Founders KBS and the problem with limited release craft beers

Colin Joliat

Colin Joliat


Unlike Fight Club, craft beer thrives on people talking about craft beer, and nothing gets people talking more than limited release beers that only 274 well-informed people will be able to buy. Many of these beers will never be able to live up to their own hype, but Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout does it with ease.

There are 2,822 breweries in the U.S., which means it’s getting much harder to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. Many breweries now rely on limited release beers in order to get attention. These do a couple things for a brewery.

Internally, it allows the brewers to show off their skills and creativity. Similar to any job, you’re going to get bored if you’re punching out the same TPS reports day after day. The freedom to create new limited releases helps brewers keep their sanity and breweries keep their talent.

Externally it gets people talking about a brewery again. They can have the three best flagships in the business, but once everyone has tried them there’s no reason to talk about it anymore. Roll out a 15% ABV Russian Imperial Stout one day per year and people will go absolutely insane and never stop talking about it. Unfortunately scarcity leads to hype.

We’ve all seen movies that can’t match the hype. I’m not talking about the PR machine absolutely ruining Anchorman 2. I’m talking about friends who recite every line and swear on their not-yet-dead mothers’ graves that it’s the greatest movie of all time. Once that happens you know you’re in for disappointment. I’m guilty of it too, as I’m sure many more people would enjoy Blue Streak if I didn’t constantly insist that it was the finest piece of comedic film making since the invention of humor. The same can be true of beer.

The extremely limited nature of many beers leads to irrational overexuberance. Scarcity does not equal quality. These special releases are typically better because breweries are willing to use ingredients and processes that aren’t fiscally viable for a year-around offering, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Much like diamonds, artificially limiting the supply of something increases the value even if there’s nothing special about the product.

Colin Joliat

Colin Joliat


Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout is considered one of the best beers in the world. It’s #5 according to Beer Advocate’s Top 250 and #8 according to The Daily Meal’s “World’s 50 Best Beers.” It’s also almost impossible to get, and is one that people drive across the country for a shot at buying. Those people are obviously insane, which often leads me to assume the beer is overrated. While taste is obviously subjective, it’s a sad state when hype immediately inspires skepticism.

Fortunately KBS is one that lives up to and perhaps even surpasses the hype. It’s a bourbon barrel aged stout brewed with chocolate and coffee. Many barrel aged beers are off-balanced messes that ends up either too boozy or like chewing on a 2’x4′. People will still say they’re amazing though because it was hard to get and barrel-aged is all the rage so it must be good. KBS is perfection in a bottle, like a quadricorn galloping through a field of $2 bills. The chocolate and coffee blend well and the oak brings everything together with a little added vanilla and caramel. It’s a big beer at 11.2% ABV, but it’s not one you’d struggle to drink. I wouldn’t actually recommend it for breakfast though, or you’ll be taking a 9am nap.

KBS is an example of a limited release that manages to live up to its own hype. Maybe all those people driving up from Mississippi are smarter than I am, who knows. The point is, don’t get so worked up over limited release beers that you’ll likely never drink. Just because there’s a 10 somewhere at the party doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to the 8 standing right in front of you. Cheap dates are almost always more fun.