CINCINNATI -- Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) is no secret in the world these days. Most folks in the Midwest know the acronym as a delicious, bourbon barrel-aged beer, not as the oldest Korean broadcasting network.
The search for this beer is fraught with red herrings, as collectors make a mad dash from bottle shop to bottle shop seeking to purchase singular bottles of the silky, syrupy nectar, only to be told "We just ran out."
But wait a minute -- just how did this beer get so popular, and what does that mean for beer fanatics? KBS all started as an experiment.
As we know today, barrel aging is extremely popular. Our local brewers are already rolling out barrel-aged beers in spades, what with MadTree's extremely sought after bourbon barrel-aged Axis Mundi, and Fifty West's frequent experiments with barrels, like their barrel-aged version of 10 & 2.
In 2003, when Founders Brewing's, well, founders, decided to put their already phenomenal Breakfast Stout in Jack Daniel's barrels, it was the beginning of something beautiful.
After changing up the batch a bit to match the bourbon flavors in the beer, a star was born, and the first 4-packs of KBS were sold. By "sold," I mean they were put on shelves with price tags.
This was not quite the era of craft beer insanity we live in now. $20 for a 4-pack of any beer was a hard sell. Sometimes things are still like this.
Distributors don't want to take on a beer they don't think will sell well enough to make a profit. Beer is a great business, but it's still that: A business.
Once Founders took KBS to the Great American Beer Festival in late 2005, things changed. The Great American Beer Festival used to be a much smaller event than the sprawling mass of beers and bodies it is now.
Most of the attendees were brewery operators or lucky beer collectors, but the vast majority of festivalgoers were from the retail space. These retailers got one taste of KBS and knew they needed it all around. Requests came far and wide, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Only several short years ago, in the distant memories of 2011, one in the Cincinnati area could buy multiple packs of KBS due to the lack of knowledge in the craft beer area.
As word has spread, craft beer love has grown and the legend has exploded, the KBS supply has had to reach more people with a modest increase in supply. This means bottle limits, lines and the inevitable "We just ran out."
In 2012, Founders had 1000 people waiting in line for their KBS release at their Grand Rapids brewery. The year before, there had barely been 100.
Now for the release, they use a ticketing system. That's right -- people who want to buy KBS from the Founders brewery have to get tickets (Sometimes I wonder how well that would work for the beer-loving masses in Cincinnati), just to wait in line.
Founders has expanded their barrel-aging program and their output every year since 2012, but their supply will never be able to match the frothing demand this beer carries.
As a brewery, Founders purchases more than 3000 bourbon barrels yearly to age KBS, Backwoods Bastard (a personal favorite) and many other limited releases, like most of their Backstage Series. They age all these fantastic brews in a huge former gypsum mine. So many barrels, they had to buy out space in a cave!
It's no coincidence these barrel-aged delights are all somewhat difficult to obtain. When it comes to barrel-aging, Founders seems to be a few steps ahead of everyone else. Maybe it's because they've been doing it for so long, or maybe it's just because they make absurdly good beer.
So if you manage to get a bottle or two of KBS this year, count yourself among the lucky. While you're at it, make someone else lucky too! Share it. You might make a believer out of someone else. Just like that, the legend spreads.
For more on barrel-aged beer, beer recipes, homebrewing and all things beer, go to: www.beerquestabv.com