Monday, February 25, 2013

Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel No. 2 Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Bishop's Barrel No. 2
Style: Old Ale | ABV: 7.8% | IBUs: 13
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel No. 2
Time for a fresh old Saint Arnold beer, as we have a new Bishop's Barrel release to review. Bishop's Barrel is Saint Arnold's new experimental barrel-aged series, and the second installment just dropped. I was a big fan of the first release, so I've been looking forward to trying this one.

Luckily for me, it was released on President's Day and I had the day off, so I braved the elements and waited again outside Petrol Station here in Houston with a rowdy crew of beer geeks and was able to score a few bottles to bring home.

This time around, we have Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale (an Old Ale) aged with cherries in Chardonnay barrels. It was brewed in November 2011, racked that December, and finally bottled earlier this month (February 2013). 54 barrels were aged, yielding 1,146 cases of finished product.

When it came time to bottle, the brewers discovered that two of the barrels had taken on Brettanomyces wild yeast character, while another two barrels had taken on sour lactic bacteria character. Instead of dumping these barrels, after testing they were added to the final blend, and will hopefully add a little funk to the proceedings.

Saint Arnold describe the finished product as:
[L]ight malt up front, chardonnay in the middle and finishes try with a distinct tartness. The cherry throughout is a light note, never dominating.
A funky barrel aged beer from my hometown? Let's get to it!

Appearance: A hazy red-orange body with bright orange highlights. Up top, a half a finger of whitish head burns out almost instantly, leaving the faintest ring around the edge and no lacing.

Aroma: Sweet, tart, musty juicy cherries over biscuity malt and mild barrel character.

Taste: A mix of tart, sweet, and juicy cherries, white wine, caramel malt, vanilla and oak from the barrels, and just a hint of spicy booze. There’s a lot going on here, but everything is balanced rather nicely. Juicy cherry and biscuity malt in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with velvety-smooth medium carbonation and a drying finish.

Drinkability: Goes back about as you’d expect given the style and alcohol content.

Verdict: Bishop’s Barrel 2 is an interesting and thoroughly enjoyable beer. There’s less barrel character than the last release, but it’s still all rather solid and a total departure from the base Christmas Ale. I was hoping for a bit more funk and/or sour character, but when am I not?

Grade: A-

Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel No. 1 Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Bishop's Barrel No. 1
Style: Russian Imperial Stout | ABV: 12.0% | IBUs: 49
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel No. 1
Saint Arnold has been busy substantially increasing its portfolio substantially over the last few years. Along with new year-round and occasional brews, they've created two new series to accompany their Divine Reserve series. The first is Icon, originally conceived as a series of new beers iconic of their respective style. The second is Bishop's Barrel, a collection of inventive small-batch beers that have been graced with a period of barrel aging.

For now, Saint Arnold is releasing Bishop's Barrel via bars and restaurants. I've heard the logic is that this will help reward their loyal on-premise accounts and cut down on hoarding. Luckily for me some of these accounts chose to sell their bottles to-go and I was able to scoop up the first release after lining up outside Petrol Station here in Houston with a bunch of other beer geeks.

First in the Bishop's Barrel series is a big Russian Imperial Stout aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. It was brewed in December 2011, racked in January 2012, and finally bottled in October 2012. Only 48 barrels were aged, resulting in just 948 cases, hardly enough to satiate the Saint Arnold army.

Saint Arnold describe the finished product as:
A pleasant sipping beer with the bourbon both present but not overpowering as you work your way through the glass. Oddly easy to drink for a beer this strong.
Let's crack open the barrel and see what lies inside.

Appearance: An inky black body with the subtlest of red highlights around the edge. Up top, half a finger of tannish head that fades in average time, leaving good lacing.

Aroma: Dark chocolate, molasses, licorice, booze, and a hell of a lot of barrel character with plenty of oak and vanilla.

Taste: The base beer has a decent amount of the typical dark chocolate, dark coffee, and dark malt Imperial Stout flavors, but is on the less-intense side. Again, there’s lots of big barrel on the edge (vanilla, oak, and full-on bourbon). Everything meshes well. The booze is masked well; it’s apparent throughout, but kept in check considering the amount here. Dark toasty grain, oak, and a hint of booze in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with velvety smooth medium carbonation and just a little warmth from the booze. Lighter in body than most of the style.

Drinkability: Drinks just a little faster than the healthy double-digit alcohol content and style would suggest.

Verdict: As a showcase for barrel aging, Bishop’s Barrel is off to a strong start with number one, as there’s heaps of barrel character all around this beer. I’m in love with the barrel character, but the base beer is just a little too thin in flavor and body for this to get absolute top marks. Can’t wait to see how this ages and what’s up next from the series.

Grade: A

Note: While this review is being published in 2013, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh in 2012.