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Monday, June 13, 2011

Special Report: Founders Fest 2011

By Wes Eaton

A version of this post appeared in the June 2011 issue of Recoil Magazine.

This month, Founders Brewing Company will take its offerings into the streets. More than raising the garage doors and crowding out on the porch, the people at Founders have worked their political muscle to shut down portions of Grandville and Cherry to bring you Founders Fest: a street party fueled by funk- and folk-inspired rock and unnecessarily rash and inefficient, yet downright symbolic beer. What I mean here is that you can find a specific meaning in this beer, one that may strike a fundamental chord deep inside your epicurean longings. When asked, the women and men at Founders will give you their take. If cornered long enough, they'll tell you about Glory. Yes, Glory! That's why they do it, day in and day out, some around the clock: for the Glory. But is that why you drink Founders beer, for the Glory? Likely, not. You, like all craft beer lovers, have your own human, personal, possibly nerdy, but more often than not, integral dispositions on intentional beer decisions: you like what you like. And, as we all know by now, Founders "brews the beer they want to drink." Yes, old hat; but this is exactly where Founders, and more specifically Founders Fest, comes into play in regards to beverage decisions – and music for that matter: to stretch the boundaries of your everyday fancies with both rock and beer and give you a glimpse of Glory, if only from 3pm to 11pm on Saturday, June 18.

To catch some of the building excitement, I spoke with a few members of the Founders Family busy preparing both the music as well as the beer for this month's event. Founders Brewer and FBC All-Star Bassist D.W. Deschaine has been with Founders since its humble beginnings on Monroe Ave, serving as bar manager before moving into production. Between sips of Solid Gold, Deschaine told me a bit about the upcoming event and why he and the rest of the Founders Family are so excited, while being incredibly busy preparing for the big day. In his words, the event, which takes place on the streets out in front of the downtown Grand Rapids brewery, is "this brewery's way of telling the community that we love everything they've done for us – a party for the people who've supported us and our beer." To show their appreciation, Deschaine and the rest of the team have lined up some great music – as well as some intense brews.

Let's start with the beer. Although many will be on tap, here's what I'm looking forward to: Devil Dancer, a triple IPA, and a completely unnecessary beverage. When the hop crises hit a few years back, this beer was party to blame. Well, possibly not, but rumor and economic prudence led to the belief it was never to be brewed again. But you know the old saying: "once you drink a triple IPA, a double [IPA] just doesn't feel the same" (no offense, Double Trouble). I'm really not sure how this beer even works, science-wise, as I reckon the ratio of hops to wort is nearly 1:1. What I do know, however, is that the malty sweetness nearly outshines the imprudent hop usage, leaving you with an innocent, near candy-like experience. Hence the name; hidden underneath this sensory overload is something like 13 percent ABV. As I'm writing this, Deschaine is still trying to settle down after a day spent wrestling this beast into the fermenting tank. According to Warehouse Manager Kyle Dood, three-and-a-half pounds of hops are added per barrel – "a horribly irresponsible amount of hops." Overhearing our conversation, Head Cellarman Jason Heystek said so much dry hops are added that, "only one person can fit on the scissor lift" used to get hops into the shiny new fermenter tanks. This beer is as far from necessity as you can get.

Blushing Monk also makes its return at the Fest. The history of this beer is typical for Founders: take a great beer and double the ingredients, or cut the water in half, and see what it tastes like. The foundation for Blushing Monk is Rubeaus, the fondly remembered but now defunct raspberry beer created by former brewer Nate Walser and Head Brewer Jeremy Kosmicki. The key to Rubeaus was adding raspberry puree to the point where the struggling and by then overstressed yeast gave up, allowing for some natural sweetness to be retained. The key to Blushing Monk is upping the ante on both sides of this battle, doubling the amount of raspberries while arming the beer with an unusually strong strain of Belgian yeast. Despite these tensions, the product seems unified and especially delicious when drunk with abandon out in the streets of the city of its birth.

Also on deck is Canadian Breakfast Stout: a beer whose processes I am sworn to secrecy under pain of banishment from the production room. What I can tell you is this: wood, maple syrup, coffee, and roasted malts are combined in unusual fashion in the brewhouse as well as the cellar in order to create this black, gooey breakfast shake. Normal breweries stopped doing these sorts of things shortly after the industrial revolution. After trying one of each, I'd recommend taming things a bit with Founders Fest Wheat and possibly a Solid Gold, the local standby. Maybe get out of the sun for a while too.

Deschaine is as excited about the lineup of bands as he is about the beers. Like many at the brewery, he plays a role in both. Always wanting to turn the spotlight elsewhere, however, the brewer/bassist tells me first about the headliner, Galactic. While this group may be categorized as a premier jam band, Deschaine emphasizes its New Orleans roots, meaning heavy jazz and traditional funk influences. Boston's Rubblebucket is apparently a bit difficult to describe on paper, something like half afro-rock and half Bjork. "If you don't like them, you are obviously disgusted by music in all its forms." I'm a bit confused, so Deschaine puts it more plainly: look for "awesome and total and dissident and funky." Other acts include Terrapin Flyer, The Ragbirds, Steppin' In It, AB! & Coconut Brown and Founders' own FBC All-Stars, Deschaine's own group. Made up exclusively of Founders employees, the All-Stars came about when it became apparent the one-day festival was not long enough to showcase each of Founders' internal bands and a compromise was in order. Deschaine explained that like Christmas, the group only comes around once a year, bringing people "a ridiculous romp through the decades of the 60s, 70s 80s and 90s." And just for fun, brewery fan Mark-Paul Gosselaar ("Zack" from Saved by the Bell) will join lead guitarists Heystek and Kosmicki onstage with the All-Stars for some special shredding. Catch the glory, June 18, 2011.

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