Serious Eats: Drinks
On the Beer Trail: Founders Backwoods Bastard in Michigan
Editor's Note: Ethan Fixell tours the country as a comedian—and as a beer drinker. In On the Beer Trail, he'll share his tales from the road, favorite destinations, and beer recommendations.
I don't know about you, but I've never been one to turn down a free drink. Fortunately (or if you ask my liver, unfortunately), my gig as a touring comedian means that I've managed to score one in almost every US state. Admittedly, I've occasionally sipped some not-so-tasty suds, such as the Ybor Gold Light I had in Melbourne, Florida, which tasted more like wet cornflake runoff than beer, or the thin, pale yellow liquid in Minot, North Dakota that may or may not have been squirrel urine. But of all the breweries, bars, pubs, and basements of creepy old men I've frequented for a pint of the good stuff, I found one of my all-time favorites in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Given its industrial look and desolate surroundings, Founders Brewing Co. could be an abandoned Cracker Barrel that was once an abandoned Hooters. But I've come to learn that some of the best watering holes in the country have deceptive facades. While some taprooms distract with kitschy branded tours or a mechanical bull, Founders is all about the beer. Once you pull up to the bar, views of silver fermenting tanks in the adjacent windowed brewery reassure that you are, indeed, drinking the delicious farts of award-winning fungus.
I had tried a few of Founders's offerings before—including the justly-renowned Kentucky Breakfast Stout. But as I bellied up to the bar, it was the "Bastard" line—a family of rich, caramel tinged scotch ales brewed with seven varieties of malt—that called my name.
Quickly graduating from the Lil Bastard (5.4% ABV) to their flagship Dirty Bastard (8.5% ABV), I would eventually muster the balls to take on the Backwoods Bastard (10.2% ABV). That the Backwoods is boozier than its little brothers is only a side note; the big distinguishing factor of this Scotch ale is that it is aged in bourbon barrels. There are few beers I would rather sip on a cold winter day—but go with a snifter, not a mug, for this sweet, intense brew.
Normally this nectar alone would be enough to satisfy, but my pilgrimage to Founders wasn't over yet. A few minutes after discussing both the primary (comedy) and secondary (drinking) objectives of my national travels with the bartender, he excitedly presented me with a shot of every single beer on tap. "For you to remember us by," he'd said with a wave of his hand.
My head buzzing and tastebuds singing, I left a 50% gratuity for a tasty turkey reuben (always tip like Jay-Z if you plan on returning to a place you love), exited the Founders taproom, and sat in my car for twenty minutes until I was no longer in danger of plowing my vehicle into a tree. I didn't mind waiting to sober up, either—I used the time to dwell longingly on the Bastard who had just won my heart.
About the Author: Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic "dating coach" duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com.