5 Sources of Inspiration for Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

6 Degrees of Fermentation by | Jan 2018 | Issue #131
Illustration by Brett Affrunti

Kentucky Breakfast Stout | 11.8% ABV | 73 IBU

In 2002, Founders head brewer Jeremy Kosmicki moved from a part-time job on the packaging line to a full-time role making beer. His promotion also coincided with the draft debut of an Imperial Stout that, 15 years later, remains incredibly popular: Kentucky Breakfast Stout (now KBS). Brewed with flaked oats, roasted barley, four malt varieties, two types of chocolate, two kinds of coffee, as well as Willamette and Nugget hops, this influential ale then spends 12 months aging in oak bourbon barrels in gypsum mine caves 85 feet beneath Grand Rapids, Mich.

From Kosmicki:

Before there was KBS, there was Breakfast Stout—an 8.3 percent ABV chocolate coffee Oatmeal Stout. It was based on a homebrew recipe that my brewing mentor, Nate Walser, and I had done before we were in the professional game. [Founders] first scored a couple of used bourbon barrels in the early 2000s and thought Breakfast Stout would be a fun beer to try aging. It produced some amazing flavors, but it was a bit on the thin side, and the coffee and chocolate flavors had become muted due to the time spent in the barrels and the dominant [bourbon] flavors. So we increased the malt bill and doubled the chocolate and coffee for our next trial, and KBS was born.

We brewed a very limited volume of this beer for the first few years, and even when we decided to put it in bottles (2003), it was still a small enough amount that we sold it exclusively in our taproom. It literally sat on our cooler shelves, basically untouched for months. Not many people knew about barrel-aged beers and most weren’t willing to spend big money on a four-pack. Fortunately, there were a few die-hards that appreciated it, and, thanks to the internet, word got out that this was a fun beer worth checking out. Things took off from there, and, within a few years, people were lining up around the block for the annual release of KBS.

Redhook Double Black Stout 
This was a great beer and an even better value. I remember buying 22-ounce bombers of this for less than $3. [Double Black Stout] is probably the beer that showed me the potential of what coffee can do in a Stout.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout 
Much like what Redhook showed me about coffee, Young’s got me thinking about chocolate. [This beer has] unbelievable chocolate sweetness balanced by dark roasted malts.

Bell’s Stouts
No doubt, I fell in love with our neighbors from Kalamazoo at a young age, and their Stouts in particular were a big inspiration for me. I love those thick-bodied, full flavored offerings like Double Cream, Kalamazoo, and Expedition [Stout].

Sam Adams Triple Bock
Surely the most outrageous beer I’d had back in those days, and probably the first example of an oak-aged beer that I’d tried; groundbreaking stuff for the mid-1990s. I just drank my last 1994 bottle last year. It was… interesting.

Jim Beam
I didn’t get to try many high-end bourbons before I started barrel-aging beers (young brewers are generally, you know, poor), but I’ll credit my pal Jimmy with turning me on to the glory of bourbon. I have other go-to bourbons these days, but back then, Beam was always available, affordable, and consistently tasty.