Divine Enervation

Saint Arnold Brewing Co.It can be exhausting trying to get your hands on some of the Saint Arnold Brewery’s limited and sporadically released Divine Reserve series. With three new brews added to their regular and seasonal line-ups, capacity is at a premium, and it had been nearly a year and a half since Divine Reserve 11 was released. That one was a Double IPA which would later become Endeavour, and the newest offering, #12, is a malty Old Ale based on a winning Big Batch Brew Bash recipe.

The hunt begins with realizing – unless you live in midtown or are prepared to queue up pre-dawn for a 10 am opening – the Spec’s Warehouse is not an option. They sold out in 45 minutes. In fact, if you’re trying to buy a DR release inside the loop, you either better know your boozemonger well enough to get a heads up, or know where they’ll take names for a waiting list. Several stores do this, like Disco Kroger on Montrose, but this year, at least when I called, they’re only taking names in person instead of over the phone. The secret of my success is usually the fact that I work on the northwest side of town, near 249 and the Beltway. The Spec’s and grocery stores dotted around the area don’t get as big a supply of Divine Reserve as other ITL stores, but if you give them a call to see when their allotment is arriving, you can usually snag a couple of sixers with ease.

There seemed to be some confusion among the various Spec’s outlets regarding stock, but my reward lay at the Cutten Rd. location off 1960, where I picked up one of the last two six packs out of only 20 (5 cases) received by the store. A stash securely in hand, the next point of order was to get a hold of a draft pour at one of several bars tapping at least part of their supply. The Hay Merchant was not only tapping DR12 draft but also a cask, along with DR11 and Endeavour, as well as some Pumpkinator, the former DR9. It ended up being a bit more convenient to hit up the ol’ tried and true Petrol Station who was tapping DR12 too.

An English style traditionally used as “stock” ales intended for storage, Old Ales have a sort of tenuous kinship with IPA’s. Old Ales are big, high gravity beers, heavy on malt, in which the alcohol content was intended to be a preservative agent before refrigeration hundreds of years ago. Later on, as hops came into wider use, they were used as the preservative in beer that would be shipped on long voyages to the Orient, resulting in the name India Pale Ale. When brewing was characteristically a winter activity, lighter ales were produced for immediate consumption without spending a lot of cellar time susceptible to variables like airborne natural yeast. The high alcohol and strong maltiness of an Old Ale or the bitter hoppiness of an IPA were intended to mellow over a period of months in storage for the summer or the journey overseas. Nowadays, the acerbic hops of an IPA or DIPA are actually preferred by many craft beer drinkers, and the last thing anyone would want to do is store their IPA’s until the hop notes have dissipated and the beer mellowed. In fact, a DIPA like Pliny the Elder actually implores its patrons to savor not save it. I still have some Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #11, a DIPA from March of 2011, that at this point almost tastes like a barleywine. Old Ales, however, do not have a terribly distinctive flavor at first that aficionados want to prevent from disappearing, and, as a less common variety, are usually produced traditionally and therefore intended for cellaring.

Saint Arnold DR12The Divine Reserve #12 that I had on draft at Petrol Station poured a light amber color and had a strong malt body with a faint sweetness and a bit of a zip from the (currently) fresh ingredients. It doesn’t take long to feel the effects of the 10% ABV, so I appreciated the guys (and now girl!) at Petrol serving it up in half pints, which also kept the price a bit more reasonable since six packs sell for $18. I might have a glass or two more of the DR12 if any bars still have it on tap or will soon, but more as a basis of comparison against the aged version. My immediate thought upon tasting a fresh draft pour was that I couldn’t wait to see how it matures, as the alcohol is tamed and it becomes almost a port wine in profile, with notes of sherry as Saint Arnold found Brock Wagner expects to develop.

The Divine Reserve saga that began at 10 am came to a close about 9 hours later, with a full pint in my gullet and a six pack at home, which went immediately into the refrigerator (cold storage is recommended) without even leaving its Spec’s bag, so that not even light can mess with it.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post… one year hence.