If you were one of the 49,000 that trod the avenues of the Colorado Convention Center four weeks ago, you will have noted that bourbon, wine, and rum barrels appear to have doubled up on their chores and are now serving as placeholders for alcohol beyond their initial duties of making 12-year-old whiskey and Bordeaux more delicious in the mouth.
This Zeitgeist of alcohol flavored alcohol, brewed and aged by nearly every participant at the festival, finally brought to my attention that whiskey innoculation is probably on its unofficial downward trajectory -- something I find remarkably unfortunate because barrel-aged beers are a fucking ride, man! But as per the protocol of all things faddish, these modifiers of the good into great have to eventually diminish towards its lonely exile, where it has to keep the TV on at night for company.
The beer industry is notorious for beating dead horses into field hamburger -- even after as the fresh-face kink of the latest extreme brewing technique has faded into banality; everyone is doing it, so why aren't we?
I'll answer that one for the people in the industry: Because you don't run the triple option when you don't have an offensive line, or, you know, three running backs. The talent, discipline, or personnel isn't always there for an undertaking of such methodical precision, and one that has lots of moving parts. With so many breweries feeling obligated to barrel age, literally anything, it has led us to a point where ordinary beers are tainting the beer wall with the instrumental versions of your favorite songs.
I will say, however, that there is usually a Marshal Plan in place for most brewing trends -- and this sort of reconstruction will begin with the masters of its style rebuilding the bombed-out reputation of beer in barrels. Nationally, those are places like Russian River, New Belgium, Goose Island, Jolly Pumpkin, and Deschutes, while at the municipal level, places like (512) and Hops & Grain (their Baltic Porter on Cherries was one of the best things I've tasted this Fall) are tilling the garden of rejuvenation.
So, generally, the previous few paragraphs was my attitude and internal response when I learned that Saint Arnold would be doing yet another vanity project based entirely on barrel aging beers. This series they would be calling Bishop's Barrel, and the first of the series would be -- are you sitting? -- a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. I nearly fell out of my chair with boredom. The same brewery who made Santo?
My buddy Mike likes to say things like, Santo is necessary because it keep the lights on,
meaning that Saint Arnold couldn't be sustainable as a brewery making densely-constructed, small batch, pet-project beers like Bishop's Barrel #1. And
he's right. People need to keep buying Santo and Elissa IPA for
whatever their reasons they might have to waste their money, so that Saint Arnold will have the resources to continue targeting what they are best at, specialty craft beer.
Saint Arnold's spectrum of beers is like a wife utilizing her women senses: Sometimes you just don't know what kind of shit your gonna experience in that moment, but realize that each of these encounters has the potential for unbridled awesomeness or the potential for temple-rubbing confusion. Sometimes the look on your face is of incredulity about how something grew into a mature and sustainable entity all by itself. Santo? Santo should have sunk the battleship. But Pumpkinator was its Marshal Plan, an emphasis on big, reputation-saving beers that give impression that they are bound by financial restraints, but their true passion lies in small batch. I can't really fade 'em for that. Its like a line from a favorite song of mine by The National, " Karen, believe me, you just haven't seen my good side yet".
For having little experience with barrel aging, it appears that Saint Arnold just wanted to get in the cockpit and mash the gears until they made something incredibly viscous, boozy, and sweet. And after one lap around the course, I would say that they steered this beer with remarkable fucking pace. There is delivery around all corners, vanilla up front, bourbon down the straights, and candied confection through the finish. And, and. Its powerful as shit, straight fucking metal. The imperial Russian stout was matured in Kentucky's Woodford Reserve barrels for 10 months, bottled in remarkably ballsy 12 ounce bottles, shipped to a handful of bars/restaurants ONLY to the tune of 1,000 measly cases, and the hype did the rest. But hype is only called hype when it disappoints.
This did not. Not at all.
Go build your rocket, boys.
ABV 10.o - 11.o %
Acquired Friends. How many of us have them?
Can I Find This in Austin? Yes, but extremely rare, and only in bars. Unless, y'know, friends.
Album The National | Alligator (2005)