Brewer’s Perspectives: Breakfast Stout
A professional pioneer of the style, Founders Brewing Co.’s Jeremy Kosmicki talks about the process of breakfast stout.
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s no wonder Breakfast Stout and it’s variants from Founders Brewing Co. are so popular. While the brewery never trademarked the style, it is synonymous with the rich, full, sweet stout that Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki says started out as a homebrew recipe. Interview by John Holl
Breakfast Stout is a beer so many people know today and almost take for granted. How did it come to be?
“I was friends with former Head Brewer Nate Walser before we started working at Founders. When we came to the brewery, [the owners] were just about ready to throw in the towel and started making these crazy beers. Nate fabricated a one-barrel pilot system and in 2002. One of the beers we made was Breakfast Stout.
It was inspired by my homebrew days. I really loved coffee beers, such as Redhook’s Double Black Stout. It was a boozy bomber for $3 and so a great deal. Bell’s Java Stout was an inspiration as well. Then I had Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. That was a revelation! So it got us thinking, and we started fooling around with coffee and chocolate, and I started melting chocolate and steeping coffee into an oatmeal stout.”
So, professionally, it started off small?
“We’re set up for a 30-barrel production, so that was a lot of beer for us back then, especially if it wasn’t going into a bottle, so we wound up making two barrels at a time and just serving it in our taproom. It was a way of getting our friends to come down and visit us and to get new folks to come into the pub. We soon realized that there were a lot of people with a passion for craft beer and that if we had beers like this, business would blow up. We looked at Bell’s and their Eccentric Cafe where they always had different beers on tap just at the bar, and we wanted to create an atmosphere like that. It’s how a lot of beers such as Red’s Rye, Dirty Bastard, and—of course—breakfast Stout came to be. We got creative, and eventually they started making their way into the bottle.”
You’ve said in the past that Breakfast Stout is a labor-intensive beer. How so?
“Because of the coffee and chocolate, it’s a lot more involved than a regular beer. Back in the day, we’d get these 10-pound bars of chocolate, and we’d have to bust them up to get them to a size where they would melt properly during the brewing process. So, we’d get out a mallet, sledgehammer, whatever we could just to bust these bars apart. With the coffee, we like to use it on both the hot and cold side so that just makes extra work for everyone, especially steeping in the hot wort.”
What do you look for with both chocolate and coffee when putting together a Breakfast Stout?
“You want to avoid chocolates with a lot of milk fats. We use a dark, bittersweet chocolate and some chocolate liquor discs that don’t have a lot of fats and oils because those will mess with the
head. When we first started making this beer, we had a local coffee roaster in town that also carried Belgian chocolates, and they were a great resource in helping us find exactly what we needed and what worked. We’ve outgrown them on the chocolate side but still use them for coffee. We use a Sumatra on the hot side, and it draws on the earthiness of the bean and adds a lot to the beer recipe. You want a coarse-ground coffee so you get a good steep from it, and honestly as long as you’re using a good-quality coffee—don’t throw Folgers in there—you’ll be okay. Go to a local roaster and ask them for opinions. They can help steer you in the right direction.”
What about the base beer? How do you go about putting it together?
“At first we made just a regular stout, but we realized that the chocolate and coffee came out thin, so the next time around, we imperialized it. There’s the usual chocolate malt, roasted barley, and black patent malt, too. A big dose of oats helps with mouthfeel. For the coffee and the chocolate, we use the wort as the medium. I know other places might do different things, but this is the way we’ve always done it. We melt the chocolate into the wort and then we steep coffee. In the old days, we were opening 5-pound bags [of coffee]; now we have super sacks that we hang.
For homebrewing, I’d say go ahead and use a bunch of specialty grain, and a thick body is an important part. You don’t want it to come out too thin. Then, get the chocolate melted but never boiled and really the most important thing is using high-quality ingredients, and then go to town. We’ve scaled up the process but still want to make sure it’s the way we want it to taste. If you mess with it too much, you get away from it. It’s an amazing beer, but it’s still a pain in the ass to make.”
How long before you guys started putting the beer into various barrels?
“It was about two years after we first made Breakfast Stout. We got out first few barrels, and it just made sense to use them with the beer. That’s how Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) came to be.
Then, there was a local guy, a chef and a foodie, who did a lot of barrel aging, and he was aging maple syrup in bourbon barrels. He came by and asked if we wanted [the barrels] for beer. So we immediately jumped on it, and at first we had only six or eight of them so it was a small batch that we dubbed Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS). But, it just makes sense with the flavors of the bourbon, plus the sweet and rich maple; all the flavors in the base beer just work really well.”
You released CBS again in late 2017 after a several years’ absence. These barrels are tougher to come by I imagine.
“They are. It’s why we only release the beer when we can and not as often as we’d like. We need more people to age maple syrup in bourbon barrels!”