Founder’s Brewing: Sustainability & KBS review

Over the last few years I’ve become a big fan of the Founder’s Brewing Co., based in Michigan (Grand Rapids and Detroit). I love many Bay Area breweries and brewpubs (shout out to Hoi Polloi, the best microbrewery / pub in the Bay!) but I think that Founder’s ranks as my favorite brewery on the planet at the moment. I was pleasantly shocked (more than just pleasantly surprised) to find Founder’s KBS at the Grocery Outlet last week.

KBS stands for Kentucky Breakfast Stout and it’s an imperial stout, made with lots of coffee and chocolate, that’s aged in bourbon barrels. Let’s see – stout, coffee, chocolate and bourbon – what’s not to love?

I’ve seen (and bought) other Founder’s beer at the Grocery Outlet, including their Porter and Breakfast Stout, but it was a big surprise to see KBS there. That’s partly because KBS is hard to come by anywhere, and partly because it’s a seasonal winter beer, so it’s not even normally available at this time of year! It cost $15.99 for a 4-pack at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a normal price of around $18.99 at BevMo.

Is it worth spending $16 for a pack of four 12-ounce beers? Absolutely! For one thing, KBS is 12% alcohol, so it’s more than twice as strong as most beers. But more importantly, it’s simply one of the best beers in the world. On Beer Advocate’s list of top beers of any style, KBS comes in at #28, and it ranks 20th on RateBeer’s list. Most beers on these top 50 lists are pretty obscure so it’s unlikely that you’ll come across them in your local grocery store – or even your local craft beer store. Here’s a video about Founder’s Brewing and KBS:

By the way, most of Founder’s beers are vegan but this KBS beer isn’t vegan as the beer is made with (milk) chocolate. So it’s still vegetarian – there’s no fish product (isinglass) used for clarification – it’s just not vegan because of the small amount of dairy in the chocolate.

Founder’s barrel-aged beers

Founder’s Brewing was one of the first breweries in the US (after the excellent Goose Island in Chicago) to age beer in bourbon barrels. It’s a good use of resources as the rules for bourbon don’t allow barrels to be reused (for more bourbon) but they can be used for aging other things like maple syrup or beer. Founder’s Brewing Co. was struggling financially before the barrel aging experiment that produced KBS beer.

This then led to an amazing range of barrel-aged beers, several of which I’ve been lucky enough to try. I absolutely loved the Underground Mountain – an Imperial brown ale made with Sumatra coffee and then aged in bourbon barrels for a year. Backwoods Bastard – a Scotch ale aged in bourbon barrels – is another good one. More recently, there’s Panther Cub, which is a tasty barrel-aged porter and two Mas Agave beers that are actually aged in tequila barrels and are crafted for margarita fans! I’m not a margarita fan but friends loved it : )

My favorite Founder’s beer is called CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout) and it’s similar to KBS. It’s made from the same base beer (imperial stout with coffee and chocolate) but aged in barrels that had been used to first age bourbon and then maple syrup! Founder’s announced that their 2019 batch of CBS was their last so I’m going to have to ration the bottles that I squirreled away when it was available.

Here’s a bit more about Founder’s barrel-aging story:

Founders is owned by Mahou San Miguel

Anyone who has been to Spain is probably familiar with San Miguel beer. Well, in 2019, the Spanish brewing company purchased Founder’s Brewing Co., with the original Founder’s founders (haha) maintaining a 10% stake.

The Grupo Mahou-San Miguel is touted as a family-owned and family-run business by members of the Mahou family who first founded the Hijos de Casimiro Mahou brewery in Madrid in 1890.

As mentioned in the ethical review below, I appreciate that Founder’s Brewing Co. continues to set its own sustainability goals and do its own reporting. Too often, when smaller companies are acquired by larger corporations, the smaller company stops reporting on its own metrics – e.g., Lärabar (now owned by General Mills) or Sweet Earth (now owned by Nestlé). It’s frustrating because it makes it really difficult to tell how that company is doing and whether it is maintaining its ethics standards.

So, hopefully Founders will continue to report on its own impact even now that it’s part of Mahou-San Miguel.

Founder's KBS is shown under a graphic of 4 Green Stars that represents an ethical rating. 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Ethical rating for Founder’s KBS

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Founder’s KBS beer, which I’m scoring 4 Green Stars

  • If you’re going to drink beer, it makes sense to drink beer that’s strong and good! One bottle of KBS is so intense (and high in alcohol) that it’s about equivalent to three regular beers. I rarely drink more than one in an evening (and sometimes even half a bottle) so it reduces my packaging and transportation footprints.
  • As mentioned above, the barrels used for aging are actually making good use of barrels that can’t be used twice for aging bourbon. 
  • Most Founder’s beers are vegan. KBS is not vegan because it contains milk chocolate, but it is vegetarian (Founder’s doesn’t use the fish product, isinglass, for clarification of their beer).
  • Founder’s is now 90% owned by Spanish brewing company, Mahou-San Miguel. You can see on Ethical Consumer that Mahou-San Miguel gets a medium rating (it’s a useful article). It rates better than many of the largest breweries like Molson Coors, Heineken, and Asahi.
  • Mahou-San Miguel publishes numbers on sustainability that look quite good to me. Founder’s Brewing also reports on sustainability, which I appreciate. Some of the other brands that I’ve looked at stopped reporting on their own sustainability metrics after being acquired by a larger company.
  • Founder’s has a sustainability task force that tracks numbers on energy, water and waste diverted from landfill and sets an annual goal for reducing each by a few percent.
  • Founder’s also has a program for supporting local or national efforts in three areas: Social Justice, Environment and Arts & Culture.
  • Founder’s Brewing doesn’t report much on other aspects of sustainability, like ingredient sourcing or packaging materials but I have contacted the company for more info…
  • Glass in bottles is 34% recycled and cardboard packaging is FSC certified.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Founder’s KBS

  • 5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Published by jkaybay

I have two sites, both focused on ethical consumerism. The Green Stars Project (https://greenstarsproject.org/) examines topics related to ethical consumption and aims to start a movement based on crowd-sourced ethical ratings. Ethical Bargains (https://ethicalbargains.org/) is focused on rating new products, especially plant-based food items, that I've bought at the Grocery Outlet.

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