Wednesday, August 15, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Divine Reserve 12 Old Ale | St. Arnold's Brewing | Houston, TX

The way I feel about this beer is the same feeling I get every odd-numbered-year when I'm watching Texas get mounted like a donkey-show hooker in the Cotton Bowl by a bunch of land-thieving, cousin-kissers.  In every one of those bad-timin' years, with five minutes to go in whichever particular massacre it happens to be at that time -- all the excitement of the day finally drains from my soul and the frothing bile recedes from my yell organ into the pit of my stomach.  At this point, in what is the most anticipated day for a Longhorn fan, one has to lethargically admit to imminent defeat as Oklahomans holler in the seats with their UncleDads. 

And if Divine Reserve 9 was the 2005 Red River Rivalry, and Divine Reserve 11 was the 2008 iteration, then Divine Reserve 12 is the awful memory of 2003, a major letdown, a 65-13 hurting at the hands of former Texans and a puppy-eating head coach.  Not even Vince Young could help us that day.

And there is nothing VY could do to improve this beer if He Himself blessed it with his magical touch.

It appears that the focal message of St. Arnold's Divine Reserve Series is to create a horrific hysteria used to panic beer nerds across the beerscape by making this special release as rare as October Cotton Bowl tickets, promising an emboldened product, and, in the case of #12, letting all of its fans down with a spectacular crapping of the crib. 

Nonetheless, histrionics always win out, as the rank and file would rather fellate August Busch IV's beer bottle than miss out on snagging a single six-pack on the one and only day its offered at the suggested retail price.  

Then there is the matter of hoarders trolling those unlucky few who have silly subsidiary responsibilities, like jobs and families, offering it at offensive prices on the secondary market to the "desperate".

In other words, there is so much build up, so much hype and aggression towards this series that it strolls into the arena brimming with confidence -- and any mistakes are going to be magnified by a lathered populous.   And in this arena, on this big stage, assigned with a high ranking and an inflated 15-quid price point, Divine Reserve 12 swagged out of the tunnel and got summarily mounted by failure.

In the days leading up to Divine Reserve 12's release, I read something in the Houston media that kind of caught my attention in the wrong way.
"This beer is designed to age and will shine after being cellared for a year or more," said Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner. "The aging process will allow sherry notes to develop which will balance the spicy malt/alcohol flavors that dominate when this beer is young." Wagner recommends cellaring the DR No. 12 cold for best results."
Now, I'm certainly an advocate of cellaring beer to discover the ancillary characteristics of its evolution, however, this practice should be a voluntary action, not a requisite.  What St. Arnold's is telling me about this beer is that its undrinkable under its present condition.  I don't think I've ever heard a brewer just come right out and suggest not drinking his beer.  Its just not a righteous practice. 

But another interesting point to be made is this: how does one know it will get better with age in an across-the-board practice?   Will every beer in this release behave the same way, under certainly suspect conditions based on the level of "cellaring abilities" of the patient few?  A few peeks at former 'Horns QB Garret Gilbert told us that aging couldn't improve EVERY product, particularly with so many inconsistent, uncontrollable variables.  Garret Gilbert couldn't be cellared and improved because the base model lacked promise to begin with.

And despite Vince Young being a part of the '03 debacle, one knew straight away that he could use some development and improve exponentially.  We all saw how that ended in 2005.  His talent was overwhelmingly obvious.  Number 12 is the Garret Gilbert of the Divine Reserve series.

Look, I wasn't exactly expecting live hot sex in regards to this beer, but the prior installments of the series had been very-good-to-great and there was no reason to expect that St. Arnold's would fumble this infrequent release (DR 11 was dispensed a long, 15 months ago).

So, then, what makes Divine Reserve 12 so below-average?

First, it displays so very few characteristics of a traditional old ale.  It is not deep or dark or lush or emotive.  It is only slightly candied, but not in a complex way.  There is nary a glimmer of caramel sticky buns that are reminiscent of old ales.  There is no buttered brown sugar, raisins, dark fruit, oak, scotch, or finishing rum.  In fact, without these complexities, Divine Reserve 12 is just a very thin, very uninspired beer.  I don't even know what style to call it; I can't really put my finger on it, but it reminds me of being in a Swedish dance club that is playing Canadian Polka -- just a truly unusual beer mixture.

Yes, I'll admit that Divine Reserve 12 is drinkable.  No, you will probably not water your plants with it -- but it is just an overall disappointment, and I suspect the brewers even thought so too, particularly with the whole "just age it!" mantra.

I do feel a bit remorseful giving Texas heroes St. Arnold such a terrible grade on their efforts, but then I remembered that in no way could this ever effect current or future sales.  That cash boat has sailed back to Houston weeks ago with the clamor of weaponry and fisticuffs in the aisles of the megastores.  But if you see one emerge at some point -- maybe the requisite year from now, I guess you can ask it how its enjoying things over at SMU.

ABV: 10.o%
Acquired: Spec's


Mike said...

Ok, good, I'm glad I didn't "miss" something when I tried it on draft. I haven't been on the DR train for long, but I certainly saw how easy it is to get swept up in the hype. I picked up a bomber of it and it's now stashed in my fridge for who knows how long. I figure now that I know it wasn't great "right now", there's no rush to crack it open. Maybe it'll be better at the DR13 release party :)

Mike Ramirez said...

I snuck out of work to hit Spec's as soon as I saw it on their Facebook. I love being walked to the office to pick up a six pack – it’s like I’m buying something illegal. Glad to hear you all didn’t enjoy it either. I was also afraid that I was ‘missing’ something when I tried it.

Dr Clarkus said...

Great review. I still want to try it because of the hype, so I guess they did that right.