Friday, May 17, 2013

Chicago Craft Beer Week Review: Founders Doom at Northdown Cafe - Bourbon, Please Meet IPA


Chicago Craft Beer Week is in full swing.  Events are taking place all over town.  Beers such as KBS are being tapped in the afternoon at bars that you'd never believe would serve it.  One thing remains constant.  If you bring forth from the woodwork enough craft beer nuts for an event, eventually a healthy debate about beer will ignite.  A little controversy cannot help but occur given some of the unusual brews being unveiled just for this week.  Take, for example, Founders Doom, a bourbon-barreled version of their Double Trouble imperial IPA.  This is a beer certain to spark a taproom fight between IPA purists and barrel-aging radicals, fighting as if it's a battle royale between Samsung Galaxy and iPhone users in a Nokia Windows Phone ad.  Doom is a beer designed to appeal to both camps, but the question is whether anyone gets satisfied.

We've previously written about Double Trouble, Founders' annually-released double IPA that is a heavy dose of citrus hops graced with champagne-like carbonation.  Founders stored this in bourbon barrels within the Grand Rapids gypsum-mine beer cave, where the brewer ferments thousands of barrels at any given time.  I'm told that the results of some of the concoctions can sometimes be a bit unusual, even bizarre.  Doom is neither, and that's a bit disappointing.  It smells of citrusy hops, coconut and vanilla, the latter two elements having been imparted by the whiskey barrel.  The mouthfeel is slightly denser than standard Double Trouble; it's maybe a bit richer in texture.  You get pine and citrus hop flavors with substantial resiny bittering up front, and in the background lie flavors of caramel, vanilla, and honey from the bourbon and barrel.  The flavors never quite sync up. I found the finish to be more hoppy than bourbon-boozy, but the bourbon flavor drifts in and out.

This is an example - but a fun, 10.4% one - of why bourbon IPA's don't really work.  IPA's depend upon their sharp flavors and aromatics. Barrel-aged beers rely upon extracting as much flavor from the barrel as possible to impart the underlying beer with booziness and sweetness.  But massive alpha hops are always going to clobber bourbon in the battle for palate supremacy, and the end result is almost always a really hoppy barleywine with the barleywine flavors being more suppressed than those in an actual barleywine.

Doom is a fine double IPA occasionally distracted by bourbon flavors.  Founders could not help but end up with a good-tasting beer (my friend Jackie would call this an occasion for "beer drinkin'!" - I love that) given the high quality of the underlying imperial IPA and, almost certainly, the barrel as well.  But don't go into this relationship thinking that you're going to get a seamless marriage between IPA's and bourbon. It's a rocky union forged by a lot of alcohol.  Those usually don't end well.

3.6 of 5 stars.

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