is a two time winner of
the Quill and Tankard
writing award from the
North American Guild of
Vince's column is now
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Who’s that dude in a leather jacket waterskiing? Hey, I think it’s Fonzie. Oh my goodness it is. Look, he’s heading
straight for a killer shark. He’s nuts. The driver of the boat must be crazy too. Can it be? That driver looks like
Richie Cunningham (or a grown up Opie Taylor). I can’t watch this...... if he doesn’t make the jump the only one
having Happy Days will be the shark. Gasp – he did it. He jumped the shark!
There are many others who have followed in Fonzie’s shark jumping wake. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer came
back from the dead for the 200th time neither the TV audience (nor the writers) could care less, when the fourth
season of Downtown Abbey relentlessly moved from boring to very, very boring viewers’ collective yawn was
deafening, when Indiana Jones was saved from a nuclear blast by hiding in an old refrigerator it was time to get more
popcorn, when Starbucks expanded wildly only to eventually announce multiple store closings it was time to smell the
coffee, and when BMW brought out the Mini Countryman that was as mini as mini Mack Truck to “jump the shark”
became a household phrase.
Now I propose adding one more name to that every growing list of leapers - Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout.
There’s no denying that KBS is an iconic, world class beer. It’s a staple on almost every critic’s Ten Best list and for
good reason. It’s delicious. The Founders’ brewers took a great Imperial Russian Stout added some espresso
beans and chocolate then aged it in oak bourbon barrels. Result was beer history.
KBS was an instant hit when Founders first unveiled it nationally at the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston in 2005. So
great was their success that demand outpaced supply from day one of distribution. As the word spread about the
beer its cult status grew exponentially. Bottles were being sold for outrageous amounts in the “grey” market as
frustration levels among craft connoisseurs seeking the wondrous brew grew to unprecedented levels. By 2012
Founders began to carefully ration cases and even moved to a ticketed release in 2013 to the chagrin of angry
customers. Bars begged and battled over who would get even one precious keg. There was no equal opportunity
lottery for that decision, Founders sold kegs to those who bought the most of their other beers, reminding everyone
that beer and business have more in common than letters b and e.
The basic law of business survival is to make a profit. You make more profit when you sell more items. If you run out
of those items you make more and then more again. Founders understood that and steadily increased supply to the
point where this year one article from the Detroit Free Press simply stated: “Kentucky Breakfast Stout is widely
available in Michigan”. They could have justifiably added, “and some other states too.” No, were not talking
distribution to the levels of Budweiser, Yuengling , or even Sierra Nevada Pale but one still large enough to merit a
Vulcan eyebrow raise.
Another basic law of business then came into play – if you are a success others will soon copy you. Walk into any
craft beer store, ask for a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout and be prepared for a long stay deciding which of the
many available you want to buy. Admittedly most are not in the league of KBS but a good number clearly are such as
Weyerbacher Sunday Morning Stout, Heavy Seas Siren Noire, Epic Double Barrel Big Bad Baptist, Hoppin’ Frog
Rocky Mountain D.O.R.I.S. (and B.O.I.R.S of course) plus many more.
An increased supply and numerous alternatives buying choices are two things bound to shake up, or in this case,
shake down, the buying frenzy for KBS. Hard to believe you say, well let me submit two recent examples of just that.
Several weeks ago I received an advertising e-mail from Cambridge Wines- not the one in Massachusetts where it
should be located but the one in Morristown, NJ where it shouldn’t. Cambridge Wines is a compact (wine purveyors
are too prestigious to be called tiny) liquor store neatly tucked into a multi-store mini-mall next to the Morristown train
station. Its presence is so modest that even if you’re looking for it all you’ll see is the large pizza restaurant next
door, which will also happen if you were only looking for the pizza place. Despite its size Cambridge Wines has a
reputation for quality, a good thing to have in a wealthy, yuppie community like Morristown that is saturated with
upscale BYOB restaurants. After all, no real yuppie/millennial would dare be seen with a bottle of anything that didn’t
have a 90 Wine Spectator rating when having dinner out. The e-mail however was not about wine, it was about beer.
Cambridge Wines was having a special beer sale. Needless to say we’re not talking a 30 pack of Bud Light for
$9.99. Quality is as quality does. Cambridge only sells the best wines so it stands to reason they only sell the best
beers, and did they ever. The ad listed some outstanding bottles not seen at many stores, most of them in bomber
and 750ml sizes. It also featured a most special 4 pack put together by the store’s beer manager. That’s the one that
caught my eye. No, the 4 pack was not KBS; it was a vertical (2017,2016, 2014, 2015) set of Dogfish Head 120
The sale was slated to start at 6 PM, “first come first serve”. I arrived in Morristown easily enough but then drove
past the place four times and walked past it twice. It’s that small. Fortunately a stop in the pizza place to get my
bearings (and a quick slice) got me back on track in addition to an extra 1,000 calories I didn’t need.
I stepped into Cambridge at 6:02 PM only to find at least a dozen people already there buying various beers. Hard
to believe they all got there between 6 and 6:02 PM; maybe everyone else was on Double Daylight Savings Time but
me. No harm, no foul I guess; what I was interested in was still there. All the prize single bottle beers up for sale
were displayed on a series of wooden barrels, a classy touch worthy of their prices. As I strolled around admiring the
impressive collection I noted several 750ml bottles of KBS standing next to empty spaces that earlier had bottles in
them. I then spent some time looking at the shelves; they were packed with more great beer. But, I had come for
only one thing. I made my selection - the Dogfish 120 four pack. That inspired me to make one final check of the
barrels to see if anything else tempted my soon to be overdrawn credit card. The bottles were mostly gone but not
the KBS ones. They stood there, lonely and unsold.
One week later, almost to the day, I journeyed to The Libertine Tavern for their monthly beer event. This one
featured, as it said on a large poster on the front door, “….the incredible KBS” along with other “excellent beers.”
Since KBS is indeed KBS (and an extra special treat on tap,) and since the event had been heavily promoted on
social media I expected a big crowd. Believing in preparation, I intentionally wore extra cushioned, water proof
(people spill you know) shoes anticipating standing all night. When the Libertine has a special event getting a seat at
just about as likely as finding a balding old guy with a long ponytail wearing a shirt other than tie-die or someone who
actually can taste the difference between a Corona and a Corona Light, (with or without a lime).
Not only did I get a seat, I was able to stretch out a bit thanks to the two empty ones to my left and the one empty one
to my right. I could have also taken one of the group of empty seats at the end of the bar but decided not to since
they were a bit far from the restroom. As any experienced beer drinker knows, the restroom is your friend; keep it
close. The crowd was a touch more than was typical for a Thursday night but it wasn’t close to what it would have
been back in the not so long ago day for a KBS event.
The fact that there were fewer people than I expected didn’t necessarily mean KBS hadn’t lured enough folks in to
make it a big night for the Libertine cash register and a long one for the glass washer. To find out I looked around
the bar and started counting how many glasses had KBS’ signature thick coffee color with a small tan head. Hoping
for a big numer, I even counted any glass with any dark liquid in it (excluding the cola ones, well, at least the diet
version). Less than one quarter of all the drinks on the bar made the grade.
Now you see why I’m forced to conclude that,at least in this small area of the world, KBS had indeed jumped the
shark. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact for me it was very good. So much KBS was left that I was able to
return to the Libertine the next four nights to enjoy it. At it's current sales pace it will probably be there for at least
another week .....and so will I. KBS may no longer be the stuff frenzies are made of but it’s still one great beer.
And I bet Fonzie agrees with me.
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