For this edition of Bits and Brews I wanted to take a look at a recently released vintage of a world class beer and a game that has achieved worldwide acclaim through its various releases over the years. They link together in a way that may seem trivial at first, it did to me when the idea first hit anyway, but upon further reflection, makes perfect sense. This month we pair Cave Story with Founders KBS.
Founders KBS, a flavored stout good for everything a flavored stout should be good for. (or so says the bottle) Released during the first week of April every year, KBS (kentucky breakfast stout as it was originally known before kentucky got butt hurt for some reason) is a chocolate and coffee flavored imperial stout that is aged in oak bourbon barrels for a year in gypsum mines in Michigan. During this aging process the beer picks up a ton of bourbon character that gives the base beer elements of vanilla and wood and of course, bourbon. It pours jet black with a very tiny off-white head the dissipates rather quickly. In the glass, there is no doubt this beer is barrel-aged. The aroma is heavy bourbon, coffee, sweet chocolate, vanilla, some oak, some dark bread, toffee/caramel, and roast. It smells incredible. The taste matches the aroma quite closely, especially as you let it warm. Fresh, KBS is very hot (at least the last two years anyway) so aging it to let the alcohol mellow a bit isn't out of the question. (though the coffee will drop off completely) The mouthfeel is on point for a BBA Stout. It's thick and coating and leaves a damn pleasant aftertaste.
What I love about this beer so much is how deep and complex it is. KBS is world class. There are a ton of bourbon barrel aged stouts on the market, some phenomenal, some pedestrian at best. The amount of variety in this category is pretty impressive as well with not just the typical coffee and/or chocolate being added but fruit, spices, peppers, vanilla beans, bark, basically anything that makes sense in this style. KBS keeps it relatively simple with just the coffee and chocolate, espresso beans to be exact, and quality barrels. The resulting beer doesn't seek to win awards with gimmicks, just quality presentation. There is no question that Founders is one of the top brewers in the country. Their regular lineup of beers is stacked with awards. (founders porter is a personal favorite as is all day IPA) Their seasonal releases are highly sought after and, among the craft beer crowd, are some of the more looked forward to beers every year. (breakfast stout, why can't you be year round?) What you get with KBS is a beer that has depth. The initial sips are heavy on the chocolate and booze. As your palate adjusts, the subtleties start to peak out. The vanilla from the wood, the roastiness from the malts, the balance from the bittering hops, it all gets deeper and more enjoyable as you go. This is a beer that, while surprisingly drinkable at over 11% ABV, rewards you for taking your time. If you can get it, not an easy task to say the least, you simply must. It is worth the hype.
Cave Story is a true labor of love. Originally released in 2004 as freeware, downloadable on the PC at no cost, Cave Story has seen its legend grow and grow as the years have progressed. The entirety of the game (art, gameplay, music, etc.) was done by one man, Daisuke Amaya or as he is lovingly known, Pixel. It took Pixel over five years to develop the game. He started work on the project while in college and after graduating and getting a job, as a software developer, he continued to work in his free time. Pixel was inspired by classic titles like Metroid, Blaster Master, Castlevania, and Super Mario Bros. He has said that he wanted his game to be one that taught the players through gameplay rather than tutorials and one that rewarded players for digging deep. It was self published at first. As more and more people played the game, its notoriety grew. It was praised by critics and fans alike for its look, feel, and story. The retro graphics, so commonplace now, were a necessity for Pixel. They allowed him to create the game by himself, something he says would have been impossible given a 3D title. The game garnered such a following that developer Nicalis worked with Pixel to bring the game to WiiWare, DSiWare, and STEAM as Cave Story+ and even to the 3DS with Cave Story 3D. Not bad for a self published adventure.
What I love about Cave Story is its feel. The game at once feels classic and new. The graphics help for sure, but the gameplay also gives it that classic feel. Playing through the game, it's hard to deny the influence of older NES classics like Metroid, Mega Man, or Castlevania. Everything from the musical cues to the simplicity of the controls screams retro NES in the best of ways. The game plays beautifully with a keyboard and, in my opinion, even better with a gamepad. The story, which I will not spoil here, is delightfully old school. It is full of weird. Your character wakes up in a cave with no memory. From there, you set off on an adventure that leads you to a village of creatures called the Mimigas who are being tormented by the Doctor. (no, not that the doctor, a different the doctor) The Doctor and his lackeys are looking for a girl named Sue Sakamoto. Once you find Sue in the Egg Corridor, things come off the rails in the most charming way. It's a game that would have felt right at home in the hands of a younger me and my 13 inch TV.
So why these two together? Well, caves obviously. I mean, that was my initial thought, KBS is aged in a cave and Cave Story takes place in a cave... But as I thought about it, an actual, worthy reason, presented itself. Depth and complexity brought about by sticking to the simple. Both KBS and Cave Story are fairly simple in their execution. (not taking anything away from the actual work that goes into these products) Both take tried and true formulas and do them with excellence. And as you spend time with them, you begin to appreciate a deeper feeling and understanding of them. There is a reward for taking your time and appreciating the experience you are having. With KBS, there is no rush. (unless you want to be absolutely hammered at a much higher price point) With Cave Story there is no rush. You are free to explore, to discover. It's a wonderful thing when consumer products allow themselves to open up to you over time. As you drink or as you play, they change. It's a fantastic way to spend an evening or two. So grab yourself a KBS (room temp is best i've found), or a substitute like Epic Big Bad Baptist or New Holland Dragon's Milk if you were not one of the lucky ones, and a free copy of Cave Story and settle in for an initial rush followed by a steady dose of discovery. You won't regret it. Follow me on twitter and instagram, @geekadedan, and check me out over on Sommbeer for more great craft beer content. Till then...