Our Favorite Brews From Founders Fest 2014

A couple of weekends ago I headed to Grand Rapids, MI for Founders Fest, Founders Brewing Company's annual celebration of music and, of course, beer. Before, during, and after the fest I sampled a variety of specialty brews in the taproom, including one on nitro and one on firkin cask. The taproom alone is reason enough to make the journey to Grand Rapids and the brewpub has some incredible sandwiches named after Founders' brews including the fiery-hot Devil Dancer. But as a die-hard fan it was the festival's beer list I was really after, especially the highly prized Sweet Repute and KBS.

The festival took place right outside the brewery on several city blocks of Grandville Avenue, turning the street into an urban playground for more than 5,000 attendees. The crowds sipped (and chugged) famous brews while getting down to funky tunes from awesome local live bands. But the best act that day had to be all had to be the Founders Brewing Company All Stars Band, featuring head brewer Jeremy Kosmicki on guitar playing covers of fan favorites like Hungry Like The Wolf and Fight For Your Right to Party.

The festival lasted all day, which should give you a hint of what we were sipping on. All-Day IPA, one of our favorite summer brews, was on rotation all fest long and hey — nobody got "out of hand" even after many, many pours of this 4.7% beauty even if there were plenty more to sample. Here are my favorites brews from Founders Fest 2014:

All Night Black IPA

American Black Ale turned session ale: genius! All Night takes the best elements of All Day IPA and gives it a dark treatment. You still get the Amarillo hop grapefruit flavor but there's also a hit of darker coffee and chocolate. This brew is just 4.1% and surprisingly flavorful given its lower ABV than its daytime counterpart. This isn't Founders' first American Black Ale — they serve a stand one in the taproom but this is a style I hope to see Founders distribute more widely.

Empire IPA with black walnut extract

The Founders taproom is a playground, a chance to try out new brews on their highly devoted fan base. I tried a pour from a firkin of their Empire IPA with black walnuts. Did I taste nuttiness and hops? You bet! There was a ton of juicy hops along with intense walnut flavor in both the aroma and flavor. The ever-changing list of firkins and one-offs brews like this makes the Founders taproom a must-visit.

Barrel-Aged Spite

This is an ever-changing brew made with both hot and sweet peppers. When I sampled this barrel-aged version, the roasted pepper flavor was strong but the heat wasn't overpowering though past versions have been absolute fire-breathing pepper bombs. It was great to try another pepper-infused beer from Founders on the heels of this past year's Mango Magnifico release. Like Magnifico, this is a beer that Founders' founder David Engbers says he could see releasing in their Backstage Series at some point, so if you can't make it to the taproom, there still may be hope. Go to the taproom, though.

Oak-Aged Red's Rye IPA

Having had both the regular Red's and a bourbon barrel treatment of the beer, it was great to find a middle ground with the oak-aged version of this "RYE-P-A." There's spice from the rye, a kick of citrus hops and a subtle touch of oak. While I thought the bourbon treatment of this beer was excellent, it overwhelmed some of the hop flavors which still really stood out in this oak-aged version.

Nitro Pale Ale

Pale ales and nitrogenated taps are a match made in mad scientist beer geek heaven. This classic pale ale is turned smooth and creamy thanks to the nitro treatment but citrusy hops and sweet malt are still very much there bursting with grapefruit and mellow pine flavors.

Founders Fest Wheat

One of the original styles at Founders was a wheat beer but with so many brewers making the style it eventually was tabled for bigger, bolder styles. This wheat beer is only brewed for founders fest and it's definitively "Founders" with a refreshingly smooth wheat flavor and a delicious kick of hops.