Like a Dickensian spirit from A Christmas Carol, Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel No. 12 might evoke vivid memories of past Christmases. A decidedly tricked out version of Saint Arnold Christmas Ale, Saint Arnold releases Bishop’s Barrel No. 12 this week. But the story of this beer goes back to 2011.
As Christmas 2011 approached, Saint Arnold Brewing Co. began work on Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel No. 2. They aged Christmas Ale in 58 Chardonnay barrels with tart cherries. Fifty of those barrels went on to become Bishop’s Barrel No. 2 in early 2013. Eight of the barrels were inoculated with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast, and allowed to age for an additional year. This very limited production was served only at the brewery and at a few special events, and came to be known affectionately as BB2B.
“Just that one tweak of adding Brett fundamentally changed the beer, giving it a funky, earthy aroma and contributing a light acidity to the taste,” said Saint Arnold Founder/Brewer Brock Wagner. “As soon as I tasted it, I wanted to bring it back with Brett as a future Bishop’s Barrel beer.”
Shortly after the Christmas of 2013, Saint Arnold brewed a special batch of Saint Arnold Christmas Ale, which is an Old Ale that has always been the brewery’s most popular seasonal beer. However, instead of bottling it, Saint Arnold’s brewers placed the beer in Sauvignon Blanc barrels. For additional complexity and character, they added tart cherries and used three strains of Brettanomyces for secondary fermentation.
The brewers then set the barrels aside in Saint Arnold’s 2,000-square-foot barrel room. As other beers in the Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel series came and went (Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel Nos. 9, 10 and 11 were each brewed after Bishop’s Barrel No. 12), the brewers regularly tasted their special Christmas concoction. Each taste test confirmed that the beer was continuing to develop and was getting better. After 21 months the beer was deemed ready.
“Bishop’s Barrel No. 12 has ruby highlights, an aroma that conjures thoughts of toasted pie crust and cherry pie with powdered sugar, and a flavor profile that starts with a light acidity quickly balanced with a cherry/caramel sweetness,” said Saint Arnold Brewer and Barrel Wrangler Aaron Inkrott. “The finish is dry yet with a long, wine-like finish reminiscent of Chardonnay – even though the beer was aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels.”
Due to the limited quantities produced from the barrels, Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel No. 12 is only distributed to pubs and restaurants throughout Texas and Louisiana. It is available in 12 ounce bottles and on draft. While these beers can be aged, they have done a fair amount of aging in the barrels and are designed to be enjoyed soon after bottling. Future Bishop’s Barrel beers are currently aging, including Belgian Quadruppel aged in bourbon barrels and Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon barrels.