Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bishop's Barrel #2 Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Old Ale on Cherries | Saint Arnold Brewing | Houston, TX

I only recently realized that the way I've been buying beer over the course of the last two years is just absolutely horrifying to me.  

I'm not necessarily referring to the financial angle of my beer buying habits, no -- though that it is equally retch inducing.  

I'm speaking of matters a bit more emotive in terms of how I'm buying beer lately.  I suspect that the  natural evolution of beer nerdery is the progressive hunt for a better hit than the previous one.  The last whiskey barrel aged beer gave a four hour erection?  Super.  Then the next one better be a heart-arresting thrill ride to Boys Town.  I suspect that similar to actual junkies, beer hounds are looking for quality grade drugs in an ocean of Okie-caliber meth.  Well, okay, that's not entirely fair to the craft industry who makes very agreeable, sessionable, school-night beers --  however the theory still remains: I'm an abject street cat who has savored the taste of ōtoro and is experiencing difficulty going back to a diet of StarKist on the weekdays.  My beer buying habits reflect this.

Almost dissolved in the [AA] household is the dependable joy of committing to a 12-pack of microbrew for the explicit duty of getting us through the work week, for welcoming friends over to the porch, lining up the small infantry of recyclable musketeers on the rail like the skins of a hunt.  A 12-pack of fresh, grocery store bottles cramming the top shelf of the house fridge like a stack of Kinks or Otis Redding albums on the turntable denoting very imminent sensory pleasure.

At some point during the crossover from enjoying beer, to fussing over beer, the idea to stock the fridge with reliable friends goes away, and the focus shifts to the next great hit from the beer cellar.  Fuck all that.  Drinking craft used to be about the atmosphere and the company and the stack of records serenading us through the open window.  I'm gonna get back to that.  I'm going to leave all that slapdickery about "shelf beer" to the micropenises on Beer Advocate.  Because that's the kind of misery someone too involved with being a beer junkie should have to deal with.


I started drinking handsomely crafted ales in the pub mentioned at the bottom of this piece many years before I should have been legally able to; long before admission into Local State University -- possibly around the time many of you reading were still fapping to Six from Blossom, admiring your neighbor's Ford Probe, and talking shit on Netscape. 

Back then, craft beer came from England, and Belgium, and Germany -- but instead of craft beer, we called them 'imports' to denote our acquaintance with a higher class of beer.  These early beer bars were more like English- or Irish-style pubs, filled to the rafters with pre-conglomerate draws of aristocratic shit like Newcastle and Bass and Hoegaarden.  There were so few American microbrews represented, it almost seems comical to refer back to them now as the harbingers of Texas craft: A single variety of Shiner, Celis Pale Bock, Celis Raspberry, and Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde.  Breweries which, at the time, just kind of flitted around making less beer than the big guys spilled. 

And though The Ginger Man was where I went to get my Tetley's and Half & Halfs and Carlsbergs,  not many Americans ever really seemed to quite connect with them as well as we do their later American counterparts, like interpreting Aussie Rules Football to the NFL.


I am thankful to have had cool and interesting parents who, during our youths, thought the idea of taking their kids to lunch at a brewpub or a tour through a production brewery was solid vacation entertainment.  If nothing else, I owe it to them to get back to the true nature of enjoying craft beer, without all the fuss of looking for that final hit.  I try to explain it to them now, but I can see that it bores them.  They aren't even really drinkers, so to speak.  To them, craft beer it was all about atmosphere and culture -- like the 1990s version of the Ginger Man vibe or a 12-pack between friends.

Only recently did I return to The Ginger Man to remember what all that fuss was about two decades ago.  And although the location is different, it was nice to reflect on all that budding nostalgia from my school days, which I've carried with me for a long time now. 

Its really spectacular to see the G-Man beer-wall evolve like the palate of some youthful punter into an honorable gentleman -- from flouty imports, to casually dabbling in national microbrews, to a nearly-exclusive local culling of craft beer.  In my opinion, this is the proper way to handle the hobby -- a solid selection of perennials with a sometimes treat from their limited release selection. 

On this night, the Ginger Man was offering something pretty interesting: Bishop's Barrel #2 by Saint Arnold Brewery, the successive iteration of an [AA] favorite, Bishop's Barrel #1.  And so, after a round of workday regulars, we ordered one, though, in a move towards declassifying beer as special or necessary, this one was casually ordered and parsed between friends.  This was to be my final hit, but let's be clear about this. There's final hits and final hits. What kind was this to be?

Bishop's Barrel #2 is the result of taking Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale, adding sour cherries, and aging in Chardonnay barrels over the course of 14 months.  The brewery only released a few more than 1,100 cases of it, and a few of them reached Austin, intended to be sold exclusively in bars and restaurants around town.  Naturally, this caused a bit of a stir with the beer community who began heavy pursuit of the few out there for public-only consumption. 

What I found interesting about this beer that had been put away for 14 months to ferment and gain specific characteristics, is that it really started strong and faded quickly, like nickel bubble gum or a Daniel Johnston gig.  There is a definitive sherry note, which is really capable of directing the beer, yet it dissolves into a sloppy finish of slick white wine.  I must have missed the oak entirely.  Like, in every sip it takes to finish twelve ounces.

I suppose I expected something that had aged for 14 months and carried a very respectable 8% ABV to be a bit more muscular and mature.  Overall, it was a nice beer, just not spectacular as was BB1. It was like a really good band's third album, leaving me just a bit underwhelmed and anticipatory.

But that is okay, you see: I'm choosing life, I'm choosing a job, I'm choosing a big fucking television, washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.  And I'm choosing a future of Lawnmowers on the porch.  Twelve of them.  Just between me and my mates.

ABV 7.8%
Acquired The Ginger Man [Austin]
Can I Find This in Austin? It will likely pop up here-and-there over the next few months.
Album Pairing Third Eye Blind | Out of the Vein (2003)

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