Friday, June 14, 2013

Queen takes Bishop: How Saint Arnold's Barrel Aged Imperial Stout #3 Can Help You On Karaoke Night

Barrel-aging is a beer genre having a bit of a crisis at the moment.  This is only according to me, of course, but at a certain measure of volume hitting the market (that being the very scientific metric of one shitload), at what point is it where no one gives a damn about drinking a barrel aged beer anymore?

Whereas having a carefully and masterfully structured bourbon barrel aged beer used to be the libatious equivalent of hearing 'Hey Ya' on the car stereo in the very early solstices of 2003, by August of the same year, everyone was generally just tired of its infinity times infinity omnipresence. 

While barrel aging hasn't quite attained the banality of Top 40 radio, it seems like more than a few breweries are scrawling sappy best-sellers for the sake of improving their chart position with the beer dorks, while becoming less engaged with the actual stuff that helped purchase the kettles in the first place.

Let me be clear.  I don't think that Saint Arnold is guilty of this, necessarily.  I think they brew a very respectable recurrent lineup, and I happily order their stuff from time to time.  The sense I do get with breweries similar in size to Saint Arnold's as they accrue the momentum for 100% sustainability and expansion, is that their side projects tend to be wildly inconsistent from one to the next, clichéd even. In the case of Saint Arnold, sometimes both will occur within the same series.

Before I get into Bishop's Barrel #3, here are my thoughts on Bishop's Barrel #1 and Bishop's Barrel #2, which are mostly favorable.  In fact, I maintain that BB1 was probably the best bourbon barrel stout ever brewed and aged in the Southwest.

For that, Saint Arnold gets a guy's-weekend-in-Cabo-style hall pass to live out their Bishop's Barrel dreams for as long as necessary; a series that will consist entirely of barrel-aged beers for its duration.  I'm certainly okay with that given that Saint Arnold is reliably good-to-great in most things, except that the point of reference for this series begins with perhaps an insurmountable baseline for quality.  And lately the tenor of the Bishop's Barrel series is beginning to mimic André 3000's signature opening lyric "1,2,3,4 ...".  How long is it before we switch the station?

Saint Arnold noted a few differences between BB1 and BB3, which basically utilizes the same base beer but with different finishing techniques, for example, Saint Arnold fermented this version of the imperial stout with their house yeast, which is supposed to add a touch of creaminess, 2) BB3 was aged slightly longer -- 12 months versus 10 months, and finally, 3) there is a '3' on the neck label instead of a '1', which is to say that there is so little variance between one of the best stouts ever brewed in Texas and this version, that any nuances should theoretically improve the beer with one already under their belt.  Third verse, same as the first, right?

Truthfully, it tasted like a Crown & Coke.

Yep, as special as karaoke night 10 minutes before your stage debut of 'Killer Queen' and the barbaric attempt to catch a fast buzz for $3.  It has the demeanor of Brett Favre trying to make himself into a luxury brand.  It drifts so far from Houston-y beer into a lattice of country cousins at a BYOB wedding who've delved into the Canadian elitism of all-denim outfits and velvet bag booze.

I'll state that I do respect a brewery for evolving in a Radiohead kind of way, and Kid A is right about where I see Saint Arnold idling.  But with this series at least, there is a precarious pathway between recording Amnesiac and recording a carnival of laughs like El Camino from a formerly-evolving, presently digressing band like The Black Keys.

Admittedly, there are notes at the bookends of BB3 that are really fantastic -- like the creaminess they were going for, it certainly features that.  Also, the open-mouthed, wet kiss of booze at the end is very clever for an 11-and-a-half percent beer that leaves no heat.  But that is as much talent as this beer shows with its strumming.  And I really hate when people mistake effort for talent.  I call it the Tim Tebow effect.  This beer exemplifies the Tim Tebow effect.

It seems 12 months in the wood was asking BB3 to do more than it really could, or should, or really needed to -- like using a kiln to make cinnamon toast -- a bit of an overkill.  No worries these things happen from time to time.  I'll still be scrambling around for #4.

ABV 11.5%
Acquired Craft Pride [Austin]
Can I Find This in Austin? You'll need a Twitter account.
Album Pairing Oasis | Heathen Chemistry (2002)


Christopher Sheppard said...

Great post. Bourbon barrel aged beer has definitely seen a rise in popularity and not all BBA beer is created equal. When done correctly it is amazing. When done poorly it tastes like someone spiked your beer with bourbon.

I haven't had the 3rd, but the first two were solid offerings. This isn't the first crown and coke comparison I have heard.

Mo G. said...

That's what I got out of this: a spiked coke that had been sitting for an afternoon on the counter. Maybe even like an HEB coke.