The latest in St. Arnold Brewing Co.’s Bishop’s Barrel series of barrel-aged beers was released on Monday. It’s an English barleywine rested in WhistlePig rye whiskey barrels and, if past releases in this wood-flavored family are any indication, it will be great. But seeing as we won’t make it to Houston anytime soon, we decided to dive into the DRAFT cellar and revisit a couple of old BB favorites.
First up, Bishop’s Barrel 2. Released February 2013, this is a version of St. Arnold’s Christmas Ale aged in chardonnay barrels and fermented 14 months over sour cherries. The fruit is just one part of this beer’s tart component, however: Brettanomyces and some lactic acid-producing bacteria popped up in several of the wine barrels used to create the final, packaged blend. In fresh bottles, this gave the beer a pronounced vinegary bite; this appears to have dropped off somewhat. Its carbonation, however, is still massive—each sip of the cranberry-orange liquid explodes on the tongue in effervescent tumult. It’s the rare beer that actually benefits from degassing, so give it a few swirls before diving in to allow the CO2 to dissipate. After you do, you’ll get whiffs of well-developed and intricately connected buttery oak, cherry pits and sweet, minerally chardonnay. The cherry character, once quite tart, seems clearer and brighter, more maraschino than Bing. A few splashes of leathery balsamic constitute the acid side of the nose. Green apple and vanilla-tinged oak lead the sip; the swallow lifts dark cherry and white grape before a dry, champagne-like finish. Not terribly complex, but easily quaffed, it almost seems as if the Brett continued fermenting long after the lactic bacteria gave up; this is less acidic and slightly more fruity/funky than it was fresh. At this point, it’s drinking like a very young fruited wild ale, with tempered tartness and surprisingly coherent fruit character. Let it go longer if you prefer your sours uber-dry; we’ll take its current balance of sweet, tart and funky all day.
And then we have Bishop’s Barrel 3. A bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout (just like BB1), it was brewed with molasses and released May 2013. Age has played a much clearer role in this bottle, as oxidation adds a touch of teriyaki to the aroma’s notes of steak char, fig jam, brown sugar and toasted coconut. Soft umami flavors emerge on the tongue as well, though toasted oak is still the big player that leads smooth woody bourbon and spicy molasses to an almost-dry finish. The real development is in the body: it’s now soft as silk, creamy yet wispy, like whipped cream. The flavor’s become a little meaty, but we’ll take it in exchange for that beautiful texture. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Popped any old Bishop’s Barrel bottles of your own lately? Comment below or join the conversation on DRAFT’s Facebook page and let us know how they held up.