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Founders keepers

I’m as happy as a little boy on Christmas morning when a new beer brand hits town.

One of the newest, Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., brings to market a line–up that generally offers bigger flavors, bigger body and bigger character.

Like so many of today’s craft breweries, Founders began as a dream for two college classmates. The idea was hatched in 1990, but it was not until 1997 that Founders launched as a viable label.

Tasting through a selection of their beers was a nice experiment in IBUs. IBU stands for International Bittering Unit – the scale used to measure hop bitterness in beer. An IBU is one part per million of isohumulone, an acid derived from hops.

If you like the very bitter “bite” in some beers, then a higher IBU would be an indication of that snap.

Broadly speaking, a very hoppy India Pale Ale ranges from 40–60 IBUs. You fans of American Pale Lager, Like Anheuser–Busch’s Budweiser, get a meager dose of 10–15 IBUs.

The tasting comparison was easy with Founders packaging – IBUs and alcohol by volume (ABV) is printed right on the neck band.

I sampled four beers form the Founders stable: Dry Hopped India Pale Ale, Centennial IPA, Reds Rye PA and Double Trouble, an Imperial IPA that is offered seasonally. Here’s what I found:

At a modest 35 IBU and 5.4 percent ABV, Dry Hopped IPA was the beer with training wheels in this group. It is smooth–drinking, widely accessible to a variety of tastes and offers just a hint of citrus typically associated with IPAs – in this case, I detected orange zest. A poi–fect brew with grilled shrimp or mild fish!

Centennial IPA dearly doubled the IBU at 65 and barely bumped up the ABV to 7.2. For those who have had their fill of American Pale Lager and want to step up to real flavor, this is a gateway IPA. It’s slightly sweet; malts and hops balance beautifully and deliver a clean, crisp finish. This is a benchmark IPA.

I found it interesting that Reds PA, while barely different on the neck band than Centennial (70 IBU, 6.6 ABV) came roaring out of the neck with a grapefruit aroma that was noticeable from arm’s length. Man, this was gonna be a serious citrus and hops bomb! Yeah, it had some sweetness, but was predominately a pucker–inducing mouthful of powerful citrus, crisp bitterness and a lingering tart finish.

I had Double Trouble Imperial IPA on tap last week at The Distillery and was thrilled to experience a similar beer from the bottle. Despite having the highest IBUs and ABV of the lot, 86 and 9.4 respectively, the Founders brewmaster did a masterful job of bringing balance to what could be another over–the–top beer. It big, bitter and high gravity beer for sure, but all the components meld into a beer so balanced, so well–crafted, that you’ll be misled by the numbers.

There are other styles from Founders in the market – both available by bottle and on tap. Experiment, definitely, and count on in–your–face interpretations regardless of the style you choose.