I find most of their regular rotating inventory as uninspired as the Spoetzl Brewery, and I purchase it on free will about as much as I purchase Shiner products. There's nothing really wrong with them -- its just that there is nothing really right about them either.
However, there is a GIANT exception to this rule -- and that is when I scramble all over the damn place to find St. Arnold's limited seasonal releases and Divine Reserve Series. Its a pursuit for sure, as they are a very popular brewer in Texas, and even their most casual of fans are pretty versed on their special release dates, making the competition to wrangle this stuff pretty difficult at times.
When Divine Reserve 11 was released in March of last year (2011), I got a tip from my tip-people that HEB had about 12 cases. By the time I showed up about an hour later, they were down to three, and dudes were scooping them up by the armful, like desperate contestants on Supermarket Sweep. One good thing about St. Arnold releases is that local grocers will always get inventory -- an oddity for rare beers to be in the common markets -- and that they have no bottle limitations, which is nice if you have large arms. Most specialty liquor stores in the US will put a cap on the amount of product you can purchase to limit hording and re-selling on eBay. I know, right?
So, I grab as many as my arms can carry -- three sixers for me and one for my cousin Ben in El Paso, hop head that he is, because DR 11 was supposed to be a superb Double Indian Pale Ale (DIPA) -- a first for this series, as the Divine Reserve recipe changes styles year-to-year.
Now, anyone who is a beer snob has to be initiated into the DIPA club at some point -- beers with Bitterness Units (IBUs) into the triple digits, usually, and an ABV hovering at-or-above 10%. These trolls of the beer world were first introduced on the West Coast by brewers not satisfied with the bitter qualities of just any regular ol' IPA. DIPAs tend to get gnarled in the mouth; spicy, floral, citrusy, with a fine alcohol burn in the back.
Divine Reserve 11 turned out to be such a huge hit for St. Arnold, that 12 months later, they released the same recipe in a bomber bottle and re-packaged it as a perennial called St. Arnold Endeavor; so named for Houston's roots as Space City in relation to the Space Shuttle Endeavor. I picked one up on its Leap Year release date with anticipation of tasting DR11 and Endeavor side-by-side; brewed and bottled exactly one year apart, as this is the true sport of cellar-aging beers (apart from hoarding and selling on Ebay).
One last note before the tasting: Ironically, DIPAs, and to a broader extent IPAs in general, are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible -- so the closer to the bottling dates, the better IPAs should taste based on the brewers vision. This is ironic in the sense that IPAs were originally invented by the British during the colonial empire days as a way to (literally) ship (as in, I'm on a Boat!) beer to India from the UK without it spoiling during the long voyage. The natural hop qualities preserved the beer -- and obviously, the more hops you brewed with the beer, the longer it would sustain. In modern times, IPAs and DIPAs will still preserve in a beer cellar, but are meant to be enjoyed primarily for the hops, not because of their secondary effects. Aging IPAs will mellow out some of their traditional characteristics, but can still be very interesting as the flavors have had time to congeal and make a nice little picnic.
First, we tried Endeavor, the fresh-as-fresh-gets DIPA. I had Melissa look up the stats because I'd forgotten over time what the IBUs and ABV was. Melissa reports back between sips -- because she multi-tasks that way pretty often -- "IBUs: 78, ABV: 8.9%", she says. I thought that was really tame for a DIPA -- and to be honest, it tasted like my thoughts. While very nice and fresh and balanced, I expected way more alcohol burn to let me know that this is a special club for people who like to chew their beer. I took another sip: floral, but not sweet like most DIPAs. A little piny, but not really getting any citrus either -- rather a tropical, mealy fruitiness. The usual characteristics a DIPA weren't really presenting itself and for some reason, I remember liking DR11 much more than I was liking this. But maybe I'm being a bit too rough, since this was still a very outstanding DIPA with enough balance and equilibrium to help me pass any freeway sobriety test thrown my way.
I moved on to the DR11 -- one of the six remaining in my cellar -- the cap said Drink Me. No really, it did. So I poured its brains into a tulip. Brains.
Most of the astringent tropical notes were gone, and instead, I got more of a muddled fruit -- like apricots/peaches? Fuck, I couldn't tell cos all those fruits kinda taste the same to me. DR11 was doing its DIPA thing and still being very hoppy, but it was not a palate wrecker. It tasted like something below an Imperial IPA -- a single, if you will. It was still delicious, but very obviously different than I remembered. I will probably drink the rest of these very quickly before the rest of the flavors meld into Lone Star -- well, okay, not Lone Star, but some shitty brew that Red Hook or Widmer Brothers would make.
Overall, DIPAs are an extremely subjective style of beer. Some people can pick the nuances out of the beer so accurately that really I'm just envisioning their beer as they are describing it. Melissa is like this. I'm pretty sure she's a super-taster with a palate containing thousands-more buds than your typical-taster -- thus, I get a lot of influence from her experiences. She is saying she likes it, but now my ears are ringing because I've just consumed too much high ABV beer too fast. I want to sing The Strokes out loud. Stop telling me about DIPAs, woman.
In the end, I think that St. Arnold Endeavor/DR11 is very, very nearly a world class DIPA, but I feel as though it needed a bit more ambition to reach the levels of Pliny the Elder , Hopslam, or Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
See you in the aisles for DR12.
Acquired: DR11: HEB/ Endeavor: Spec's
★★★★★★★☆☆☆ / ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆