Since late 2012, Saint Arnold Brewing Co. has released eight different incarnation of its Bishop’s Barrel series, which are beers “that have been aged in barrels specifically chosen to enhance and complement the characteristics of the underlying beers.” The Bishop’s Barrel beers are some of the Houston, Texas-based brewery’s most popular creations and are only available in bars and restaurants throughout Texas and Louisiana.
The Saint Arnold website describes the Bishop’s Barrel Series:
Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel is a series of releases of beers that have been barrel aged. The barrels have been chosen to enhance and complement the characteristics of the underlying beers. The beers may be something we brew regularly or may have been brewed solely for the purpose of putting into a barrel. Aging times can range from a few months to well over a year.
The eight releases in Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 4 so far are:
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 1 (12 percent ABV) — bourbon barrel imperial stout
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 2 (7.8 percent ABV) — old ale aged in Chardonnay barrels with cherries
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 3 (8.7 percent ABV) — bourbon barrel imperial stout
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 4 (7.9 percent ABV) — bourbon barrel weizenbock with cocoa nibs
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 5 (12 percent ABV) — bourbon barrel wee heavy scotch ale
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 6 (13 percent ABV) — imperial pumpkin stout aged in rum barrels
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 7 (11.3 percent ABV) — bourbon barrel imperial stout
- Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 8 (11.5 percent ABV) — bourbon barrel imperial stout
Released in August of 2013, Bishop’s Barrel 4 is a 9.9 percent ABV wiezenbock that was brewed with cocoa nibs before being aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for over a year. Interestingly, Saint Arnold actually released the fresh unblended beer used in Bishop’s Barrel No. 4—appropriately named Saint Arnold Weizenbock–on the same day that the bourbon barrel version was released, to give consumers a chance to taste both side by side.
The Bishop’s Barrel 4 pours a dark, deep brown color with very little head retention, although a thin white lacing is left behind. There is carbonation evident in the glass, and the aroma from coming from the beer is a combination of bourbon, baker’s chocolate, sweet vanilla, brown sugar and oak.
As I commence tasting, the first flavor I notice is oak, bourbon, caramel and dark cocoa on the palate, along with a combination of sweet maple syrup and vanilla on the finish. Contrary to the lack of head, there is plenty of carbonation—almost too much for this style of beer, really—but it does go down very easily. The bourbon is definitely present and noticeable, but is not nearly as strong as the smell would indicate, and is hidden quite well by the flavors and profile of the beer. The mouthfeel is quite thin, just on the edge of being detrimental to the experience.
As it warms, the sweetness in the profile explodes, bringing new flavors of brown sugar, raisins, toffee and even a bit of coconut that combines well with the oak and earthy notes that have also become more prominent. The alcohol is also a bit more noticeable, but it is still very well balanced within the profile.