Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown is, simply by its name, intended to be a variation on a brown ale. But confusingly, RateBeer.com considers the latest release in the limited Backstage Series, an American Strong Ale. What the hell? It has ‘Brown’ in the name and the label reads “Brown ale brewed with artificially flavored hazelnut coffee”. Sure sounds like a ‘brown ale‘ to us. Beer advocate calls it a brown ale, so why the discrepancy with RateBeer? It turns out, this simple sounding style is anything but.
Beer Advocate distinguishes between English Browns and American Browns such as they dub Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown. To them, English browns are sweeter, reminding them of a mild with pumped-up crystal malts. The American version, in their words “may have additions of coffee or nuts” , “also encompasses ‘Dark Ales’ “, and “(t)he bitterness and hop flavor has a wide range” as does the alcohol. British beer historian and writer Martyn Cornell believes differently, arguing that English Brown Ale is in fact not a style at all, containing everything from blends of amber and darker ale like Newcastle, to the un-blended, black-brown Manns Brown Ale. The Oxford Companion to Beer, ( ironically given his early criticism of the tome) is in agreement with Martyn, calling the term ‘brown ale’ “not much more useful than the term ‘red wine’ “. So, as long as it is colored brown and not of Belgian or German make, it can be lumped in to brown. Unless it has above 5% ABV or so, then RateBeer is going to call you a strong ale. Which brings us back to the beer of the hour.
A brewpub exclusive for many years, Frangelic Mountain Brown makes its bottle debut as the fourth beer in the 750ml limited run Backstage Series. These are beers that have never been bottled, giving people who cannot make it to Grand Rapids, the chance to try their rare beers. It has been very successful, with the fervor for a few of the beers such as Canadian Breakfast Stout, reaching Tom Cruise on the couch levels of nutty. Thankfully, FMB comes with less hype, in large part due to growler fills being generally available at Founders, and the lack of complex brewing techniques like barrel aging. But this is a coffee based beer from one of the world’s most adroit brewers of java brew so there is still a lot of expectation that this will be a winner.
Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown darts into your olfactory system from the moment you uncap the bottle. Hazelnut, coffee and caramel dominate the nose. The semi-translucent, shoe-leather brown body is topped with a pale khaki head is surprisingly full for a 9% brew, but dissipates quickly. The scrumptious taste is a mix of the hazelnut coffee, some biscuit malts, caramel, and a pop of bitter hops in the finish. While not a big hop profile, the bitter finish adds a welcome complexity to the beer. The nutty elements are somewhat reminiscent of a local brew, Willoughby Brewing Company’s Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter. The body is that midpoint between pilsner and stout we call ‘medium’. The finish is medium-dry and the high ABV masked like so much Everclear in a frat party’s harry buffalo.
Among the hundreds of brewers who occasionally brew a coffee based beverage, Founders has proven themselves among the best. Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown in no way diminishes that reputation. We review a lot of coffee beers, and while not the flavor monster Founders coffee based stouts (Breakfast stout, KBS) are, this brown ale is that rare mix of complex, delicious flavors, paired with high drinkability. With the least fanfare of any beer in the series so far (and worst label) this one should be an easier score than its Backstage Series brothers. Take advantage and go pick up a bottle or two if you can. Not one for the cellar though, as the coffee flavor will likely fade, as will those subtle hops, so drink this one fresh!