With fewer bottles available than even the already difficult to obtain Divine Reserve series, one feels almost as if the Bishop’s Barrel series can only be discussed in hushed, ecclesiastical tones. Only available at select pubs and restaurants, do you democratically spread the word, or play it close to the chest so that you might obtain a few bottles for yourself? I knew I needed a schedule to keep track of all the venues, and industrious craft beer aficionados assiduously populated a Google spreadsheet launched by local maven Jose Luis Cubria via Twitter. From there, the hunt was on.
Monday the 18th was official release day, and those who couldn’t wait for later releases were sure to be found at the Petrol Station by 5:00. The line wrapped around the property when I arrived, as the hopeful shuffled towards the door, hoping there would still be bottles remaining by the time they got to the front. A clutch “cash-only” line to cut down on credit card delays ensured that I was able to snag two bottles and be on my merry way. My plan was to grab my limit at Petrol then head just up Ella to the on-premise El Gran Malo to actually sample it. Though the Saint Arnold notes mentioned a few barrels with wild Brett and sour lactic characteristics, when blended with the rest of the unaffected barrels you wouldn’t guess it except for some mild funk on the nose. The fact that it’s an Old Ale might call to mind Divine Reserve #12 until you remember that the Christmas Ale is also an Old Ale, which is what Saint Arnold started with in the Chardonnay barrels from Saintsbury in Napa, along with sour cherries. At EGM, I didn’t get much of the cherry, but the crisp Chardonnay was plainly evident, tart, with just that waft of funk. Since these releases have already been aged, the brewery suggests drinking them now, but it will be interesting to see how this one matures – if you have the willpower to cellar one. You know, for science.
Pro tip: If you’re just looking for a taste of Saint Arnold’s newest Bishop’s Barrel release, your best bet is going to be a restaurant or pub that also serves liquor. Because of their license, just as they can’t fill growlers for example, neither can they let you take these bottles to-go, which means there isn’t likely to be a run on supply like at Petrol Station or Hay Merchant. I think they’ve still got bottles at El Gran Malo, whereas Petrol sold out in about an hour. If you want to take some home for aging, you’ll have to visit a place that doesn’t serve liquor, just know you’ll have to show up precisely at the listed times on that spreadsheet if you expect to find any. Happy hunting!