer until you can expand your own facility. An instance in which this would not be okay, is when a contract brewer never has plans to one day open its own facility, and brews exclusively under contract indefinitely. If you, as a brewer, have no intention of one day having your own brewing space, can you really call yourself a brewery?

Keeping it symbiotic

When examining the association between contract brewers and breweries, another facet to consider is whether this relationship is one of symbiosis, or if the contract brewer merely serves as a band-aid for a faltering brewery. Instead of working to build demand for their own brands, are these breweries relying too heavily on the contract brewers to fill their capacity and pay their bills? After all, there is often a reason that many of these breweries have excess capacity in the first place. Perhaps they were built too big from the start, or maybe demand for their product has simply declined with the dynamic tastes of the American craft beer consumer.

Another thing to be mindful of is the method of contract brewing. For example, does the contract brewer have one of their own brewers on site, brewing the beer themselves? This is the case with many breweries, including the Brooklyn Brewery, who employs its own brewers to produce its beers at the FX Matt brewery in Utica, NY. Or, alternatively, do they simply have the contract brewery brew the beer for them according to specific specifications? Both are common.

When it becomes deceptive

Considering these factors, is contract brewing a necessary tool for growth? Or does it only further obscure an already convoluted craft beer landscape?

When it comes to contract brewing, honesty is key. There’s no shame in contract brewing as a means to meet the demand of eager craft beer enthusiasts until a brewery can undergo an expensive and laborious expansion. What is unacceptable, however, is hiding the fact that a brewing company brews their beer under contract from the consumer. This isn’t the business practice of a small craft brewer. This is the business practice of an AB InBev or a MillerCoors, who convinces you that one of their brands is a small-town brewing company, “hand-crafting” ales with a “pinch of this and a touch of that.” It’s deceptive, and it’s unethical.

In today’s complex landscape of craft beer, there is a place for contract brewing, but to preserve the integrity of the craft brewing industry, it must be characterized by absolute transparency and openness.  

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