A Taste of the Divine
To paraphrase Wayne Campbell, Saint Arnold's Divine Reserve No. 8 is "a fox. In France, she'd be called la renard. Hunted, with only her cunning to protect her." And hunted she truly is.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt The rare creature herself, captured in the wild
The extremely limited-production beer (only 1,500 cases were made) was released to the public in Houston yesterday morning and became the object of many a beer nerd's frenzy throughout the day. Fans rabidly scavenged through stores searching for the elusive six-packs and sent one another Twitter updates and emails with tips on acquiring the brew.
Saint Arnold, the local microbrewery, has been brewing batches of its famous Divine Reserve since 2005. The first Divine Reserve brew was a barleywine that flew off the shelves; at only 327 cases, the production was a fifth of what it is now. Since then, tradition has the brewery creating at least one Divine Reserve a year and nearly the entire city of Houston lusting after the small batches and hoarding them like gold bars.
This year was no different. From the long line snaking around Spec's on Smith Street (which sold out of the beer in 21 minutes, by some accounts) yesterday morning to the scavenger hunt-style Tweets throughout the day ("Dear Internet, please stop telling everyone where the last few six packs of @SaintArnold Divine are. Thanks."), beer lovers everywhere have been on the lookout for that one bright purple six-pack to bring home triumphantly like the head of a ten-point buck.
Luckily, the Houston Press has connections and was able to score a bottle of the Divine Reserve No. 8 to split amongst the thirsty denizens of our newsroom (no, they were not happy about splitting one bottle, as you might imagine, but them's the breaks). Our impressions of the batch are below the jump.
Divine Reserve No. 8 is described as a "bold, malty, smoky Scotch Ale." The beer pours very softly into the cup, with almost no trace whatsoever of carbonation. This isn't surprising, as the recipe for this batch was created by a homebrewer (Phillip Kaufman, who won the 2009 Big Batch Brew Bash to have his beer become the next Divine Reserve). The creamy head on the beer forms instantly and has a pleasantly creamy color and texture.
Photo by Robb Walsh Six of the previous Divine Reserve brews, all in their signature purple
Underneath that creamy head is a very bold brew. They weren't kidding around. It's extremely aggressive, something that will probably mellow out over time (as most Divine Reserves tend to do). But until that time comes, the beer is overwhelmingly malty with the barest hint of smoke at the end. It's almost syrupy in its sweetness, something this hop-head wasn't too keen on.
Other newsroom remarks: "Strong malty taste, reminiscent of what my grandmother's kisses taste like after she swishes orange sherbet and tears in her mouth all afternoon" from Craig Hlavaty; "Like my worst nightmare" from Blake Whitaker; "Like pretty much every other Saint Arnold brew" from Paul Knight (although we're pretty sure that was meant as a compliment); and a rather straightforward "Disgusting" from Craig Malisow (although he's known to be a connoisseur of Miller High Life and therefore can't be trusted). Cathy Matusow found the brew to be excessively alcoholic-tasting, almost like strong wine. And at nearly 10 percent alcohol by volume, she's not far off.
All that aside, though, the Divine Reserve No. 8 is an elegant, complex, very grown-up brew with notes of caramel, maple and a sweet spiciness that can't quite be placed. It may not be for everyone, but that's the point of the Divine Reserves: limited-production beers meant to explore beer's many facets and tastes. We'll sample the Divine Reserve #8 again in a year to see how it's opened up over time. In the meantime, though, pass the Elissa IPA.